Team Sky Way Out In Front Of The Sponsorship Peloton- Ben Wells

By Community | July 26, 2012


Watching Mark Cavendish crossing the finishing line on the Champs Élysées on Sunday, my thoughts were not of the unbelievable achievement of Bradley Wiggins becoming first British winner of the Tour de France but of the outstanding foresight (and perhaps some luck) of Sky in pumping their marketing millions into British Cycling (BCF) and what this could mean for the traditional sponsorship model.

Team Sky’s success in Paris over the weekend and during the preceding Tour stages have rightly grabbed the headlines on both the back and front pages but from a sponsorship perspective I would argue that Wiggins’ unprecedented success is merely the cherry on the cake as Team Sky is a sponsorship that has raised the bar in terms of best practice and in potentially in reshaping the partnership model.

Prior to 2008, Sky had not been at all active as a sponsor. Their marketing model was still very much focussed on acquisition and driving up revenue per customer. There was no real brand proposition and perhaps reflecting Sky’s increasing maturity as a business, the edict from on top was to identify a big-picture statement of intent. Cycling ticked three boxes for Sky: “family”, “green” and of course, “sport” – perfect messaging to convince Middle England that perhaps a dish on the side of their house was not such a bad thing.

Of course winning blue-riband events like the Tour puts the sport (and its sponsors) in the public eye and with success surely to follow at the Olympics but Sky’s objectives have been about so much more than stardust. Winning the Tour was one ambition (achieved well ahead of time) but it was not their only one. Sky is trying to encourage one million more Britons to become regular cyclists by 2013 through initiatives like SkyRide (this year in London, Manchester and Birmingham) which have been hugely successful and is actively dovetailing this message with its own internal employee programmes. Highly-strategised, fully integrated and brilliantly-executed sponsorships are few and far between, so Team Sky should be lauded.

Of perhaps even greater interest to me is how this partnership affects the sponsorship model going forward. Given how well Sky have executed the sponsorship it’s very easy to forget that there is a rights holder involved and that Team Sky has a raft of less prominent but no-less blue chip sponsors. However, Sky was instrumental in repackaging those sponsor relationships as it has repackaged virtually the BCF’s entire product: before Sky came along, the sponsor proposition was threadbare. Indeed, listening to the CEO of the BCF speaking on BBC News this week, I counted “Sky” name checked no fewer than three times, which is either a sign of a super-engaged rightsholder-sponsor relationship or a sign that the sponsor is bigger than the property. Either way, it highlights for both sides about what sponsorship can achieve when it works as well as this.

Good sponsorship is not about pure altruism and Sky is no less a commercial beast than they were before they got into bed with the BCF. No doubt their major shareholders at NewsCorp are grateful for the softer edges that initiatives such as Team Sky provide to their business – especially at the present time – but more importantly for helping in the mission to turn the UK’s 24 million households into Sky customers. With BT declaring a serious statement of intent with its foray into Sky’s traditional heartland of Premier League football, what better timing?

Ben has fifteen years’ experience in the commercial side of sport. Having spent six years at Chelsea FC, where he was Head of Marketing, Ben launched Ishtar Consulting in 2011 with a view to providing specialist sponsorship and marketing support to brands, rightsholders and agencies. Prior to his time at Chelsea Ben spent nearly four years at Redmandarin, the strategic sponsorship consultancy. Follow Ben on Twitter @ben_wells1 or get in touch via This Blog appears regularly at



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