Team Sky created 'brilliant sponsor template' but may struggle to find replacement

A leading expert from the world of sporting and corporate sponsorship has told Cyclingnews that Team Sky have created a brilliant sponsorship template but that uncertainly over the current markets, and the negative fallout from doping stories, could all be factors in the team's ability to find a new headline sponsor.

"One good thing that they've done is that they've created a template to follow," Richard Gillis, a managing partner at the Havas Agency in London, told Cyclingnews.

"They showed how you sponsor a major cycling team. That's a playbook a new sponsor could just come in and copy. It's a brilliant piece of work and a real plus. But for the price they're asking, the sponsorship has to break out of the cycling world. The message has to reach more than just cycling fans."

Gillis' reaction and insight comes after Sky announced on Wednesday that they would terminate their involvement with the WorldTour team at the end of the 2019 season.

The collaboration started in 2010 and saw the team win six editions of the Tour de France with three different riders. However, changes of ownership at a corporate level and a shift in sponsorship focus at Sky have been listed as the main reasons for the end of the cycling sponsorship.

There have also been several negative stories involving Team Sky and British Cycling - who Sky have also had a relationship with - owing to the Fancy Bears hack, the use of TUEs, a lack of medical records, and the salbutamol case involving Chris Froome, although he was eventually cleared after a lengthy investigation.

Dave Brailsford was also hauled in front of a British Parliamentary Select Committee in 2017 amid the Fancy Bears hack and a 14-month UKAD investigation involving a suspect medical package that was delivered to Team Sky at the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine.

"Was it as they say, that they're looking at it from a corporate perspective from Comcast, and there's a review of all partnerships and the cycling one had made the cut. That's one story," Gilles suggested.

"The other is that they looked at it and saw that there's so much bad news around cycling and Team GB, and the Brailsford stories, that cycling has caused them more grief than its own benefit. They're the two poles of the story. The reality and the truth, I'm not privy to, but it's complicated."

"The next stage of this question is what will cycling do. It's a tricky time to come to market with what is an expensive property. That's a problem for them. That said, they might come out tomorrow with a new brand, but I doubt that's the case."

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"What Sky have done brilliantly is blow it all out and make it more than just about sponsorship of a cycling team. Cycling is deep and broad, so you have the Tour de France at the top with Wiggins and Froome but it travels down so you see people on the roads in Team Sky kit. They're grassroots supporters of cycling in the UK, so for someone coming in they'll see that there are a lot of moving parts to this and managing that is completely different to putting a logo on a football shirt for three years. It's a complex partnership and one of the things that Sky did brilliantly from their communications perspective is that they told the entire story. It was a collaboration of a corporation coming in and spending money on things that helped the cycling community. Some might disagree but that was the story that they told."

Team Sky's reported budget of around £35 million a year will mean that only a select band of corporations can afford to pick up where Sky left off. The financial sector could be a possible avenue, Gillis pointed out, and he used the recent involvement of HSBC as a prime example. However uncertainly in the UK owing to dynamics such as Brexit could also be instrumental.

The team's management have given themselves until the Tour de France to find a new partner for 2020 and beyond, while the likes of key riders, Geraint Thomas, Chris Froome and Egan Bernal are all on multiple year contracts beyond 2019.

"Cycling was a lovely move for Sky coming out of 2012 and it worked really well for a period of time. Now as the story has gone on, the bad news has come out and the question is whether that was associated with Team Sky. I'm not privy with their research but they may have found that there was an association with the brand."

"So, someone coming in will look at this and think this isn't 2012 any more, we're at a different place in cycling and in the sponsorship market. The Six Nations was sold last week for less than half of what it was available for a year before. It's not easy to sell sponsorship now. it could be cyclical because of insecurity, Brexit and all those things but it also might be a more fundamental thing and the way in which we engage with product, TV and media."

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