Team Sky would fail to remain a winning team if they had to operate on a sponsor’s smaller budget, says rival general manager Jonathan Vaughters.
David Brailsford began his search for a replacement sponsor after Sky announced it would leave following the 2019 season.
“I don’t think Dave knows how to run a team on a lower budget and, even if he did, it wouldn’t remain a winning team,” Vaughters, generall manager for team EF Education First, told The Guardian.
“He’s selling a guaranteed win at the Tour de France. To ensure that he needs another massive budget. In my view, it’s either a direct replacement for Sky’s sponsorship, or the team goes away.”
Sky’s “massive budget” of £34 million puts them at the top of the WorldTour teams, dwarfing most rivals. Sunweb with Tom Dumoulin, who placed second to Geraint Thomas in the Tour de France in July, runs on an estimated €12 to 14 million (£10.7 to 12.6m).
Vaughters said in 2017 that his team’s budget was $16 million or £12.7 million.
With its backing, Sky bought the best buses, best staff and riders to support their big-budget stars.
Bradley Wiggins first won the Tour in 2012 for the team, with Chris Froome giving the team four wins and Thomas another win this summer. Froome earns an estimated £4 million and Thomas £3.5 million.
Brailsford gave himself until July at the Tour de France to secure a deal. At that point, he would probably let his riders still under contract for 2020 and beyond to search for a new team.
“Dave has got enough time but the longer time scale can work either for you or against you. All the riders will immediately start looking for options. The first thing they will have done on hearing the news is to call their agent,” Vaughters explained.
“The biggest task for Dave is to hold the core group of riders together. He’s definitely got enough time to source a replacement but he has to keep the rider’s confidence in him high. In my experience, big deals like the one that he needs happen fast. If a negotiation is taking too long, it’s not going to happen.”
Vaughters lost his team sponsor in 2017 and appeared to be heading to an end with his team. However, at the last minute, EF Education agreed to back the team that began at the top level in 2007. In 2009, Wiggins rode for his team and placed third in the Tour de France before joining Sky the following year.
If Brailsford fails to find someone to keep his team running, then other companies may be “keener to invest” in cycling.
“Sky’s domination was the major reason that you didn’t see new sponsors entering the sport,” Vaughters continued.
“If a sponsor says: ‘We have $15m to spend, so can we win the Tour?’ then the answer unfortunately is: ‘No, because there’s a $30m team crushing it.’
“Sky’s presence was really dissuasive of increased sponsor revenues. Now they may feel there is a gap at a lower price point and be keener to invest.”