Sky, the corporation, have announced that their backing of Sky, the pro cycling team, will end after the 2019 season. All the envelopes have been pushed and all the gains have been marginalised.
It’s the end of an era.
Knowing Dave Brailsford and his pals they will undoubtedly (publicly at least) turn this into a positive. It will be framed as a challenge and an opportunity, and a chance to recalibrate goals.
The word ‘journey’ will probably be used.
In this spirit, I’ve been putting some thought into how Team Sky might best use this upheaval to their advantage.
They’ve won lots of bike races, Knighthoods and sundry honours have been handed out, and only one achievement remains unconquered: popularity.
Sky plc are a beast. A behemoth. They reek of founder Rupert Murdoch and his media control, political meddling, phone hacking allegations, and all-round uber-capitalist Bond-villain persona.
They are not the sponsor of a cycling team you can easily love.
Team Sky need a softer approach. They need to pair up with a lovely cuddly company who make their money in green energy, or artificial panda insemination, or something.
Or, perhaps, they stick with the media giant thing but tone it down a bit. I’m pretty sure the British public would have no problem if the BBC whacked a few quid on the license fee to cover Froome’s wages.
They could install David Attenborough as a kind of ethical figurehead, to regain the trust of fans. The fact is, if Attenborough told you the jiffy bag contained nothing more than a fruitcake baked by Wiggo’s mum to dish amongst the team then we’d all believe him without question.
And, for clarity, I have no evidence that Sir David (Attenborough that is, not Brailsford) has ever inseminated a panda.
I’m unable, at this time, to speak for Dave B.Embed from Getty Images
Much has been made over the years about the team’s commitment to “winning behaviour”; they famously, in Fran Miller, have a “Head of Winning Behaviours.” In any new era this will have to stop – no-one likes a serial winner.
Back in the 1970’s the mighty Eddy Merckx got punched from his bike by a roadside fan, so sick were the French public of watching the same guy dominate. US Postal, the team of Lance Armstrong, were disliked more with every Tour win.
By all accounts Lance was a lovely chap* who just won too much.**
People don’t like it.
Consider this: Do you know anyone who dislikes Team Dimension Data?
Because they finished stone cold bottom of the World Tour rankings for 2018, and resolutely refused to win bike races unless they were left with absolutely no alternative.
Fran Miller either needs retraining, or replacing with an experienced and results driven candidate for the role of “Head Loser”. When it comes to popularity, never underestimate the power of pity.
**He cheatedEmbed from Getty Images
To really drive home this new cuddly, ethical message, Team Sky need to up (or should that be down?) their PR game.
They need to end the combative corporate-speak in favour of a more homespun approach. Dave Brailsford will have to go, to be replaced by the BBC double-act of Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan.
This, in turn, could lead to all manner of spin-off benefits.
Are you telling me you wouldn’t happily sit down to a midweek BBC Two show entitled Froome-watch, where hidden cameras breathlessly capture the waggly-elbowed one in his natural habitat, tending his nest and feeding live insects to his kids?
It’s a win-win.
Although, of course, in the spirit of the new project, they’ll have to spin it as a lose-lose.
(Froome Image: Jaguar MENA [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)