What next for Team Sky?

Ex­perts tell Vern Pitt the squad is en­ter­ing one of the tough­est mar­kets in years

Cycling Weekly - - WELCOME -

Team Sky may have to com­pro­mise its Bri­tish iden­tity if it is to suc­ceed in at­tract­ing a new head­line spon­sor within six months in one of the tough­est mar­kets in re­cent years, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts.

Last week broad­caster Sky an­nounced it would stop back­ing the team, which cost it £25m in 2017, from the end of next year. The news was only com­mu­ni­cated to team prin­ci­pal Dave Brails­ford a cou­ple of weeks be­fore the an­nounce­ment and Cy­cling Weekly un­der­stands it came as a shock.

Since its in­cep­tion in 2010 Team Sky has had a strong Bri­tish iden­tity, from its birth as an ad­junct to the Bri­tish Cy­cling pro­gramme, to its star riders largely be­ing Bri­tish. That iden­tity was fur­ther boosted on Sun­day when Tour de France cham­pion Geraint Thomas was crowned the BBC Sports Per­son­al­ity of the Year.

While the spon­sor­ship pro­fes­sion­als CW spoke to felt this was a strong sell­ing point for some spon­sors, if the team has to cast a wider net and look abroad for back­ers it may have to com­mit to chang­ing its ros­ter over time.

“It feels like it’s part of their DNA,” said James Toller, di­rec­tor at spon­sor­ship con­sul­tant Mal­lory Group, who used to work for Jaguar Land Rover and set up Jaguar’s deal with Team Sky that ran from 2010 to 2016. “Any brand is go­ing to want to have a de­gree of own­er­ship over them so their DNA will need to shift.”

Foreign spon­sors are also less likely to be con­cerned with the con­tro­ver­sies that have dogged the team in re­cent years, as these have not had the same level of pro­file abroad as they have in the UK, and team man­age­ment is un­der­stood to be keen on a “to­tal re­set”.

Ex­perts also felt the con­tro­ver­sies were not in­sur­mount­able to con­vinc­ing board mem­bers of FTSE 100 com­pa­nies wor­ried about rep­u­ta­tion risk, to in­vest. “Spon­sors

don’t know­ingly walk into controversy,” said Andy Westlake, chair of the Euro­pean Spon­sor­ship As­so­ci­a­tion.

“But is the cur­rent one a controversy with a cap­i­tal C or a lit­tle C? I’d say it was lit­tle C and a spon­sor will see the pos­i­tive sub­stan­tially out­weigh­ing the neg­a­tive.”

The range of ex­perts Cy­cling Weekly spoke to felt that the dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy a nd fi­nan­cial ser­vices were prob­a­bly the best fit for Team Sky’s im­age as a per­for­mance-driven or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Brexit bat­tle

How­ever, they iden­ti­fied the cur­rent eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment as one of the tough­est in the last decade. Spon­sor­ship con­sul­tant Giles Mor­gan, who

“Brails­ford is say­ing his phone has been ring­ing al­ready”

ne­go­ti­ated the HSBC spon­sor­ship of Bri­tish Cy­cling when he worked for the bank, said: “In 2009 [when Sky did their deal] in the UK we were in the mid­dle of the fi­nan­cial cri­sis. We were in a tough time — busi­nesses hate un­cer­tainty.

“What is in­ter­est­ing now is there is Brexit and enor­mous un­cer­tainty for busi­nesses at the mo­ment. You’ve seen this with Six Na­tions rugby; the value of the spon­sor­ship for next year is con­sid­er­ably down. It’s not that the value of the spon­sor­ship is in ques­tion, it’s just the com­pa­nies that are cau­tious in­vest­ing.”

Westlake agreed that the spon­sor­ship mar­ket was “tough”, espe­cially for an or­gan­i­sa­tion seek­ing a level of cash that would get you shirt spon­sor­ship of a mid-ta­ble Premier League foot­ball team, as Team Sky is.

He added: “That said, big deals, and deals big­ger than that, are be­ing done. They have every chance of find­ing a new Sky to step in and take the team for­ward. I know Brails­ford was in the me­dia say­ing his phone has been ring­ing al­ready and I’m sure that’s the case be­cause cy­cling has come of age as a com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle.”

Westlake said the time pres­sures of the deal, which will need to be fi­nalised be­fore the Tour de France if the team is dodge the risk of riders want­ing to leave, was also a ma­jor chal­lenge. “Usu­ally it takes longer than six months. Of course, big deals of that scale will have been done in that time, but in an ideal world you would want to be do­ing it 18 months to two years ahead of time,” he said.

Ex­perts felt that Sky’s best chance of suc­cess was to find a backer who would come close to match­ing Sky's com­mit­ment, as lining up mul­ti­ple smaller spon­sors would be even more dif­fi­cult in the time-frame.

Ul­ti­mately they said Team Sky was in the best po­si­tion of any team to try and find a ma­jor backer. “Dave Brails­ford has all the bul­lets to fire, he just has to hit streets,” said Westlake.

Brails­ford was un­der­stood to be sur­prised by Sky’s de­ci­sion

The Bri­tish team may have to source spon­sor­ship from abroad

CUS­TOM CLOTH­ING/ MAKE YOUR OWN SPORT­FUL STORY.

With a ros­ter in­clud­ing this year’s Tour win­ner, Team Sky is an at­trac­tive pack­age for po­ten­tial spon­sors

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