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Working in Tandem

National governing body British Cycling tells Kevin Roberts about the attributes it is looking for in a new commercial partner.

British Cycling is confident of finding a sponsor to fill the gap that will be left when broadcaster Sky brings its eight-year association to an end in next year.

According to British Cycling CEO Ian Drake, the governing body is in discussions with potential partners from a range of business categories as it looks to put together a deal that will generate revenue and ensure exposure for a sport which has boomed in recent years.

Within five minutes in the room with Sky I knew that it would work

“This is not just about a set of rights that can be acquired for a fee. It is a sponsorship that has to be embedded into two organisations which share a vision for the future of the sport,” he told SportBusiness International.

“Before we did the Sky deal we knew we needed a commercial partner who shared our desire for transformation and we talked to a lot of people. But within five minutes in the room with Sky I knew that it would work.”

Drake – who has been with British Cycling for 17 years and became CEO in 2008 – is not alone in considering the partnership “one of the most unique in sport” as Sky has embraced every element of the sport from Team Sky, its elite team that will be unaffected by the decision, to Sky Rides for leisure cyclists in major towns and cities.

While the original four-year deal with Sky, signed in summer 2008, was reported to have been worth some £10m, Drake is adamant that the value goes beyond money. Sky’s ability to promote the sport at all levels through its online and broadcast channels was a major factor, and the deal helped drive the sport forward during a period of dramatic expansion of interest and participation. British Cycling says that it has contributed to persuading 1.7 million Britons into the saddle.

“As a governing body we had traditionally only been concerned with competitive cycling, but we knew that we had to diversify and get more people taking part. Sky played a major role in that both before and after the London 2012 Olympic Games,” Drake said.

“I knew before the Games that we had enough talent in the pipeline to deliver lots of medals, and that also played a part in ensuring that the Games delivered the biggest participation legacy ever. Working with Sky helped transform the governing body and the Olympic Games helped transform the sport.

“We are now looking at what we have to do in the next eight years and our vision is for cycling to become the most successful and popular sport. That means we are looking for a partner who also wants to transform the activity level of the nation.”

We're looking for a partner who wants to transform the activity level of the nation

Although British Cycling wasn’t specific about the discussions that have taken place to date, Drake did say that the body had talked to organisations with “huge customer bases”, suggesting that a bank or major supermarket chain might be in the frame.

BT, the telecommunications company now going head-to-head with Sky in sports broadcasting in the battle for lucrative broadband customers, has more than 10 million UK retail customers – but Drake’s tone suggests that is an unlikely road to travel.

“The relationship with Sky is about people, passionate individuals who really want to help. That is something which has come from the top of the organisation,” he said. “We still have a huge duty to Sky to do it bigger and better with our next partner. The duty is not to waste what we have achieved together over the last eight years.”

In addition to funding from Sky, British Cycling has received money from the UK Lottery and from sources including local authorities. Together they have totalled more than £100m over the past four years.

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