The Postal Blue Train Years – 1999 to 2003
Sports broadcaster Phil Liggett is perhaps best known as having “the voice” in cycling. He has covered the Tour de France (TDF) and cycling since the mid 1970’s. The American audience knows him best by his coverage of Lance Armstrong’s cycling career.
To me, Liggett has that uncanny ability to heighten the excitement of a cycling stage race while describing the surrounding French countryside in the most bucolic – and don’t you wish that you were there – creamy cheese tone.
Together with cycling commentators, the American, Bob Roll and fellow Englishman, Paul Sherwen, they comprised for the early satellite/cable broadcast TDF years a potent brew of intoxicating sports presence for the former Outdoor Life Network (OLN), now known as the NBC Sports Network – reaching into 60 million homes worldwide before its merger with NBC.
I don’t whom it was first credited to – but both Phil and Paul – popularized the nickname “The Blue Train” used to describe the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team and it all started in 1999 when OLN was awarded the US rights to broadcast the TDF.
The French like to refer to The Blue Train as – US Postale – but as was popularized for the American audience the Armstrong led team always appeared like a train, linked one after the other as a group of riders dressed in postal blue – either in the lead or hanging close in the peleton for strategic placement purposes. The Blue Train years – started in 1998 but it wasn’t until that team with Armstrong and his bad news bears won their first Yellow jersey in 1999 that the US Postal Service knew they had branded something that spoke to America of teamwork and dedication.
OLN, which started in 1995 as a Canadian broadcast venture, concentrated on outdoor activities such as fishing and hockey but it wasn’t until this fledgling digital broadcast satellite network who beamed TDF images into 1 million homes rode along with the Blue Train did it expand its viewership, its financial advertising power and become a takeover object of Comcast and by 2012, NBC Sports. OLN was tongue-in-check referred to as the Only-Lance-Network during those Armstrong’s heyday years.
So it was on the back of the stodgy, much maligned US Postal Service brand that greater benefits accrued any of those that could somehow associate themselves with this winner, align their marketing brand with the team, and take hold of a team based powerhouse locomotive that ruled the summer sports airways from the years 1999 to 2003, The Blue Train years. OLN was first of many that followed.
And don’t you know that both Federal Express and United Parcel Service, watched, took notice – and eventually, action.
Next week – Years 1999 and 2000