Team Sky have said they will make a decision on the survival of the team before the 2019 Tour de France, giving team manager Dave Brailsford and his staff just six months to find a new backer for the British WorldTour team.
In an open letter to fans, the team confirmed that 2019 would be the set-up’s last season as Team Sky. It appears that Team Sky riders and staff were told the news at dinner on Tuesday evening, with Sky announcing the end of its involvement in professional cycling early on Wednesday morning.
"This news has only just been announced; we can’t predict what will happen from 2020 and there are no guarantees. Whatever happens, we will make sure there is clarity one way or the other about the future of the Team before the Tour de France next July," the Team Sky letter reads.
Sky has undergone a number of major corporate changes over the past year, sparking a review of its sponsorship plans. In December 2017, Disney bought a large portion of Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox company, which included a 39 per cent stake in Sky. Murdoch had hoped to buy the larger controlling share of the company, but was outbid by US media giant Comcast in October. James Murdoch, who has played a key role in Team Sky’s funding, is expected to leave the company.
Sky positioned its cycling sponsorship as part of what it calls its "Bigger Picture" work, which "focuses on the positive impact Sky can have in local communities and the wider world."
Last year, Sky announced a new partnership with the England & Wales Cricket Board, including a commitment to grow participation among children and at the grass roots. Sky said that cricket rather than cycling "will form a central part of Sky’s Bigger Picture activity in the coming years."
Sky owns 85 per cent of Tour Racing Limited, the company that owns and manages Team Sky according to the latest available accounts. 21st Century Fox owns the remaining 15 per cent. Other key sponsors include bike-brand Pinarello, Ford and clothing brand Castelli.
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"This news will no doubt come a surprise to many people but, as you may know, there has been a lot of change at Sky recently," Team Sky wrote in the letter to fans.
"It is the start of a new chapter for the company and sometimes it is inevitable that change brings further change with it. That is what has happened here."
Team Sky riders headed out for the first training ride at their camp in Mallorca on Wednesday morning. Many riders had multiple-year contracts beyond 2019 and it remains to be seen if their contracts will continue under a new management company and with new sponsors if they are found. However Team Sky insisted that they are committed to a final season with the Sky logo on their jerseys.
“First things first, nothing changes for next year. Sky are fully committed to the end of 2019 and together we have ambitious goals for the season,” Team Sky said.
“We all want to close the Team Sky story with the strongest possible finish. We are more motivated as a Team than we have ever been.”
Team Sky’s roster includes Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas, four-time Tour de France winner and 2018 Giro d’Italia winner Chris Froome and expected future Grand Tour contender Egan Bernal. Thomas recently signed a new contract that lasts until 2021, while Bernal’s five year contract lasts until 2023.
Team Sky said they will look for new sponsors but doubts remain if they can quickly find a backer willing to invest anywhere near the current budget of close to £35 million.
“In terms of the future, we are open-minded,” Team Sky said.
“If we can find a new long-term partner to take the Team forward into a new era, then we will do so. And we will be doing everything we can to make that happen over the coming weeks and months. Equally, any future partner would have to be the right partner - one who shares our ethos and buys in to our values.”
In the final part of the letter, Team Sky thanked their fans.
“You are, and have always been, the people who are the most important to us and who matter the most. It has been our privilege to race for you. We are proud to have written our pages in the history books and created memories that will never fade.”