Germany, Europe’s largest consumer market

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

German riders are having a very good season. Andre Greipel’s a dependable winner and this year Tony Martin’s confirmed his abilities whilst neo-pros John Degenkolb and Marcel Kittel have been highly impressive. And if you want a tip, look out for a guy called Tino Thömel.

Germany isn’t quite Europe’s premier cycling country but it is certainly Europe’s biggest country. It’s got the largest population with 81 million inhabitants and the continent’s biggest GDP too. Put simply it’s big and it’s rich and for a sport that rhymes with commerce, where teams are named after companies and brands, it’s a key market. Germany is hard to ignore.

ARD

ARD to ignore

Only that’s exactly what the UCI is doing. It’s refusing to do interviews with German broadcasters ARD and ZDF. For context, switch on a German TV and “channel 1″ is ARD. Hit the remote and next comes ZDF. These are broadcasting giants and the German equivalent of Britain’s BBC, CBS in the US or ABC in Australia.

A governing body that ignores the two biggest channels in Europe’s largest country is, to put it mildly, behaving oddly. According to cyclingnews.com, the UCI is frustrated that “every year the German networks’ agenda is the same: doping, doping and more doping” and this can be true at times, especially since despite holding the broadcast rights, there’s no live coverage.

But note the channel is consistent, for example treats cross-country skiing and even the Olympic Games in a similar way. Das Doping is big news in Germany and for obvious reasons, cycling features prominently in the negative coverage. Based on this alone I can understand why the UCI is annoyed. But surely this is all the more reason to engage with them, to show them that pro cycling has more to offer? Ducking interviews only allows these broadcasters to say the UCI’s on the run.

There’s more to this though. The two channels are pulling out of cycling coverage for 2012 and so the UCI has another reason to be annoyed… but again I’m not sure refusing interviews is right.

Hajo Seppelt

The thorn in the UCI's side

Plus it was thanks to Hajo Seppelt, an award-winning ARD journalist, that news of Alberto Contador’s positive test emerged. This proved a major embarrassment to the UCI.  First because such a sensitive story was flushed out. Second because it emerged bang in the middle of the World Championships, the race that’s organised by the UCI and crucial for its funding. Third, because Seppelt started asking a lot of awkward questions, like whether the UCI President Pat McQuaid lied to him and why the UCI had sat on the news for so long.

Summary
I can’t help feel blacklisting Germany’s largest broadcasters is a bad idea. It might allow the UCI to duck awkward questions about the delays in the Contador case, to which they’ve yet to properly answer, but this is a short term concern. Even if the UCI is annoyed, the refusal looks petulant.

The UCI agenda to set up new races around the world is fine but alienating sections of the media in Europe’s largest consumer market is a recipe for disaster. It also sets a bad precedent and signals to others that the sport is retreating in on itself and lacks the confidence to face awkward journalists.

With many teams hunting for sponsors, knowing the governing body has issues with the major broadcasters in Germany is another hurdle. Pro cycling needs to find ways to rebuild confidence with Germans, whether the public or the media. A governing body should be capable of handing tough questions.

Alex June 22, 2011 at 10:35 am

While the big German stations might ask more questions about doping generally I can’t totally agree on “they’re treating every sport the same”. Both stations do extensive boxing coverage, without covering the ridiculous doping politics in the sport – and in other sports like biathlon or swimming they’re still chanting the “German athletes are clean, only the others dope” mantra.
I simply don’t believe they’re reduicng or stopping cycling coverage because of ethical reasons and the doping problem. They failed to focus their report on anyone but Ullrich, Zabel and T-Mobile and when those careers ended, the viewing rate sunk. Plus being huffy that the athlete they believe to have built – Jan Ullrich – was caught in the Puerto scandal. The stations attitude towards cycling turned 180°. It was never neutral, remember the ARD logo was placed prominently on the Telekom jersey for some years.

Kieran June 22, 2011 at 10:46 am

It’s not often (read ever) that I find myself agreeing with the UCI press spokesman, but in this case I believe they are right and I applaud their stance. To your tweet from yesterday; yes, sport should be open to all but ARD/ZDF have not been interested in the sporting side of things for years now. Where’s the objective reporting? Whilst some media in some countries may rightly be accused of continuing to look at everything through rose tinted glasses, German media in recent years (and ARD/ZDF are not alone in this) has chosen to go the other extreme and pretty much exclusively reports on doping. Is it then entirely unconnected that the largest remaining stage race in Germany is the Bayern Rundfahrt? Or that German cycling no longer has one single top-tier professional team? The thinly-veiled Schadenfreude they demonstrate regarding these facts suggests not.
Each year they come out and say that they’re going to cancel their coverage of the Tour, only to have to do an embarrassing turnaround due to their long-term contract with ASO. So bravo to Herr Seppelt for his excellent investigative work (and I honestly mean that), but I’ll continue to watch the Tour and the rest of the season’s racing on German Eurosport’s excellent coverage instead.
They don’t bury their heads in the sand about the issues in our sport, but at least they remember what the Tour is about; namely passion, history and hard work. And that’s why it’s still the largest spectator race in the world.

David N. Welton June 22, 2011 at 11:12 am

I don’t know too much about Germany, but like the US, where I’m from, they seem to have a bit of a “fair weather friend” attitude towards cycling – they’ll cover it if they’ve got someone doing well, but the moment things aren’t so nice, they’re gone.

And they do seem to really squawk about doping a lot, threatening to not cover the Tour because “there’s doping”. Will they not cover the World Cup of soccer because Qatar bought it?

leif June 22, 2011 at 11:47 am

Crooks, liars and thieves.
Two monthes to announce a positive…come on.
It is almost like they were waiting for a payout.

The landis positive announced. within four days.
Good for German tv to expose the UCI.

Oliver June 22, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Sounds like the German media are doing their job. Hard-nosed, investigative journalism — come to think of it, that’s now pretty much a foreign concept in the USA and in France — to speak of the countries I know.
And no wonder the UCI don’t want to face questions about their delay in coming out with Contador’s positive: they were going to cover it up! Were it not for the German media we’d be in the dark. If I run into that Hajo fellow, a drink on me!
Btw, it’s not the German journos that are awkward it us when we try to avoid the fact that they are teaching us a lesson in ethics and sportsmanship. Because if you think being pro-cycling is helping the UCI cover things up and just “getting on with the show” you are dead wrong.

GluteCramp June 22, 2011 at 1:45 pm

But what does not having official UCI opinions/comments really cost either party? How often do you see the UCI spokesperson interviewed after somebody crosses the line at the end of a stage?

Seems a conveniently petulant argument for both sides to claim moral high ground whilst simultaneously screwing over their respective cycling fans.

I don’t like the UCI or their handling of a lot of things, but this is a storm in a teacup.

Toby June 22, 2011 at 1:53 pm

ABC a broadcasting giant in Australia?…. eh… i guess….

The Inner Ring June 22, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Mixed views. This isn’t the biggest deal but I just disagree with the methods, no matter how much you disapprove, don’t refuse to talk. Because if ARD/ZDF are big skeptics, now they’ll pop up on TV and say “the UCI refuses to talk” and make allegations of secrecy. It only makes things worse.

Toby: it’s the biggest public service broadcaster? What’s on “1” when you turn on your TV?

C Grade Cyclist June 22, 2011 at 1:58 pm

I was thinking the same thing, Toby… ;)

Seriously though – I think locking out media only ends up making it look like you have something to hide. Whether you are right in principle or not, doesn’t matter. The media isn’t a place for battles of principle, it is a battlefield for public relations. And to walk away is to lose…

AH June 22, 2011 at 3:25 pm

So, do you still think the UCI can be fixed?

Ettore Bombino June 22, 2011 at 4:44 pm

I have a suggestion for Mr.Seppelt and that is I would try to write more about East Germany’s “state sponsor” doping programs of the past and spend less time criticizing the UCI. I remember very well during the 70’s competing against Soviet and East German cyclist that looked like they were “genetically Engineered” to win races. So my point being is why all of the sudden Germany is taking the moral high road when it comes to doping? after all the Soviets as well as the East Germans were the ones who advanced the science and were instrumental in developing some of the products and techniques that are being used today. They in my opinion have lost all credibility with me.

cthulhu June 22, 2011 at 6:49 pm

I must say Alex is completely right. The German media isn’t much better than the rest, still the UCI decision is a disaster, since the German (mainstream) media seemed to be finally back to sportive aspects about cycling and not only doping.

@ettore: well, for those programs in East Germany there were institutions installed to examine those so that some of the victims can get some “justice” for the abuse they suffered. And some people learn of their mistakes, and it most of the time it looks like the UCI doesn’t.

regsf June 23, 2011 at 1:08 am

The UCI is a PR joke. Either they’re clueless on how to defend themselves or McQuaid is spouting nonsensical blather. It’s a mess.

Toby June 23, 2011 at 9:12 am

INRNG

When I turn on ‘1’ it’s ONE HD a sports dedicated channel owned by Ch 10… I know I’m pissing in the wind – but our ABC (affectionately called ‘Aunty’), would very barely be on in people’s home. About 1 in 10 homes watch ABC – less than 10%.

If you used this for your information its easy to see why you think ABC is leading broadcaster: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Television_broadcasting_in_Australia

there is no mention of size or audience in the article.

Maybe try this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nine_Network or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Network

or this for actual audience numbers http://www.oztam.com.au/documents/2011/OzTAM-20110605-A1MetTTVShrCons.pdf

I’m just saying….

gagug June 23, 2011 at 2:06 pm

@ettore:
Wow, that’s one heck of a conclusion! Because you lost some races against some probably drug-stuffed East Germans during the 70’s, you impeach the credibility of German media? Come on!
You are right. Eastern Bloc states’ scientists were pretty sophisticated in their handling and development of performance enhancing drugs. But so were western scientists! The difference is that in communist states the doping programs were run by the state and very well documented, whereas in western states there was hardly any documentation of it. Brigitte Berendonk and some others have impressively documented the East German sport system. So, today we know a lot about the practices in Leipzig, Jena etc, but hardly anything about what was going on in Freiburg, Rome, Los Angeles. Although, we can be sure that there were doping systems as well.
There is no need for Seppelt to uncover scandals of GDR’s past, he is a journalist dealing with the present. The disclosure of Contador’s positiv TdF test and UCI’s attempt to sweep it under the rug – that’s a scoop! Give Seppelt a Pulitzer Price for that, don’t blame him! If he wouldn’t keep asking questions towards the UCI after that, he would simply refuse to do his job. Not answering these questions looks ridiculously weak, which leads to main problem, which is UCI’s credibility.

I guess everybody in here loves cycling. But it seems to me, the world’ governing body UCI is denying the obvious misuse of performance inhancing drugs (and forbidden methods) instead of facing and fighting the problem. Thanks to some journalists, UCI cannot completely fool the world.
There is another reason why it is dimwitted not talking to ARD/ZDF journalists in general: Far of all of these journalists are critical, investigative journalists. Many of them are just “fans who made it beyond the fence” (T. Kistner). By refusing interwiews to them, UCI appears suspicious and shakes up even the most simple-hearted journalist.

Kris June 23, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Disallowing interviews is indeed one step too far, and another PR mistake on behalf of the UCI.

I cannot help but thinking we are on the verge of a complete changeover in professional cycling, and UCI heads are about to roll. Watch what happens after the Tour de France. I also wonder what will eventually happen with the Tour of Beijing in October. The debate on radio communication has become remarkably silent since the end of the spring classics, but unless I missed something the latest stand by the World Tour teams was a boycott…

Meanwhile back on the subject of the above post, I also have no sympathy for ARD and ZDF and a good spanking is what they rightfully deserve. I have spent most of the past decade in Germany, and the quality of its coverage of cycling (but also of other sports) is pathetic compared to other EU countries. I also disagree with the statement made in the above post that ARD and ZDF treat other sports equally. That is just not the case. When they mention cycling, they mention doping. They show a TDF stage for only 1 hour, and half an hour is spent discussing doping matters – and usually it doesn’t even go beyond the massmedia bla bla. Pure sensationalism. The tone of their broadcasts is always negative. And this has been going on for years now. A witch hunt beyond comparison in the global sports media! One comment above rightfully says that ARD featured on the Telekom jerseys in the Ullrich era: one could indeed think that ARD has been on a vendetta ever since Der Jan’s downfall in 2006. When there is a doping case in biathlon, triathlon or tennis: of course they mention it, discuss it as well, but then soon leave it and move on.

It doesn’t make any sense, because there have never before been so many Germans riding racebikes and participating in amateur cycling events. In Germany, there is a proper racing circuit for hobby cyclists that sees many thousands of participants every season. How ARD can claim that there is no more interest in cycling beats me. Some decision-maker in the ARD building must really be very upset by the Ullrich and T-Mobile saga.

Matt June 24, 2011 at 4:01 am

@ Ettore – Couldn’t agree more. I’d sooner take lessons in humility from Contador before I listen to a German about how clean their sports programs are. Swimming, Athletics and their own Cyclists were up to their eyeballs with dope.

I think the real reason they focus on doping is that the French busted their golden haired boy and the team he belonged to and they can’t stomach that.

The Pelican June 24, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Don’t mention the war!

cthulhu June 24, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Te Pelican: I was exactly thinking that, too.

On another notice, htc has trouble finding a new sponsor? Maybe Mr. Stapleton should look around in Germany again. Todays National TT Championships was like an internal team championship. Place 1 to 3 in the Mens’ and Womens’ race were taken by htc riders…Sounds nearly like Telekom days again.

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