Speculation is rife as to which team has nabbed the new World Champion. Is he going to Sky or Team Omega Pharma-QuickStep? What’s the holdup?
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a short item about Mark Cavendish and that he had not yet announced a team for next season.
All public signs point to him going to Sky, but since no deal had been announced, I wondered what might be the cause for the delay—including that one or more of Cav’s sponsors was somehow holding up the deal.
That’s more than a theoretical possibility. Speaking to Dutch paper De Telegraaf, Sky (and British national team) manager Dave Brailsford was uncharacteristically blunt, saying that the team has an agreement in principle with the star sprinter but no signed deal.
Brailsford called the situation complicated, and suggested it had grown more so with Cavendish’s world championship win on the 25th. The implication is that Cavendish’s new management is using the victory as leverage for a better deal.
The Cyclingnews story runs that line as a Brailsford quote but the original Telegraaf story does not attribute it so. It pays to be extra careful here about attribution, and while Brailsford MAY have said as much, it’s not clear that he did.
Assuming the Telegraaf story is correct, the “management” reference is to Wasserman Media Group, a global sports and entertainment agency that Cav signed with just before worlds and that has the exclusive engagement to represent him in commercial and PR opportunities—including all personal endorsements.
Cavendish and Sky are a born fit in many ways—aside from the British affiliation, Cavendish’s coach, Rod Ellingworth, works for both Sky and British Cycling, and Cavendish’s worlds win came as the result of work by mostly Sky trade team riders.
But big-time sports also means big-time money and, there, things are a bit messier. Cavendish has a personal apparel contract with Nike. Sky wears Adidas. Alone, that is workable.
But according to Paul Kelso in the Daily Telegraph (UK), Sky wants to buy Cavendish’s universal image rights, which Wasserman is reluctant to hand over.
They likely believe they can get more in individual deals and, since Cavendish currently has endorsement contracts only with Nike and Oakley, Wasserman can likely create a huge financial bonanza in that area.
That’s led to talk that perhaps Cavendish is joining Omega Pharma-QuickStep. That would let Cavendish continue on Specialized rather than switch to Sky’s Pinarellos. But that’s a thin tie to Omega; a better one is Brian Holm, the HTC director who’s going to Omega in 2012. Holm was often responsible for calling the sprint finishes at HTC.
Patrick Lefevre claims he’s had no serious contact with Cavendish. Separately, adding Cavendish would be problematic. Lefevre, through majority owners Zdenek Bakala and Bessel Kok, could probably find the cash for Cavendish. But there are a number of reasons why Quick Step might not be the best fit for Cavendish.
Sky wants Cavendish, openly. They’re willing to construct entire season-long programs exclusively around him, even to the detriment of other star riders. And a lot of Cav’s backroom support, like Ellingworth, are already there.
But Sky may not want to budge on the image rights.
Quick Step is likely an easier fit there, but with Boonen, Chavanel, Leipheimer, Martin and Velits all vying for their own shots (not to mention Bakala’s personal protege, Zdenek Stybar), what will the support there be like for Cavendish?
Cavendish is looking at two—possibly different—motivations. Wasserman’s job is simple: Maximize Cavendish’s stardom to the fullest financial extent. I picture the dinner prayer in Talladega Nights.
Sky certainly wants Cavendish for its own media exposure. But for them that equation includes the same calculus that drew Bradley Wiggins: Make the Manx sprinter the star centerpiece of a national project, with the ultimate goal of delivering an Olympic gold medalist at the home games (perhaps two, with Wiggins in the time trial).
Cavendish is, at 26 years old, already firmly in the discussion of best sprinter in the sport’s history along with riders like Andre Darrigade, Freddy Maertens, and HTC’s sprint coach, Erik Zabel. The next few years will decide whether his legacy is to be part of that debate, or to end it. The same time period is also likely to be the peak of his earning potential.
He just has to decide which of those is most important, or whether they’re even mutually exclusive. That’s not an easy choice.