1. Home » A conversation with Phonak’s Andy Rihs: Cycling sponsorship pays off, even in troubled times

A conversation with Phonak’s Andy Rihs: Cycling sponsorship pays off, even in troubled times

By Sebastian Moll, Special to VeloNews

Floyd Landis and Phonak chief Andy Rihs

Floyd Landis and Phonak chief Andy Rihs

Photo: AFP

Sebastian Moll caught up with Phonak chief Andy Rihs for a chat about the team’s ups and downs, drugs in cycling and the ProTour. And some of the things Rihs had to say, particularly as regards doping, may surprise you. Here’s a transcript.

VeloNews: After six years with many ups and downs Phonak is racing for the Tour victory. Is that a happy ending for you?

Andy Rihs: For me a Tour victory would count more than 1000 Olympic gold medals. People remember a Tour winner for 100 years. If I would tell reporters about hearing aids, they wouldn’t be interested. That’s why I need cycling as a communications platform.

VN: But in the past you have been betrayed by your riders, to the point that your ProTour license was taken away.

AR: Yes, and there were times when I wanted to throw away everything. I remember talking to Oscar Camenzind on the phone and him telling me that he had taken EPO. I told him, “Have you gone insane? You could have had millions and you threw it all away.” But that’s how these guys are. They want to make a quick buck and then they destroy everything.

VN: What about Tyler Hamilton?

AR: I told him I would help him as long as things are up in the air. But I also told him I would let him go if something comes out. I can only assume that these riders think that doping is the normal thing to do since everyone else is doing it too.

VN: So why did you stay in cycling?

AR: In terms of cost and effect, cycling is the best marketing tool you can find. Just to make the name of my company known in the U.S. the way I am with Floyd [Landis] I would normally have to spend $200 million for five years. The cycling team costs $7 million or $8 million a year and it makes my company known worldwide. People around the globe automatically associate Phonak with hearing aids and that’s solely because of cycling. We have become a real brand. Doping does not diminish that effect at all. In a way I am glad that there is so much talk about doping in cycling, because it deters big corporations. If they would invest in cycling I wouldn’t be able to afford it anymore. And, let’s face it – in professional sports, where there is a lot of money involved, you need medical support.

VN: And that doesn’t bother you?

AR: Look, WADA spends 600 million euros per year – that’s a huge business. The IOC spends three billion and so does the soccer federation, FIFA. So these agencies are doing the biggest business in sports, they run the show. And people want the show, people want entertainment. For me sports is show, entertainment, business, period.

VN: And as a sponsor you don’t care about your reputation?

AR: We all know the Festina story. The company had its best revenue ever in 1998, that’s a hard fact. At Phonak we had a lot of problems and as a company we paid the price for that.

VN: How can cycling improve its credibility?

AR: I think the ProTour should be privatized, it has to be taken away from the UCI. The UCI is too dogmatic and too bureaucratic. And after all, what did the UCI contribute to the doping investigation in Spain? There probably are effective measures against doping but the problem is always to implement and enforce them. In Italy it seems like the state’s involvement is working quite well. I am against legalizing doping, because then people would die. But by and large, in professional, mass-media sports, I think we will always have to live with doping.

VN: That sounds like surrender.

AR: No, that’s not surrender. You just have to look reality in the eye.