Chris Reed
Jul 24, 2012

Sky TV and UK Cycling: a ground-breaking sport sponsorship

British TV brand Sky should be applauded, nay given a standing ovation, for their vision and foresight in sponsoring and investing in British cycling culminating in the amazing Tour De France win ...

Sky TV and UK Cycling: a ground-breaking sport sponsorship

British TV brand Sky should be applauded, nay given a standing ovation, for their vision and foresight in sponsoring and investing in British cycling culminating in the amazing Tour De France win for Bradley Wiggins.

In fact it was the now invisible but courageous James Murdoch who should be getting the plaudits for what was a game changing stroke of marketing and sporting genius.

Many wondered in 2009 when Sky started their 15million Euro a year investment whether they had taken a risk but their ground breaking partnership with British cycling has changed the face of the sport.

Has any other broadcaster had such a transforming effect on a sport? Has the BBC ever contributed so much to an actual British sporting win so directly and so dramatically? ITV certainly have not let alone organizations like ESPN and Eurosport.

Sky went beyond the boundaries of usual sporting sponsorship and will not only reap the benefits for years to come as Team Sky dominate all cycling but have create a case study for how to create a breathless and highly innovative sponsorship with amazing ROI.

Previously cycling had been a minority leisure activity in the UK. Now it is one of the fastest growing ways to exercise and get to work as well as one of the most covered by the media.  To change the face of an unfashionable sport needs role models and success and to get that needs media exposure, finance and marketing and Sky have provided all three aspects to change the brand to become sexy.

Sky have created a new model for sponsorship and brand partnership far beyond the usual badging of a sponsorship property. They invested in not only the Team Sky professional cycling team but the genre and leisure activity that is cycling itself in the UK.

Team Sky’s stated aim in 2009, when the sponsorship was announced and 2010 when the team was formed, was to win the previously untouched Tour De France within 5 years. There had never been a British winner. They managed it within two years.

However their other aims have wider community objectives of getting one million UK riders enjoying cycling on a regular basis (more than once a month). Sky has used its relationship with millions of homes to encourage families to (rather ironically given that they are a pay tv operator) get out and ride in order to help their health, their fitness and the environment. They have done this in many ways including:

  • The Sky Sports London Freewheel in 2010 brought more than 50,000 recreational riders together to ride traffic-free streets in the heart of London
  • Sky Ride City – traffic free mass participation bike rides organized by friendly councils and led by Sky – the most recent led to 21,000 riding around Manchester the next big one Birmingham. 20 events with 200,000 participants happened in 2011
  • Sky Ride local – encouraging free rides led by Sky team leaders and in partnership with 45 local councils
  • Ride Strong Plus – for those who want more advanced challenges and up to 50 miles
  • Breeze Bike Rides – for women only
  • Social Cycling Groups – bringing like minded people together
  • Educational schools packs to encourage kids to understand and get behind British riders and get involved themselves
  • Sky Rainforest Rescue initiative to raise money for the WWF and protect one billion trees in the Amazon

The irony is of course that in the UK Sky TV don’t show the Tour De France and with rival broadcaster  ITV having secured the rights until 2015 won’t do for a while yet. Of course Sky do benefit from rivals ITV and Eurosport showing hours and hours of Sky branded riders enjoying massive success. The best free TV advertising you can possibly get! The media value alone of the sponsorship must be worth ten times what was paid for it. Genius marketing.

As the brains behind Team Sky Dave Brailsford said back in 2009 “We want to make heroes, persuade a generation to pull on Team Sky colours and inspire people to ride. This will be an epic story; building a British team to take on the best in professional cycling, and win.” And they have done just that, a rarity in British sport of a team actually doing what they say they will (hello England football team!).

The team also receives further sponsorship from News Corporation and Sky Italia. Pinarello supplies bicycle frames and forks. Adidas were announced as the teams official apparel and accessories partner. Gatorade, Marks & Spencer, Oakley, IG Markets are additional sponsors and Jaguar are providers of the team cars. Sky however are the brand that everyone will associate so positively with cycling, another game changer of a brand previously unloved that people can now see how changed British sport for the better both at amateur and professional levels.


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