Will Sky’s millions make a difference?

There’s been a big buzz around the announcement of Sky (part of Rupert Murdoch’s News International operation) putting down a sum of money to be a “partner” of British Cycling. A very prescient move on the part of Sky given the huge wave of interest on the back of Olympic success.

Now it would be easy to paint Sky as part of the Evil Newscorp Empire but they do have a fairly developed sense of corporate responsibility embodied in their Bigger Picture. And not forgetting that way back when multichannel broadcasting was in its infancy they broadcast the British National Championship on Sky Sports and that their digital satellite platform has been where pro cycling has survived all these years.

But it is interesting to compare and contrast between the PR buzz and the tangible benefit/reality of the deal.

Sky: “The multi-million pound partnership announced in July 2008 will provide increased support for cycling in the run-up to the London 2012 – and beyond.”


Ian Drake, British Cycling’s Deputy Chief Executive of Governance and Participation: “The [sponsorship] is in the region of �1m a year, but that’s not the most important bit. The most important bit is the marketing, that’s the real key to this. That’s something that Sport England and a lot of sports struggle with.”


So what sounds like big money is in reality a steady flow of reasonable money into the sport. That I can get behind, but a lot of people I’ve read on messageboards seem to think it’s going to revolutionise the sport. At a grassroots level possibly it will in terms of allowing flagship events to become genuine focal points for engagement and bringing in the youthful demographic that the sport needs to capture properly. But at the level of making cycling as commonplace as football it’s more unlikely.

What concerns me reading Ian Drake’s interview is the following, concerning broadcast content and rights:

“It’s not something we’ve thrashed out with Sky yet, but obviously it’s a natural thing. We know just from the small amount we’ve done with our Premier Calendars on cycling.tv that it’s had an impact on those races. But again, all these things will emerge from these discussions.”

Now I’ve worn some pretty shoddy deals in my time but I’m sure I’ve always been told that you should know what you’re getting into before you agree to it. Here it feels a bit like the promise of investment has blinded British Cycling to getting something concrete on the table. Unless they’re still at the stage before they sign where the actual deal is still being shaped. If so why wasn’t the press window of the Tour and the Olympics used a bit more heavily as leverage to get some headline assurances from Sky?

I do genuinely belief that Sky’s marketing and product management savvy could make a huge difference to British Cycling. For all the whizzbang of the World Class programme there are lots of basics that need an urgent overhaul, starting with the website which really needs a lick of paint and a new structure to be at all usable.

For many the website is the first point of contact and it needs to be a much better gateway than it is at present. Sky do excellent interactive offerings, I know some of the people that do them, and it wouldn’t cost much to overhaul that key part of the strategy. Everyday Cycling is a move in the right direction though, albeit one that doesn’t really feel that distinctive to me.

I guess I’d just like to know what I’m getting for my money, in the same way that I do with my Sky Digital Satellite and Broadband deal, in simple, clear language.

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