British Sky Broadcasting (BskyB) is reportedly planning to make a major move into cycling in partnership with the proposed World Series Cycling ‘breakaway’ league. The satellite broadcaster, which sponsors Team Sky, will apparently outline its plans at a meeting in Paris today to be attended by a number of leading teams.
The latest development in the prospect of a breakaway league, first mooted when investment bank Rothschild presented the idea to potential investors in early 2011 on behalf of Gifted Group, was broken on Thursday by the business news website Bloomberg, which has proved itself in the past to be a reliable source of information on the issue.
Last November, Zdenek Bakala, the Czech billionaire who owns Omega Pharma-Quick Step, outlined plans for a series of ten four-day races to sit alongside other major races in the calendar, including the three Grand Tours and one-day Monuments, in what he termed a “Champions League of cycling.”
Days later, UCI president Pat McQuaid admitted that the sport’s global governing body was also involved in the project, with plans to introduce the new calendar from 2014.
In early February, however, he changed tack, saying that the plans for ten new races would not now be moving forward, and that the parties behind the breakaway league would be working alongside the UCI to develop the sport.
In December, Bakala aligned himself with Gifted Group, which is run by Jonathan Price and Thomas Kurth who developed sports rights and sponsorship expertise while working respectively with Manchester United and Real Madrid.
According to Bloomberg, the backers of World Series Cycling believe the UCI’s position has been weakened due to the continued fallout from the Lance Armstrong affair, while theirs has been strengthened as interest has expanded from an initial eight teams to twelve, with another three said to be wanting to be involved.
As they stand, the proposals would see teams get 50 per cent of the revenue generated by World Series Cycling races, which would be reduced from the previously proposed ten and aligned more closely with the WorldTour in order to make the package more acceptable to the UCI.
Currently, all revenue goes to race organisers, of which Tour de France owner ASO and Giro d’Italia organiser RCS Sport are the most prominent, both organising several one-day races or week-long stage races besides their flagship events.
BskyB, according to Bloomberg, would be looking to broadcast races to viewers in the UK, and it also has a subsidiary in Italy. News Corp, which owns a 39.1 per cent stake in BskyB – its attempt to make it a wholly owned subsidiary was abandoned due to the phone hacking scandal – would take the broadcast rights elsewhere in the world.
Bloomberg says that BSkyB, whose involvement in broadcasting cycling to date has been confined to documentaries following Team Sky and occasional races such as the Tour Down Under, has already met with 12 teams in Geneva last month, and is keen to expand its portfolio of sports rights as well as capitalising on its investment in Team Sky.
It adds that cycling represents an attractive proposition to the broadcaster because of the relatively low costs involved in acquiring rights compared to football or Formula 1, for example.
Bloomberg says that prior to publication it approached representatives of parties potentially involved including Gifted Group, ASO and BskyB, but had been unable to secure a comment from any of them.
However, it did say that British Cycling president Brian Cookson, a member of the UCI’s management committee, had confirmed on Monday that McQuaid was speaking to Gifted Group.
“They’re talking,” he admitted. “The answer is not to have a breakaway league but to do something that improves the existing system and takes the sport in a new direction.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.