Prolific sprinter offers new team sponsor satisfaction
It is safe to assume that Mark Cavendish's move from Team Sky to Omega Pharma - QuickStep was not, on his part, motivated by money.
It became clear during his year on the British squad that even the undisputed fastest man on two wheels needs a team at least largely built around him. He won races, of course, and served his team well and without (much) complaint. But, knowing he could have done a lot better had he not had to sacrifice personal ambition for the team's wider, yellow-tinted goals, few would argue that he isn't better off elsewhere.
At the core of the deal that has taken him away from Sky is his belief that, as at the Highroad team he served until the end of 2011, he will be given every opportunity to fulfill his potential.
If ever a transfer was made for sporting reasons it is this one. Yet the commercial implications, for Team Sky, for Omega Pharma - QuickStep, and above all for Cavendish himself are worth examining.
The first commercial implication is an obvious one: it is only a matter of time before we see Cavendish in the notorious team pillow line-up - an annual commitment to lower-tier team sponsor Innergetic.
In a sport whose main protagonists, by and large, earn wages of five or six figures annually, Cavendish will remain safely in the seven-figure bracket having swapped Britain for Belgium this week. His earning potential, however, stretches far beyond his salary.
His astounding success at Highroad, which culminated in his capturing the green jersey at the 2011 Tour de France, was punctuated by behind-the-scenes disgruntlement. Cavendish felt he was underpaid. And he was. Cavendish is unique. No other cyclist can be as sure of winning as he can. He has always been quick and generous in his praise for the team that has worked hard to deliver him to any given victory, but at Highroad it was more than just the squad that was built around him.
The team's commercial infrastructure also hinged on him. Cavendish was front and centre on the road and off it. It made him a star within cycling and in the wider sporting world as well. His performance, his results, and his personality had helped him transcend the sport. But the myriad team sponsor obligations and appearances alongside Highroad boss Bob Stapleton obviously grated him at times. In that respect he felt, rightly or wrongly, that the team was taking advantage of him. With Cavendish not certain to stay with the team as time ticked on his contract, Stapleton was unable to find a sponsor to keep it running.
As a ‘communication tool', Cavendish has proved himself quite adept. He is prolific, but not cloyingly ubiquitous on Twitter; he is direct and opinionated, but his unreconstructed style has been softened of late as he settles into life as a family man - perfect sponsor fodder.
Plus, it is highly unlikely that the situation he found himself in at Highroad will repeat itself in Belgium. His agent, Simon Bayliff, a senior vice-president at Wasserman Media Group with whom he signed towards the end of last year, wouldn't have been doing his job properly if he hadn't ensured there was plenty of room in his client's new contract for personal commercial work.
Bayliff is not your average cycling suit. Alongside Cavendish, he looks after the commercial interests of Premier League footballers Jack Wilshere and Darren Bent. Bayliff's goal of adding to a personal endorsement portfolio that includes Specialized, which now has one of its top endorsers on one of its top teams, Oakley, Nike and Procter & Gamble is unlikely to be hindered by the move.
Cavendish might now be out of the cosseted world of the Team Sky marketing machine and its endless stream of behind-the-scenes black and white photography, but Bayliff should enjoy greater freedom, and time, with his client. Cavendish's media profile, in the UK and out of it, is more likely to grow than shrink.
While Cavendish and his rainbow jersey looked good in Sky's black and white shots, the focus was never fully on him. And when it was, there was only so far the messaging of ‘demon sprinter world champion turns bottle carrying domestique' would go for the development of his personal brand.
The move is without acrimony and indeed was apparently only made possible after Team Sky waived the compensation they would have been entitled to haggle for, Omega Pharma-Quick Step having essentially poached a highly paid employee with years left to run on his contract.
Despite Bradley Wiggins' annus mirabilis, Cavendish was Team Sky's most marketable asset and the fact that it was supposedly Dave Brailsford who persuaded his paymasters to waive a potential compensation packet of at least 1 million Euro to smooth the Manxman's exit, though a testament to his loyalty to his riders, raises the spectre of a potential conflict of interests. Brailsford, of course, has a dual role as Sky's team principal and performance director at British Cycling. From a commercial perspective, Cavendish's move is bad for Team Sky, but not necessarily so for British Cycling. Although it must be said that, as the main sponsor of the commercial team, as well as the national body, Sky and its marketing executives will see that as a silver lining too.
Sky will miss him, but not too much; brand Wiggins, after all, is the one they've backed and is developing a momentum of its own.
Omega Pharma - QuickStep, on their part, have put their money on a dead cert. The UK is undergoing a partly Cavendish-fuelled cycling boom and his move immediately opens a new market for Omega Pharma - QuickStep. They can expect a bump in jersey sales and should start prospecting for UK-based sponsors immediately.
Sponsorship in cycling is still relatively unsophisticated. Ultimately, there is no more marketable an action in the sport than raising your arms aloft at the winning line - sponsor logo gleaming in the light of camera flashbulbs. Omega Pharma - QuickStep will know that Cavendish, with a full team behind him, is the closest thing to a sponsor satisfaction guarantee they can get.
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