Pubcasters stop the cycle: pull Tour over doping issue

Sat.1 picks up coverage from ARD, ZDF

Germany's public broadcasters have applied the brakes to live coverage of the Tour de France after yet another doping scandal at cycling's premier event (HR 7/19).

In an unprecedented move, public channels ARD and ZDF on Wednesday canceled live coverage of the Tour. In its place, the channels aired a special one-hour report on doping in sports before returning to regular, nonsports programming.

German cycling fans aren't being completely cut off — commercial broadcaster Sat.1 was quick to pick up the available race coverage, and cable channel Eurosport continued to air the event live — but the move has already been a big jolt to the Tour's ratings in Germany.

The decision to drop the Tour de France came after cyclist Patrik Sinkewitz, who rides for Germany's T-Mobile team, tested positive for a banned supplement.

ZDF editor in chief Nikolaus Brender said the move was "a yellow card for the Tour," referring to the warning card a soccer referee waves at a player after calling a foul.

If Sinkewitz fails a second doping test, Brender said the Tour will "get the red card" — an all-out ban from German public television.

A ban would be a disaster for cycling in Germany. ARD and ZDF combined have a 30% market share of the German audience.

Sat.1's coverage got off to a slow start on Thursday. Coverage of the race ended with a disappointing 4.9% market share. ARD and ZDF had been averaging 13.5% during the first nine days of the tour.

Niche channel Eurosport jumped from less than 2% to an 8.9% audience share Thursday.
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