Team Sky entering uncharted waters according to rival team boss
The size of the sponsorship packge they need to continue in 2020 will cause problems says Jonathan Vaughters, head of EF Pro Cycling.
Team Sky are entering uncharted waters given the size of the sponsorship package they need to continue racing beyond next season, according to a rival team boss.
Jonathan Vaughters, head of fellow WorldTour team EF Pro Cycling, labelled Sky’s decision to withdraw its investment in cycling from next year a ‘wake-up call’ for a sport in need of reform.
Team Sky have been one of the most successful teams in cycling for the past decade, winning eight Grand Tours, in large part because their superior budget enabled them to dominate the rider market.
Now Sir Dave Brailsford must find around £30million per year in new funding to be able to continue into 2020 and beyond.
Vaughters, whose own team was threatened with closure in 2017 before finding new backing, warned he has never seen that done.
“There’s never been a sponsorship sold for that much,” he told Press Association Sport. “These are very uncharted waters.”
And Vaughters could not envisage Brailsford settling for less and scaling back a team that has made a point of demanding the best.
“By the way they run that operation, I think it would be extremely difficult for them to scale down,” he said.
Team Sky’s dominance of the major races, combined with controversies which have dogged the team in recent years, meant Wednesday’s news was not greeted with sadness in all quarters.
Vaughters said it would be “childish to dance on their grave” but admitted their demise – if confirmed – would be a ‘net positive’.
But he warned there are bigger lessons to be learned.
“It’s never good if a team leaves the sport, but Sky was outspending the next team by two,” he said.
“They were spending so much it almost guaranteed winning the Tour de France.
“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.”
From 2020, the UCI will issue three-year licenses to race in the WorldTour as opposed to the current one-year licenses, a small step towards the ‘permanent rights’ Vaughters believes are necessary to encourage long-term investment.
“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.”
Vaughters’ team was racing as Cannondale-Drapac in 2017 when a potential sponsor for 2018 withdrew, threatening their future.
That left Vaughters scrambling for funding midway through La Vuelta, and forced to release riders from binding contracts for 2018 until a deal with EF Education First was struck two weeks later.
Tour de France winners Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas both backed Brailsford to find new funding on Wednesday, but from his own experience, Vaughters expects a different story behind the scenes.
“When you deliver that message you can just see the air come out of the room, everybody just deflates,” he said.
“The timescale for us was much better, 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…
“Of course the best thing you can do to help the team stay in business is to be supportive publicly, 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.’”
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