Germany: Europe’s Pro Cycling Black Hole

Wednesday, 23 April 2014


What have Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland and Switzerland all got in common? One thing is a border with Germany. Another is that they all have a national tour, a bike race that lasts several days and aims to cover the whole country.

In fact if it doesn’t have a national tour, Germany doesn’t have a big team either, the number of race days is dwindling and the sport is hardly shown at all on mainstream TV. A headwind for German cycling fans but also a real problem for professional cycling as a whole too.

Germany has a population of 80 million and has Europe’s highest GDP. It’s the largest consumer market in Europe. It’s so wealthy German GDP is the equivalent of California and New York State combined or roughly 150% of the entire GDP from Africa. It’s a giant market.

It’s also geographically perfect for a bike race. Germany’s surface area is only 10-15% bigger than Italy or Poland so if these countries can have a race, so can Germany. Better it’s got the Alps to the south, several small mountain ranges across, from the Taunus to Thuringia. In between there’s everything with scenic woodland, valleys, vineyards and many important towns and cities to host a stage. Germany isn’t a big tourist draw but all the more reason for a bike race to show off the country. But there’s nothing, nichts.

Germany has a total of 10 days of racing on the pro calendar, tiny Switzerland has more. There’s the World Tour’s Vattenfall Cyclassics, then in the UCI Europe Tour there’s Rund um Köln which took place earlier this week, the Rund um den Finanzplatz Eschborn-Frankfurt, the Garmin Velothon Berlin and the Sparkassen Münsterland Giro. Plus the five-day Bayern Rundfahrt, he only stage race left on the men’s calendar. It’s a great race but of course sticks to the region of Bavaria.

Are the Germans indifferent to cycling? Doch as they would say:

  • You’ve probably noticed the wave of winning riders from Marcel Kittel to Tony Martin, John Degenkolb to André Greipel and there more with seven riders in the Cycling Quotient 100
  • Germany’s national federation, the Bund Deutscher Radfahrer, has over 137,000 members, far more than the French Federation
  • A broad cycling culture from transport to sport from Berlin fixie hipsters to several large online retailers serving customers across Europe
  • A country famous for manufacturing, cycling’s no exception with brands like Canyon, Focus, Tune, Lightweight and Continental

In short cycling’s big in Germany, it’s only the pro cycling angle that’s not getting the coverage. Now this is hardly a disaster, if you view cyclesport as a pyramid with the pro races at the top, Germany has the rest of it covered rather well. But of course the pro races are the big window into the sport.

No TV?
The big problem is a lack of TV coverage. The country’s two largest broadcasters ARD and ZDF have stopped showing the sport. It’d be like RAI, France Télévisions, Sporza or TVE dropping the sport. German broadcasters get fed up with several doping scandals where they felt they could not continue to screen artifice contests driven by pharmaceuticals so they dumped the sport.

ARD in particular bought into the pink period of Telekom and T-Mobile when Jan Ullrich was a Tour de France challenger, the broadcaster’s logo was on the team jersey. But it was wider than one team, indeed we had several German teams with Milram and Gerolsteiner. But when the TV switched off, so the did the sponsors. But three things to note on this:

  • there wasn’t much interest before the Telekom team found success in the Tour de France
  • the sudden interest during the boom years looked like a bubble, it wasn’t the norm
  • you can still watch the Tour de France on TV with ease as Germany is the only country where Eurosport is free-to-air

But if Eurosport is good , it’s not got the same audience and reach into German households. In simple terms you have to look for the channel rather than turn on your TV and have it come to you. In numbers Eurosport’s audience in Germany is usually measured in the hundreds of thousands compared to the millions reached by the public broadcasters in places like France, Spain or Italy.


The non-Eurosport coverage of pro cycling in Germany adds up to 12 hours in some surveys; for comparison there are 622 hours in Belgium, 431 hours in France, 363 in UK and 99 in Poland.

Back in the good old days?

The good news is that if the big broadcasters did get burned and left in a hurry then they can return too. With fewer scandals and renewed German interest it simply makes business sense to show the major races. After all at 4.00pm midweek viewers are treated to repeats of detective series. Scenic French landscapes topped off with success by Marcel Kittel is bound to be a ratings triumph.

It’s not just a German issue, it’s a problem for the sport as a whole. Want to attract new sponsors for pro teams? Try telling them you race all over Europe but there’s a massive hole in Germany. Germany as in Europe’s largest consumer market. Indeed for all the talk of the UCI’s globalisation agenda, expansion into to markets is great but they probably need a plan for Germany too.

Eins, zwei, drei

Conclusion
Pro cycling’s often seen as a European sport but it hasn’t got much of a foothold in Germany, Europe’s biggest country by population. But if it marks a retreat from the the Telekom/T-Mobile years, perhaps this period was an anomaly, a mania even? Sadly today Germany has no national tour and other races have dropped off the calendar. Several big pro teams have vanished with only the creditable NetApp-Endura left.

All this is frustrating for German fans who don’t get to see their top riders so easily, whether in person or on TV. But it’s also a problem for the sport, sponsors now expect big airtime in many European countries but missing out on the largest single market has to be a problem.

Larry T. April 23, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Makes me wonder what might have happened had the broadcasters in places like Italy and France refused to show pro cycling until it was cleaned up? Of course they still show F1 where corruption is plentiful, though doping’s not much of an issue there.

Sam April 23, 2014 at 7:29 pm

Define ‘cleaned up’, Larry. What’s the criteria for judging it’s ‘cleaned up’, and determines when that is?

BC April 24, 2014 at 10:41 am

I’m sure Larry can answer for himself, but seeing yesterdays unreformed doper winning with ease on one leg, the German Media may have a point. Many spectators along the finishing kilometre certainly greeted the result with plenty of boos.

Luke April 24, 2014 at 11:24 am

Carlton Kirby claiming he was “delighted” for him reminded me of Phil and Paul’s desperate ignorance during the Armstrong years.

Sam April 24, 2014 at 2:31 pm

I cant stand Valverde, but the fact is that Valverde – once he couldnt wriggle out of it any longer – was finally slapped with a ban, which he served. He cant legally be banned from the sport – unless he gets caught again and gets slammed with a lifetime ban.

Thems the rules, much though many dont like it.

You cant define a sport as ‘dirty’ just because an athlete’s served his ban and is winning again, when there’s no concusive proof or evidence that he’s juicing again.

Again, I stress I detest Valverde and I trust him as far as I can throw him, but was beating Dan Martin by 3 secs REALLY ‘winning with ease on one leg’? What does just a 3 sec gap say about Martin, in that case, or Kwiatkowski who was +4s?

Larry T. April 24, 2014 at 3:32 pm

How ’bout when the general public no longer thinks today’s winner is likely to be announced later to have been doped? Or riders wouldn’t go on sit-down strikes protesting dope raids on their hotels? Or the international sanctioning body wouldn’t be making excuses to cover up violations of the rules? The discussion here was about a mass-market TV audience and when the general public no longer believes the performances they see are possible without doping, the sport is branded as “dirty”. You might believe that things have been cleaned up, but the doping was allowed to go on for so long the public will take awhile to believe these kinds of claims and start watching again. I was just wondering what might have happened if French, Italian, Belgian, etc. TV broadcasters would have all said, “Clean this mess up or else we’ll not be showing it!” might have had an effect similar to what created WADA for the IOC…the multi-national sponsor demands that sport be cleaned up.

Sam April 24, 2014 at 3:46 pm

The ‘general public’ – who do you mean? My next-door neighbour who’s not a cycling fan but who loves Wiggins and Cav, and loves to watch the Tour?

Or someone in France who picks up a copy of Le Monde just before the Tour starts with the latest headline grapping, attention-seeking piece from Vayer?

Or someone in Oz loving it when Gerrans or Evans wins a race?

Or Colombians loving the resurgence of their Escarabajos on the big stage in Europe, and celebrating every Quintana, Uran or Betancur win at the highest level of racing?

As for your reference to sit-down strikes in protest – what, 16 years ago? What possible relevance does that have now?

BC April 24, 2014 at 4:57 pm

Sam. You miss the point. UNTIL the media can be convinced that the sport is clean, they are unlikely to change their view. Seeing unrepentant dopers still winning races is unlikely to persuade them otherwise. The fact that they continue their boycott suggest they are not convinced.

The Valverde issue is one where many ordinary people, NOT just the media, remain to be convinced. You may argue rules and regulations as long as you like, the evidence before peoples eyes suggests there is room for major doubt. Why do you think there were so many spontaneous boos as the result was announced. I suggest you review the finish. Valverde came from some way back in the last 150 meters and spent the final 50 or so meters celebrating, in those circumstances 3 or 4 seconds is not a small gap. His demeanour immediately after such an extraordinary effort rather curious. I am suggesting that not to question such a performance, given the rider and teams history would be both foolish and unwise. Nobody enjoys being duped, best be cautious eh.

This is the undeniable fact as to why the sport remains damaged in the eyes of many, people, media and sponsors.

Sam April 24, 2014 at 5:43 pm

BC (sorry, the reply button hierarchy is a bit limited), the issue I was taking up was the ‘general public’ label from Larry.

The vast majority of the ‘general public’ – by which I assume Larry means ‘non-cycling fans’ don’t have an idea of Valverde and his background. Yeah, I know about the boos from some people at the finish yesterday – somewhat out-down by the cheers, it has to be said (if I’d have been there, I’d have probably joined in the boo’ing)

We’re all cycling fans here, many for years now, and have been through the mill. Our knowledge is not at all typical of that of the ‘general public’

So looking at how they’re influenced by media, I’ve turned to a handful major UK news outlets for their articles on yesterday’s results

Telegraph – no reference at all to Valverde’s doping sanction
BBC – ditto
Times – no write up on the race at all
Guardian – Will Fotheringham referred to it, but he also devoted two-thirds of his FW write-up to the womens race (no doubt, given Armitstead’s 2nd place)

I think as cycling fans immersed in cycling-specific media, we run the risk of over-stating how mainstream media can report things – and its mainstream media who reach the general public, not CN or Velonews or blogs like this one.

gartmannowicz April 23, 2014 at 7:06 pm

As Im german and live in the city pictured I feel inclined to comment.
I think its even worse. A lot of people here are riding a bike, cycling as a sport is largely popular. But the country is still in hangover for the big doping con and the masses have turned away from pro cycling. Which, like TV time, has to do with the fact that ARD and ZDF got so massively mixed up with Team Telekom and hyped them so much. And after all the doping party they shamefully withdrew. So I also recon that its not easy to get the sport back on TV. Especially with no second Jan Ullrich in sight.
Its a shame for the riders. Kittel and Martin can be heroes, but more likely in Holland than in Germany. My son, 16, rides for RG Hamburg, a club Ullrich also rode for in his younger years. And here you see that there is also no sponsoring and sich. A perfect downward spirale. Shame for the riders. Real fans watch cycling over streams and Eurosport.

kaweh April 23, 2014 at 8:10 pm

What’s even more ridiculous is that ARD/ZDF are currently showing more biathlon and triathlon, sports which have at least equal doping issues to deal with. When a prominent female German biathlete, Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle, was recently tested positive for the second time in a few years, they’re still standing by her and buying into the whole “it’s a genetic defect which results in her high hematocrit level”. Germany has always had hypes for certain sports when a successful athlete appeared such as Boris Becker and Steffi Graf in tennis, Schumacher in F1 and other. In the meantime, I’m out cycling ;-)

Kenny April 23, 2014 at 7:24 pm

Interesting to see how much Germany gets right when it comes to cycling being part of the culture, certainly compared to the UK.

Any chance you could do a similar article for the UK? We have a national public service broadcaster (the BBC) that appears to have almost zero interest in road cycling, despite a diverse range of sport coverage and the budgets to fund multiple broadcast and digital channels.

Your best bet is ITV4, which has picked up cycling coverage to some extent, but given the recent boom in cycling in the country coverage feels sorely lacking.

Sam April 23, 2014 at 7:36 pm

With 3 hours live coverage every day of the Tour plus evening highlights packages; the Tour series; last year’s coverage of the London Classic, and highlights of the womens GP before the London Classic; highlights package of the London Nocturne; live coverage of the womens and mens World Champ road races; highlights (usually) of at least the Vuelta on ITV4; last year’s highlights packages of several races inc P-N, Criterium International and P-R; highlights package of the Nationals….plus the BBC coverage of Track World Champs and World Cups….

…the UK is rolling in riches when it comes to free-to-air broadcasting of bike racing, compared to Germany.

Zueco April 23, 2014 at 7:52 pm

I think you’re overly optimistic Sam. UK cycling fans tend to have low expectations. ITV4 isa channel nobody really watches tucked away somewheredown the bottom of the channel list. Most European countries broadcast live cycling on the mainstream TV channels; ARD and ZDF are the equivalent of BBC1and 2. The UK is one of the largest European countries, but still doesnt have a world tour race, and a pitiful number of UCI races. Newspapers barely mention many races, like the monuments, that would get decent coverage in any other European country, especially if no Brit is involved. Yes, cycling is on the up, including pro racing, which might be a difference with Germany, but there is still such an enormous amount if catching up to do…

Tovarishch April 23, 2014 at 8:50 pm

Given the only successful cyclist at the moment is Lizzie Armitstead, are you surprised? (With apologies to Liam Phillips)

Abdu April 24, 2014 at 6:38 am

What about Wiggo? Chris Froome?

Claiming a white African as English has never stopped your cricketers, so surely Froome as the current Tour winner fits in as a “successful cyclist”?

On that basis, you can claim Gerraint Thomas too surely? We’ll have him down in Oz if not, great fella, big ticker. A pair of training wheels to stay upright and he’ll win lots.

Tovarishch April 24, 2014 at 7:02 am

To Abdu (not enough reply buttons). It’s more the problem with the Brailsford male empire that seems to be the problem. First the men’s problems at the world track championship and then, as soon as Sir David decides to focus on Team Sky they seem to have lost the plot. Fortunately the general public really only take notice of the tour but if it were to go like 2011 I can see interest waning.

Noel April 23, 2014 at 11:34 pm

Who cares what channel it’s on as long as it’s on! If ITV 4 want to make a decent fist of it, more power to their elbow.

The Inner Ring April 23, 2014 at 11:40 pm

It matters because sponsors want big coverage. If it’s on a hard to access channel and achieves a small audience then it won’t reach many people or attract sponsors, new teams etc.

Nick April 24, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Some of the weekend stages of the TdF in recent years have been on ITV1, the biggest channel for advertisers (3.6m peak viewers for the final stage of the Wiggins win, compared with the 600,000 or so on ITV4). You can bet that the Yorkshire Grand Depart will be on too.

BBC tends to focus more on track these days, but has had terrestrial coverage of the Worlds (track and road) on BBC1 or BBC2.

Fabulous Candelabra April 24, 2014 at 9:36 am

I think it is a case of compression in the UK broadcasting. A lot of mainstream European TV is frankly abysmal. The UK has “arguably” a much better quality output on it’s mainstream channels, primarily because it sees TV production as a valuable export. So, more secondary stuff is broadcast on other channels.

The satellite offer is again much better than many countries and the viewers a little more savvy. Whilst ITV4 might be lots of Minder and On the Buses during the day, it’s output is much more up to date and higher quality after say 7pm – the same time BBC4 comes on air for the same reason.

I would rather decent cycling coverage on Europsort and ITV4 – they’ve done a good job with the Tour series, ToB and of course Uncle Ned than fleeting coverage on BBC2 in between the snooker, tennis and rugby.

Sam April 24, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Ned B is fantastic :-)

RJS April 24, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Is ITV4 really tucked away though? From memory it’s channel 17 on my TV’s menu, hardly hidden away in the hundreds inbetween the TV-shopping and religious nuts ;-)

Plus everyone at least everyone knows what ITV is, as a brand. Like the BBC they have multiple channels, which is just how TV works nowadays in a multichannel environment. It’s not perfect but I wouldn’t complain too much. How much live sport is broadcast on BBC1/2 or ITV1 nowadays anyway? Not a lot.

Vitus April 23, 2014 at 8:35 pm

“But if Eurosport is good , it’s not got the same audience and reach into German households. In simple terms you have to look for the channel rather than turn on your TV and have it come to you.”

Sorry, but I don’t count this as a valid point.
What does “look for the channel” mean? You turn on your TV, and switch the channel to Eurosport, simple as that. It’s not like 30 years ago, when we had only 3 channels and everybody was forced to watch ARD/ZDF and theres’s also nothing that makes the TV always show ARD/ZDF automatically if you turn it on. In fact, most German TV consumers watch the private channels a lot more than the public ARD/ZDF, cause their program is getting worse every year and full with entertainment only for people 60+ .
And Eurosport is free for everyone, it’s in basic cable and satellite, you do once a automatic library lookup with the TV and you get it plus ARD/ZDF and 40 other channels to choose.

pavlyu April 23, 2014 at 8:48 pm

You’re right that it’s not countable when talking about cycling fans.

But non-cycling fans simply don’t zap to Eurosport more often than to ARD/ZDF/SAT1/RTL/PRO7 etc. And thats the point. Cycling needs to get new people being interested in cycling. The only way to do it is if cycling reaches a wider audience.

Tovarishch April 23, 2014 at 8:51 pm

What’s wrong with being over 60?

Vitus April 23, 2014 at 10:04 pm

Nothing. The problem is what our public broadcasters think people over 60 would like to see in TV (40 year old shows, cheap soaps, cooking shows, more cooking shows, kitchy movies adn in sports nothing but Bayern München ) and orientate their whole program around this part of the audience.

The Inner Ring April 23, 2014 at 11:27 pm

Eurosport is great and offers good commentary but I’ve updated the piece above with a tweet to show the audience figures. It’s so much smaller. Now you can still watch a race but a sponsor will see the small audience for a big country.

Vitus April 24, 2014 at 1:31 am

Interesting numbers.
Okay, I wont start about how bad the elicitation of this data in Germany is. There is much criticism from serious statistic professionals about how this system works at all, it is so 1970, as if nothing happened in tech since then, a few hundred users with ancient devices influence what is “wanted” in Germany and what not. That don’t work at all.

But let’s work with the given numbers.
Like Bundle said below “Well, even in the heyday of cycling, between the 50′s and the 80′s, Germans were simply not interested”
That is damned true, we never were a classic cycling fan nation. We had much better times, no doubt, SixDays were huge in 50/60, but we never were like NL, Belgium, Italy, France etc.
You’ll see that in the numbers from 1996. That was the year Ulle had the race of his life, ended second overall and could eaily have won, if not Bjarne wasthere. Back then o,28 watched the ARD/ZDF coverage. The normal hardcore cycling enthusiasts.
Then came 1997, and the big media, like tabloid newspaper BILD cheered up for Ulle, the average nationalist sports fan, who normally had no clue about cycling cheered from one day to another for “one of ours! Hooray!”, the viewer numbers jumped up immediately. Thousands of those non-cycling fans bought ugly magenta Telekom jerseys, talked about TdF (only race they know) as if they followed it forever (which they didn’t). Lead to incredible bashing of Jens Voigt, cause he once didn’t “help” Ulle on one TdF stage though he is German too! The event fan nuts didn’t get what different teams in cycling means, they really thought it was about nationality…… (In 5 years there will be reports like this about GB, I’m sure ;-))
Then came 2004, the numbers fell, the ridiculous bigot morality campaign by German media started, the clueless event fans abandoned the ship and instead started to demonise everyone on a bike, the numbers went down, ARD/ZDF stopped broadcasting.
Only Eurosport was left.
BUT: their numbers nowadays are higher than those by ARD/ZDF in the pre-Ulle era ever were….!
So I think, we are back at a normal cycling fan interest in this country, with even a bit higher margins than 20 years ago.
You can’t make up a real cycling nation with only some success of riders. Lesson will be learned in Britain too.

But you’re right, that’s not much for a big nation with a huge number of everyday cyclists and UCI should have more interest here than in exotic races.

pavlyu April 23, 2014 at 8:42 pm

Nice to read it here. Don’t know why or for which reason ARD/ZDF (die öffentlich-rechtlichen) are hating our cycling so much. We have so many talented riders. As I’m a huge cycling fan it’s very hard to understand what our media is doing. Things have changed, we have young and clean riders who are among the best in the world. In germany cycling is like a scapegoat, people always can’t understand my love to this sport as most of them think (nearly) everybody is doped. Accountable for this attitude are not least our media. If we get some news about cycling from a non-cycling website it’s exclusively if they have catched a big name doped. I’m so happy we have Eurosport. Paris-Roubaix only has earned highlights of 5 minutes in ZDF Sportreportage.
The big joke about it is that we see Biathlon (Starykh, Sachenbacher-Stehle, others), cross-country day after day (in the winter). It’s time to wake up german media. The first step is to make a clinical coverage and not only this doping stuff. Show as many races as possible without always mentioning the doping word (they do not say it in biathlon etc. too). The potential here is big but without a rethinking from our media it will be very difficult to return to our past situation (and allure new sponsors for procycling).

btw. youre title is really provocative ;)

Kelly's Bidon April 23, 2014 at 9:03 pm

“Unter Alles” indeed. However, with reason… having had to adopt an apologist tone, regarding Europe, for many, many years I can totally understand the German Media’s reticence to give any more credence towards a professional sport, and its (then-not-now) governance, that was so corrupt. Personally, I still feel annoyed when such un-apologetic racers, e.g. Valverde, win a race. Maybe time will heal their Ulrich wounds, tempting the sponsors’ back. I certainly hope so for the likes of John ‘yah!’ Degencolb and ‘Quiffster’ Kittel…youngsters of both class and integrity that our sport really now needs. As for Eurosport…any company that employs the likes of Carlton Kirby deserves to have its ‘links to the wider community’ permanently severed. ‘The home of cycling’…not.

Ken April 23, 2014 at 10:06 pm

German TV killed off a sport’s coverage for ethical reasons? Really? Maybe I’m cynical, but the only “sin” I’ve seen commercial television executives punish is poor ratings. What were pro cycling’s ratings doing in the period before the sport was dropped?

Bundle April 23, 2014 at 10:31 pm

Well, even in the heyday of cycling, between the 50’s and the 80’s, Germans were simply not interested and the continental countries west of the Rhine and south of the Alps really were. Maybe Germans didn’t like the agonistic, inhuman, “pain is beauty”, side of it. Go figure. They had good riders, but the audiences were simply not into it.

channel_zero April 23, 2014 at 10:51 pm

Germany is a nice example of the crazy ideas the UCI has about the sport.

They are obsessed with “globalizing the sport” with races in far off places that have almost no spectators while they refuse to harvest the low hanging fruits like Germany.
Their years-long efforts at killing long-running events with high calendar rankings hasn’t grown the sport.
Their rules discourage Continental-ranked or below everything as a kind of way to protect the World Tour races, yet the WT races are no more valuable.

And somehow, with their despotic ways they think they can grow viewership with a “simpler” calendar. What. A. Mess.

BenDE April 24, 2014 at 4:38 am

I beg to differ. Germany is not a low hanging fruit. Attempts were made after the fall of Telekom to shift attention to others within the sport like F. Wegmann and Toni Martin. But there was no traction. I feel the UCI is making the business decision to plant seeds on fertile ground rather than try to resurrect a diseased orchard. As INRNG adeptly points out, the popularity of the sport in Germany was a blip. Germans, and very personable ones at that (JD, MK, TM, AG) are winning huge races presently and no one cares. These gentlemen are vocal and great ambassadors for the sport. If this is not effective then there is very little the UCI could do to alter this ingrained cynicism, sadly.

James April 23, 2014 at 11:20 pm

Really interesting, and such a shame given the potential of Germany to host exciting races in beautiul areas.

As an aside, I’d be curious to know if you think the UK is in a ‘cycling bubble’?

The Inner Ring April 23, 2014 at 11:32 pm

Cycling seems to have soared in popularity in Britain, we see Sky and the Giro and Tour starts etc. But Germany had three pro teams at one point. One team in Britain seems reasonable, no?

channel_zero April 24, 2014 at 11:51 pm

You should consider doing a story about the costs borne by the taxpayers of these new British races.
You’ll find their budgets given to ASO are on the order of 10x other locales that have hosted ASO’s events.

Charles Hunter April 23, 2014 at 11:43 pm

Interesting article, thanks.

STS April 24, 2014 at 12:16 am

I apologize beforehand but I think that most of you including our much valued author of many great and insightful cycling-related stories haven’t really got the reason of the drastically decreasing interest of the German public in pro cycling. You might consider the details, compare the percentage of cyclists in the population and the huge volume of the German cycling goods market, but all that won’t let you understand the real reason. Which is as simple as saying that the general German public is not interested in cycling as a professional sport. Never was. The hype of those years during the Ullrich era was just that, a hype caused by the immense success and the first German winner of the world’s biggest cycling race. Very similar to the giant interest towards Tennis in Germany during the years when Becker won Wimbledon and Steffi Graf dominated the female side of that sport. Nowadays there are still some really good German tennis players but they don’t dominate the sport on an international level. So Tennis also vanished from German TV channels. Tennis fans in Germany also have to tune in to Eurosport when they want to see the Grand Slam tournaments.

Certainly all the revelations about doping in cycling did their share to accelerate the downfall and made sponsors leave the scene faster than Erik Zabel could ever sprint in his 11T cog with a strong tail wind on the Via Aurelia. But right now the situation would not be that much different even if Lance & Jan had fought on bred & water on the roads of France. Simply because Germany hasn’t had any rider able to contest for the TdF win for the last decade. And the German general public – the main target for all big money sponsors – is only interested in athletes able to contest for the WIN in the most prestigious events in any kind of sport. So as long as German biathletes, ski jumpers, skiers or speed skaters are in the mix for glory at Olympic games, World Championships or World Cups there will be enough interest and market share for live coverage of those sports. If German athletes don’t compete for the win the market share rapidly declines and sponsors are following the public interest to the next second most interesting sport after football which sees and will ever see by far more TV coverage in German main broadcasters’ programs than any other sports combined.

The really funny thing in Germany is: Even the majority of the many really active cyclists who regularly train and take part in Gran Fondos and mass participation races – with the exceptions of those who race as licensed amateurs which is a rather small percentage – are not interested in pro cycling. Reader surveys of the biggest cycling magazines regularly show that. They cycle because they love to do it after they started to do it for different reasons. But they have no real understanding and appreciation of what’s going on in the sport on a professional or high amateur level. Mainly because they don’t care and feel betrayed by the doping professionals whom they admired through their rose-tinted glasses during those hype years.

I dare to predict that this would not even change if Degenkolb won or will win Paris-Roubaix and other classics in the coming years. This would remain widely unnoticed in Germany. He or some other countryman would have to win the TdF – maybe even twice – and do it in a way that the big German media would be convinced that he’s done it clean before a new wave of interest towards pro cycling might begin.

With regards to the money in the sport, right now it’s just the opposite of what you suppose it should be. There are only a few sponsors left who invest some cash into cycling events. But there are many who earn considerable money by organizing mass-participation cycling events like the Cyclassics, the Velothon, the Transalp stage races and many many other events like those. All those share a huge number of participants willing to pay somewhat astonishing entry fees. That is the reality of the sport in Germany right now. It prospers and grows – yes, it really does – but as a sport like jogging for those who actively pursue it for themselves rather than as a spectators sport fettering the masses to the telly.

BenDE April 24, 2014 at 4:44 am

Excellent analysis. Absolutely. Spot. On.

AK April 24, 2014 at 8:14 am

Great points. I have the impression that in general people from non-cycling countries tend to make the mistake thatt in a country with many cyclists interest in pro cycling is high. In some cases this is true it’s mostly councidental. It’s like assuming speed walking is a popular spectator sport in countries with many pedestrians.

The Inner Ring April 24, 2014 at 8:53 am

Good stuff, thanks. I did try to suggest pro cycling’s never been big except for the Telekom “pink period”. As for the indifference to pro cycling, it’s widespread across Europe with many people riding but not watching.

All sports need heroes and to win big to get an audience. The Tour de France would get huge crowds and bigger TV audiences if a Frenchman was able to win it. But at least many in Germany are riding. As Brecht wrote “Traurig das Land, das Helden nötig hat”, it’s better to go for a ride than sit on the sofa.

Bundle April 24, 2014 at 10:55 am

Pretty right. This “patriotic identification with one’s fellow compatriot cyclist” is universal (universally cheap), and not helpful at all. But I’d disagree with the consequences of something like Degenkolb dominating Roubaix… I think the big classics, and that one in particular, are slowly becoming a huge, global event, that no one will be able to ignore in a few years. In fact, German cycling should perhaps try to build up its classics: Hamburg is OK, but a little boring. Eschborn-Frankfurt is more fun, and has the history, but lacks the status. Those two races could do with some serious spicing up and singularity. (I just watched last weekend’s Tro-Bro Léon, and I’m really impressed).

Evan April 24, 2014 at 1:23 am

Seems a tad hypocritical of the TV promoters if they still show the Olympics, football, tennis, or really any organized sport. It’s not like those are any cleaner.

Fat Old Guy April 24, 2014 at 6:08 am

Germany would be a wonderful place for a national Tour. The scenery would be beautiful and the racing superbe! I have ranged around many parts of Germany while on vacation and constantly see place that I always imagine as a great place for a bike race due to steep hills or wonderful vistas.

I think things will come around with a perception that doping is in decline and because they have some great riders that win lots of races. Nationalism is big everywhere in sports and people like to support their countrymen! One can hope at least…

Abdu April 24, 2014 at 6:53 am

The ‘popularity’ of Jan Ullrich is really interesting to consider.

Der Kaiser had fans when racing because many wanted him to beat the arrogant Yank. Plus there was the few of us who liked his off-season fat binges as if he was just a normal human being like us (how ironic?).

I would happily pay extra to ride with him in a Gran Fondo, but the UCI banned him from riding in them…(meanwhile Valverde and Vino are free to race, and Hincapie got a 6 week ban?!).

He’s now a model for Rapha. Clearly he’s got heaps of street cred with the Hipsters and Too-Cool types there, it’s not like they’d use someone who stopped all those 40+ year old Dentists from buying more Rapha?

Pantani draws a huge fanbase still.

Germany drops the sport like a bad habit while its pro riders are delivering better results than the US, UK, Australia, etc. and all clean too.

Weird.

Sam April 24, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Just to clear up that Rapha-Ullrich business. It was mis-reported at the time in the cycling media. Ullrich is NOT a model or rep for Rapha. He buys the Rapha clothes himself, and posted a pic or two on his Facebook page crowing about how much he loves Rapha, and some writer decided to put “2+2″ and make 47 of it.

lee kaliski April 24, 2014 at 8:07 am

STS is quite accurate in his description regarding the attitude of many German cyclists regarding professional road racing. I moved to the Ruhr area from Australia nearly 2 years and it´s interesting for me to compare the attitudes here compared to Sydney, Australia, where the emphasis is heavy on “looking pro” (as if!), lots of bling, etc…. in fairness many of my old riding friends in Sydney certainly did race a lot, but I also think that to a degree is due to the simple lack of decent and safe roads to ride on! (says something when it´s just about safer to race than ride a bike on the roads! :-/ ) Moving here it quickly became apparent that the emphasis is not so much what you look like or how much carbon there is on your bike, or sitting in the coffee shop for an hour after maybe riding “flat out” for 45 mins ( :-) ), but actually riding for long rides on largely country roads…my friends consider it nothing unusual to ride for 150km every weekend, with rides of 200 + tending to draw the comment. The ease of access to local RTF rides (extended club rides organised over varying distances of 75, 150, 200+) as well as Fondo´s or Sportives in Belgium or Holland etc make for exciting weekend trips….this has tended to replace racing in some instances….my first “real” Spring has seen me ride Omloop, Het, De Ronde, PR, and LBL this coming weekend….beats a tennis centre criterium doesn´t it!? :-) I think the Inner Ring piece on looking Euro Pro some time ago is also somehow relevant…some of my friends wouldn´t counter shaving their legs for example, but woe-betide some of my old Sydney buddies laughing them…trying to “look Pro” is a far cry from riding like one. The fact that here riding is such a normal part of life as opposed to a middle class “mamil” construct is in fact perhaps one of the things that makes the sport seem not so “special” here. Of course, these are largely generalisations, but it certainly seems to be the case from an “outsiders insight” :-)

The Inner Ring April 24, 2014 at 8:38 am

I think that experience is common across much of Europe. Coffee culture, white bar tape, team-issue bikes and cycling clubs abound in “new” cycling countries but in “old Europe” people just ride lots. What’s different in Germany is the disconnect with the top of the sport, the media coverage given to the pro side.

Bundle April 24, 2014 at 10:43 am

I find it worrying when people try to oppose hipster-urban-fixie cycling to pro-looking carbon-framed futuristic-sunglassed road cycling. Last Sunday, on Bicycle Day, the Spanish major newspaper El País published a debate between the two “sides”. I don’t like it. There is no opposition between sport and transportation, between the city and the countryside, between dressing for one purpose or the other. The different aspects should complement each other. And pro cycling should see those hipsters as potential audiences, if not now, in a few years.

ARDI April 24, 2014 at 8:10 am

The German public is not interested in pro – cycling. Also most Germans have (and never had) zero knowledge about the classics like Paris – Roubaix, Amstel etc. or in cycling history. So, there is a lot of space for development.

In fact, there is a small coverage of the Tour in the main channels ARD / ZDF. But its basically all relating to doping. There is zero information about the efforts in pro – cycling against doping. In fact this is a piece of poor journalistic work.

The Inner Ring April 24, 2014 at 8:48 am

To a lesser extend this is true in other countries. Even in France most people don’t care for cycling much; opinion polls show the majority of people watching the Tour de France on TV/at the roadside are doing so to see the scenery/see the publicity caravan. I should do a piece on this surprising indifference sometime.

I haven’t read L’Equipe today but I suspect it will have 10 pages of football and less than one page on cycling, despite being in the middle of ASO’s Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège races.

ARDI April 24, 2014 at 10:59 am

Another aspect: in Germany we have to pay charges for ARD / ZDF . These channels raise a claim to a balanced and neutral coverage on a guaranteed journalistic level.

s.b. April 24, 2014 at 9:28 am

As a German fan I’d like to say thanks for changing the title and for covering this topic, it’s all very accurate. For anecdata on Eurosport, it’s easily available enough once you’ve set up your TV but it’s one of those programs you’ll have on place 30 in the list and you simply don’t ever channel surf that far if you aren’t interested in sports other than what’s covered by ARD/ZDF, which hardly anyone is, and I personally only became aware of them covering races *after* I became interested in it.
TV station politics aside I sometimes suspect that Germany is culturally simply not Catholic enough to appreciate the sport (with the exception of Bavaria, of course.)

Ad April 26, 2014 at 10:33 am

I’ve recently moved to Germany, and eurosport appears on my channels, but it’s just a blank screen. Any tips on how to make work properly?

Vitus April 26, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Which TV reception you use, DVB-C, DVB-S or DVB-T and where do you live in Germany?

Ad April 26, 2014 at 3:51 pm

DVB-C, I’m in Lüneburg. But I’ve just been fiddling around, and it works now! No idea what changed, but thanks anyway.

Eurosport 2 doesn’t work, is that normal?

Vitus April 26, 2014 at 5:11 pm

ES2, other than ES1, is not in every basic cable bundle. Depends on provider. That’s the liitle drawback. But cycling happens mostly on ES1

Felix April 24, 2014 at 10:42 am

Be really interesting to see a closer look at the indifference to the sport in France, I was in St Malo for last years tour and found it almost impossible to find somewhere to watch the action even though the Tour was set to roll through town later that week.
Again this year I was in the Normandy area during Paris-Roubaix and although seeing plenty of local team riders out and about I ended up watching the last 60k in a Kebab shop in the middle of Caen which seemed to be on purely by accident.

Seems odd seeing as the Country is such a focal point for the sport. Are the French just not that into watching sport or is this indifference reserved only for Pro cycling?

Barry Cameron April 24, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Felix… see my thoughts below.

Barry Cameron April 24, 2014 at 1:02 pm

If any of you think that TV coverage on mainstream channels is ever going to get better than you are off your rockers.

Cycling may be the new golf for affluent males over the age of 30 who want to reclaim youth and spend money (sponsors targets) but they are still a very small group of very niche people.

F1 appeals not only as a sport but as lifestyle aspiration to a very wide group of people !!! Not very many people will ever aspire to be Andre G or Kittel or a tour winner or Cav or Wiggo or any of them because cyclists and pro cycling is by its very nature a bit weird. Club racers are a bit weird. Amateurs are a bit weird. We think the normal guy who rides to work in his jeans at 15kph is a bit weird but hes not.

so in summary Cycling will NEVER be mainstream and will never attract mainstream sponsors or mainstream TV deals or become and aspiration product like F1 , Tennis, Champions league etc… we are just a bit to weird for the normal punter to connect with.

Barry Cameron April 24, 2014 at 2:31 pm

and i ment to say this applies to everywhere, not just here, not just there and not just in Germany, not anywhere! Well, apart from the small niche countries who are by default, in their national pysche…. a bit weird.

Darren April 25, 2014 at 10:41 pm

From a small niche country comes the request to extrapolate on the meaning of ‘a bit weird’, otherwise you may be mistaken for being ‘a bit too vague’, also known as ‘wishy-washy’!

Luke April 24, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Nail on the head there Barry!

search April 24, 2014 at 2:43 pm

the comparison to the UK brought up in the comments is interesting in the way that there currently is somehow a similar situation as in Germany in the 1990’s, little (road) cycling culture, but growing interest (and coverage/sponsorship) due to success in the Tour de France. Plus with Murdoch there is someone involved who also controls the national media (like ARD in Germany with Team Telekom).

It’ll be interesting to see what the situation will be like in 10 years, or in case someone like Wiggins or Froome tests positive.

Sam April 24, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Last time I looked Murdoch didnt own the national media. Owns certain broadsheets and tabloids, and BSkyB.

That does not equate to owning the national media.

Unless he’s suddenly taken over the BBC and I wasnt aware? And on the newspaper front Paul Dacre and co might disagree with your statement.

search April 24, 2014 at 5:46 pm

what I was trying to point out is that they (ARD in Germany, and Murdoch in GB via The Sun, The Times and so on) are able to influence the public’s opinion on the sport if they want to. So there is a deep connection between mass media and sports (sponsorship), which is never good.

Alpen April 24, 2014 at 2:47 pm

You can’t ride 3 minutes in Mallorca during the spring without crossing the path of a German on a bike, so they’re definitely out riding and probably in more numbers than ever.

Maybe Canyon should take the lead and stop sponsoring a Russian and Spanish team and do it’s own thing in Germany?

Garuda32 April 24, 2014 at 3:11 pm

When Gerolsteiner and T-mobile left the protour, there were no Germans that were genuine favorites in races. Zabel was but a shell of his former self by then. That is no longer true. German cycling needs someone with balls and money to sponsor a German identity team again.

Tovarishch April 24, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Do they take the deck-chairs with them?

search April 24, 2014 at 5:54 pm

the problem is that the image of the sport is wrecked, there is a manifested public opinion that every professional cyclist is doped. A wrestler propably has more credibility than a cyclist.

Eb in AZ April 24, 2014 at 9:11 pm

just wondering, is the Eurosport coverage in Germany the direct feed with the same commentary teams? Realizing that many Germans are multilingual but having English commentary might have an effect on viewership.

The Inner Ring April 24, 2014 at 11:29 pm

It’s Eurosport Germany with commentary by Andreas Schulz.

Vitus April 25, 2014 at 12:51 am

Andreas Schulz does only a few races, and he’s not that good, to say the least.
Most races are commentated by Karsten Migels and Jean-Claude Leclercq, the later a french ex-pro with excellent German language skills and also excellent cycling knowledge. Migels is sometimes a bit boring and has a problem ending his endless talks when something important is happening in the race, but he’s not as bad as a Kirby or Lance’s mining companions PhilPaul…..

naval April 24, 2014 at 9:23 pm

there is no serious cycling community in Germany with sound knowledge of history,events,foreign riders, and minute understanding of a pro cyclist`s way of life to become successful.
Even most cyclists have no deeper clue of the trade. I was asked by a club mate recently after I told him that I have watched the Paris-Roubaix race ´was the weather as bad as it used to be´?lol!
For a saturated society only big wins are noticeable in conjunction with media hype . Things have to be exaggerated by the press otherwise they reach only the few insiders.
The Degenkolb,Martin,Kittel and Greipel`s are not known by the greater part of the public.
But the dopers are known to everybody ;meaning even bad news are even valuable for sponsors.
However,cycling sport is being stigmasised in order to destract from soccer,field sports and biathlon dope affairs.
However it is cynical that Germany is one of the leaders in the development and use of doping regimen and at the same time is blackmailing their own athletes. A more pragmatic approach of the media and public would give equal rights to every kind of sport!
Sadly only very few (ie Stölting) have the balls to invest in cycling even though the cost average for publicity is of the lowest.
There have to be entrepreneurs to detect that niche,there the UCI could be of help.

Kai April 24, 2014 at 9:43 pm

Good comments, guys! We learn the problem is complex. And it’ getting even more complex if you take the media’s lack of passion and sole commercial interests into account. If it comes to public broadcaster you have to consider political influences in addition.

naval April 24, 2014 at 9:49 pm

@kai
nail in the head!

tourdeutah April 24, 2014 at 10:42 pm

Try watching a bike race in America. NBCSportsNet, a small cable channel does show the TdF live and delayed every day. NBCSports also has a two hour cycling block every Sunday. Which means taped delayed and highly edited cycling grouped around three commercial breaks every 30 mins. More commercial than programming.

Ninety percent of my cycling comes from the internet. Let’s face it, in America cycling is a niche sport. Lots of people cycle and attend bike races. Very few watch on tv. Esp live since euro races happen early in the am and american races occur while we are at work.

Thank god for the internet !

Chrisman April 26, 2014 at 8:37 pm

In principle, I totally agree with it – the contests became false, so why screen them?

Vitus April 26, 2014 at 9:23 pm

Everything in capitalism is false and cheating. So why show anything at all? Why reading blogs?

Chrisman April 26, 2014 at 9:31 pm

The overt and sordid nature of the cheating/falseness. Financial doping I can handle. Blokes literally seeing who can intravenously pump the most fresh blood into themselves intravenously during the mountain stages of a TDF? Bit tasteless if you ask me. That isn’t really sport, unless taking drugs is a sport. Which maybe it should be. I’m sure Serie A football is also riddled with doping, which is why I don’t watch it and probably why Juve win the title every year, along with buying referees. The league is no longer credible. There is a line. Cycling crossed that line.

Ulf Schiller April 26, 2014 at 11:20 pm

The article and the discussion are great but seem to miss one point. Germans get excited about their uber-stars. Recall that Jan Ullrich was almost at the same level as Boris Becker, Steffi Graf, or Michael Schumacher. Why? Jan won the Tour de France; Boris&Steffi won Wimbledon Schumi was F1 world champion.

For us fans, Kittel, Degenkolb, Martin, & Greipel are exciting cyclists, but the average ARD/ZDF viewers won’t understand the importance of winning the Classics or single stages. (For the 50+ fans: It’s like Thaler or Thurau in the late 70’s. Everyone knew Thurau, but who knew Thaler). Besides the scandal of having had too close ties with Telekom, ARD/ZDF are also off air because there is no German Grand Tour GC rider.

In economic terms: There is no coverage (=supply) because ARD/ZDF wouldn’t find demand. Demand won’t grow until a new uber-star is born.

To check if I’m right: Compare TV coverage of tennis in the Boris&Steffi age with what it is now. The then/now quota is not that extreme as it is in cycling, but the picture is roughly the same, even without a tennis doping scandal.

Augie March April 27, 2014 at 8:28 am

I think looking closer at the situation in Australia is instructive. Here SBS has been broadcasting cycling for years. As Cadel Evans was doing well and then won the TDF in 2011 they achieved huge ratings, but more importantly interest has been maintained. This year for example SBS is broadcasting every stage of the Giro d’Italia as well as classics such as MS, ToF, PR LBL etc and the ratings for the TDF in 2013 were very strong, even though after the first week no Australians made an impact and even though broadcast live on the east coast of Australia this is from 10pm to 1am odd.

Obviously the success of Cadel Evans and the first Australian world tour team Orica GreenEdge are a factor in this, but once people started watching pro cycling they’ve stayed watching it, and the audience is growing. I understand that more people will pay attention to a grand tour GC winner rather than stage winners, which explains why Greipel/Martin/Kittel/Degenkolb etc aren’t gaining much traction in Germany despite their successes, but maybe a German team or more sponsorships by German companies could turn things around (I notice Tinkoff-Saxo are sponsored by BMW but not on the jerseys). What could make a difference is if the ASO or RCS could schedule the start of a grand tour in Germany which would bring the global media circus to the country for a few stages and compel the German media and public to pay attention.

Un Français May 2, 2014 at 1:32 pm

http://www.radsport-news.com/sport/sportnews_87152.htm
You can see here all the “results” of the live of GP Francfort by the Hessiche Rundfunk.
And that is quite good. Clearly there is a real potential. ProCycling has a future in Germany!

cthulhu May 8, 2014 at 11:39 am

I believe interest in pro cycling in Germany has normalised. It will never as popular again as during Telekom Times, but same goes for other sports. Ski jumping anyone? I’m fine with that, but worries me is the amateurs. Whilst many are riding, there are less and less amateur racers while commercial Gran Fondos attract more and more riders, despite being much more expensive.
And here the selfimposed media ban hurts the most. No sponsors, no kids interested, thousands of obstacles when trying to organise a race…
ARD goes talk a bit again about the sport but all those local newspapers don’t.and that hurts the most I guess.despite the prints decline most people still read those. And they usually convert football 1st to last league but pro cycling, or even local amateur cycling no.

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