Tour de France: Keeping sports in good time

Australia's Richie Porte takes the start of the 17 km individual time-trial, the eighteenth stage of the 103rd edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 21 between Sallanches and Megeve, French Alps.
Australia's Richie Porte takes the start of the 17 km individual time-trial, the eighteenth stage of the 103rd edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 21 between Sallanches and Megeve, French Alps.PHOTO: AFP

When Swiss watchmaker Tissot started building chronographs to time sporting events in 1883, it began a relationship that would one day see it time major sporting events like the Asian Games and the Tour de France.

Today, the brand's iconic Swiss cross adorns the sports it partners, including cycling, fencing, ice hockey, rugby and motorcycling.

But the company is not resting on its laurels. It is expanding its presence in popular sports such as basketball and cycling, with several major partnerships inked recently.

For one, the brand returned to the Tour de France this year after a 24-year hiatus, replacing Festina as the official timekeeper for the biggest cycling race in the world.

The Tour began earlier this month and the riders are currently in the Alps en route to Sunday's finish in Paris.

It is also making strides in basketball. In October, it began a comprehensive six-year US$200 million (S$271 million) partnership with the National Basketball Association (NBA). Its new timekeeping system will be used in all 29 NBA arenas from the 2016-2017 season onwards.

Tissot president Francois Thiebaud told ESPN last year it was the most expensive deal the company had made in its 162-year history.

Last year, Tissot also renewed its partnership with the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) for another five years. Basketball is the most popular televised sport in China, with as many as 417 games between November and April.

"We are a global brand that is aiming for a global partnership in the world of basketball," said Thiebaud after the CBA deal was signed last November. "Additionally, China is a key market for Tissot and, as such, it was only natural for us to partner with the most popular television sport in China."

Tissot has also been the official timekeeper of world basketball's governing body Fiba since 2008.

The brand is part of the Swatch Group, which has a significant presence in sports timekeeping.

Omega, which is also part of the stable, started keeping time at the Olympics in 1932, while its Longines brand has a heavy presence in skiing, gymnastics and at tennis' French Open.

From simple "time-writing" chronographs that actually write time in ink on a paper dial, Tissot's own timekeeping technology has evolved over the decades.

Now, at a multi-sport event such as the Asian Games, timekeeping officials have set up a complex operations centre to monitor different venues equipped with sensors that can capture athletes separated by only thousandths of a second at the finish line.

In an e-mail interview with The Straits Times, Thiebaud said that sport has been a part of Tissot since its very beginning.

"We always wanted to be more than just a sponsor. Tissot wanted to be a part of the game by doing what it does best - time," the Frenchman said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2016, with the headline 'Keeping sports in good time'. Print Edition | Subscribe