Why German TV matters

Even Inspektor Derrick can’t catch the dopers

You probably don’t watch much German TV. Here in France we’re treated to mid-afternoon re-runs of Derrick, a 1980s detective programme and not much else. But if German TV shows don’t export themselves, it’s worth remembering that the country is Europe’s largest and most wealthy country.

It’s against this backdrop that the idea of German broadcasters dropping the Tour de France can be seen as a significant blow to the sport. There’s talk of funding cutbacks and new priorities but there’s a pachyderm in the parlour: das doping.

It is essential that the publicly-funded German television no longer support structures that encourage crime.

The quote above is from a media editor in Germany, my translation. As you can see, this is strong stuff, meaning no public money should go into cycling. The anti-doping attitude in Germany is very strong, the country that once took to Jan Ullrich recoiled at the allegations and admissions when the T-Mobile squad imploded.

Germans won’t be deprived of the sport, there are satellite channels like Eurosport with German commentary. But losing the route into every German household matters to riders, teams and sponsors. Anyone thinking of backing the sport does it for a media return and finding the largest single market in Europe – a country of over 80 million – effectively closed is a big handicap for the sport. Reaching a more narrow subscription market is just another obstacle.

It’s also a big issue for the future of German cycling. With the loss of Milram, there are no big league teams left. Seeing big broadcasters walk away only makes the chances of resurrecting a team harder.

In summary, it’s bad news for German cycling fans but something that resonates beyond the country. When the big broadcasters of Europe’s largest countries say nein to the Tour de France then you have a crisis on your hands.

12 thoughts on “Why German TV matters”

  1. As a follow up, I'd just add that it's unlikely to happen in another country, seeing broadcasters drop the Tour in Italy or Spain is unlikely. I suppose scandals relating to Armstrong could hit US coverage. But the point to remember is that Germany is Europe's largest country and it's a blow when the big broadcasters drop cycling.

  2. This is where I get upset at the "let them dope" crowd, because it is both a lazy attitude to hold, as well as it ignores the repercussions from a dirty sport.
    I know people harp on the fact that other sports seem to get a pass. But this is only because most sports do not have their superstars getting popped for PEDs, and most other sports require so much additional help from other athletes, that the impact from PED's on individual performance is less explicit. The one sport which seems to face this same issue is baseball here in the States. This is aother team sport where individual performance and contribution is much easier to assess than basketball, football or soccer, and the same tired arguments about PED’s are made here (i.e. – let them dope, who cares etc…). This ignores the various concerns over athlete health, and the fact that it is a travesty when just one clean athlete cannot compete because of the various doped up freaks around him/her.
    So when it comes to why doping matters, between Pegasus and German TV (and do not think this is not going to impact future decisions to sponsor Pro Tour level teams), the impact has hurt both the athletes themselves and now the German public.
    And yet, here we go with Contador only getting a 1 year suspension. Think this is going to convince the Germans otherwise that this sport is serious about cleaning itself up.

  3. I understand your view of the Things…

    but you can believe me, the real German Cycling Supporter don´t miss the coverage (either live or recorded) from the publicly funded German TV really.
    Apart from the doping problem, they see themselves as the highest moral Authority, and not only in Cycling.

    Long time before they jumping on the TOURGOTT Train in 97, we have loved the Tour !

    and for the Future… le Tour or Pro Tour for Germans on EUROSPORT

  4. Colorado Goat: yes, with you all the way there.

    Velovoyeur: bestimmt! My view is not for the German cycling fan so much but for the typical German TV viewer. The distinction is that the fan will go as far as a Eurosport subscription but the normal "man in the street" won't. Sponsors want to reach as many as possible, to go beyond the likes of you and me.

    Still, watching Eurosport Deutschland last July, I remember the coverage was sponsored by a shampoo brand with the logo that it was "Das doping fur die Haare", as if even the adverts had to mock the sport.

  5. I've always seen this as a power play by German TV. Basically holding out to negotiate a smaller (cheaper) TV deal. Constantly playing the doping card is just to devalue the ASO's product.

  6. jza: yes, that is a point I've read in the German media, that this is just a negotiating ploy.

    Does the Tour need German TV more than German TV needs the Tour?

  7. The main problem with the public German TV is that in the end the politicians are the head of the organisation. It is true that other people make the program but they have to take responsibility and report to their "bosses". That makes the whole thing even worse and popularity and political position plays a huge role in the creation of their program despite having the assignment to promote culture and knowledge and not simply entertainment.

    Sure, it is true that they always complain about the price since all European national TV stations make a deal with the ASO and the German TV as the one with the biggest (possible) audience takes the biggest load. Still the problem lies deeper. After the fall of Ullrich and the reoccurring doping cases, the whole German media only focused on the bad news, not that some doping cases are the result of better anti doping policies and methods, so the sport is just not very well marketable at the moment in Germany. Especially amateurs and local clubs notice that but also the Pro scene suffers. And that is a downward spiral and it is hard to get out of that, especially if the mainstream gets to hear even less good news because the sport doesn't occur in the media except for doping cases. And the are really biased about doping news, while cycling gets all the bad news, and for example athletics with at least as many doping scandals and problems still gets air time and the "holy cow" biathlon there any bad news get hushed up so even the slightest possibility is nipped in the bud.

    Also one cannot say there is no interest. Despite doping there are still many people who enjoy watching Le Tour but also more and more people are cycling not only for commuting but also for recreation and fitness. And the cycling union is the biggest sports union after the football union. But unfortunately without the help of the media this does not help Amateur or Pro scene only event organisers.

  8. ARD and ZDF never really cared about cycling, the only race they ever broadcasted was the Tour de France. People who follow cycling all year long do so thanks to Eurosport, who broadcast a lot of races, from Paris-Nice over Tour of Turkey to Tour of California. Therefore they also follow the Tour de France on Eurosport, which has great and funny commentators.

    The spectators of ARD and ZDF only follow cycling superficially, that is to say they only watch the Tour de France. Therefore the fact that ARD and ZDF dropped out of the Tour is only bad for the Tour, but not for cycling altogether.

    This whole thing is completely blown out of proportion. It has nothing to do with doping. ARD and ZDF dropped out once before because of the Sinkewitz case but were quick to come back. It only has to do with consistently sinking viewership, and that is due to the absence of a German star.

    Even when they still had Milram people didn't care because Milram didn't get any results, and that is what the vast majority in Germany (and anywhere, really) cares about. I still remember the headline of the country's biggest newspaper "Bild" in 2008: "Rad-Schumi in Gelb". My prediction is that if Greipel wins one or two stages in the Tour ARD and ZDF will gladly forget all about doping and be back in 2012.

    Also … since when is Germany the largest country in Europe?!


  9. Anonymous: it's frustrating when I agree with all the comments. I know the situation in Germany and as Christian says below, if Greipel wins then perhaps the broadcasters will be back! There's some good riders coming (Degenkolb etc).

    Christian: yes, the ARD might attract the superficial fan but there are millions of them. Viewing figures matter, teams are created not to appeal to you and me but to the everyday TV viewer.

    As for the largest country in Europe, over 80 million people makes it the largest no? I was referring to the EU.

  10. Christian, it is indeed a problem, even if ARD just transmits the Tour and regional Races (Cyclassics, Henninger Turm, Rund um Köln). Without this media exposure to the mainstream it is harder and harder every year to find sponsors for amateur teams and races. Also I would guess less kids pick up the sport because they just don't know about it/it is not popular thanks to that.

  11. anon at 12:15 nails it. Doping is the easy 'blame it on the bad guys' excuse for cutting it. Fact is without a warm and fuzzy german star (Klöden was never going to fill that role) ratings fell. Second point: eurosport is not as exclusive as you implied in the piece. it is not on the airwaves but in any digital whether it be terrestial, cable, or satelite it is offered.

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