Slipstream Sports CEO Jonathan Vaughters has said that the current situation with Team Sky set to lose their title sponsor after this season should come as a "wake-up call" that professional cycling needs a better business model for teams moving forward.
Speaking with Press Association Sport following recent news that Sky would no longer support the super-successful British team, Vaughters, who runs the EF Education First WorldTour programme that grew from Garmin and Cannondale, said the team's £30million budget would be hard to replace moving into 2020.
"There's never been a sponsorship sold for that much," Vaughters said, according to a Press Association story published by the Daily Mail. "These are very uncharted waters.
"By the way they run that operation, I think it would be extremely difficult for them to scale down."
Although Vaughters warned against "dancing on their graves", he said the demise of the sport's most dominant team, who outspent their rivals exponentially, could be a positive development in the long term.
"It's never good if a team leaves the sport, but Sky was outspending the next team by two," he said. "Other sponsors that might have been interested in coming in at the £15-20million price point were totally dissuaded because you’re not going to get a winning team.
"Sky single-handedly changed that about the sport, and that hasn’t been good for business at all," Vaughters said.
Vaughters' biggest concern about the news, however, is what it says about the sport's business model when the most successful team can't retain a sponsor.
"This is a wake-up call," he said. "We need a system where teams get permanent rights to the top races so you can build equity. Right now ownership isn't really worth anything. This is one of those moments you realise how much that needs to change."
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- Geraint Thomas: Sky pulling out is amazing opportunity for other sponsors
Vaughters is obviously no stranger to sponsorship woes. The 45-year-old former pro started his first Continental team in 2006, moving onto the WorldTour level in 2009 after landing title sponsor Garmin to support his Slipstream program. The team went through a host of co-sponsors before Cannondale took the lead role in 2015.
The program came close to shuttering its doors following the 2017 season, when Vaughters announced Cannondale was scaling down and a promised replacement had pulled out at the last minute. The team needed a new title sponsor to continue, and he eventually landed EF Education First, a global education company, and the team were saved.
"The timescale for us was much better," Vaughters said, comparing his team's situation to that of Team Sky. "We had to deal with the bad news for just two or three weeks, but for these guys it could be six or seven months. That will be much more difficult to keep together."
Team Sky now risk the real possibility that some of their top-shelf riders will begin seeking stability with other teams.
"Of course the best thing you can do to help the team stay in business is to be supportive publicly," Vaughters said. "But I guarantee all of those guys will have been on the phone to their agents saying, 'Hey, let's make sure I have another team to go to if this goes sideways.'"