The Finances of Team Sky

What’s the secret of Team Sky’s success? One element is money as the squad has one of the highest budgets in the sport.

Sky are the only major pro team to publish their accounts and the latest set have just been filed. So here’s a look at the numbers from the headline budget down items like the spend on travel, rider transfers and equipment.

There’s the team budget for the 2012: £21.4 million ($34.5m / €24.5m, exchange rates at the bottom of the page). Teams are business-like but they are not run for profit – UCI rules constrain this – so there’s no surplus. Now onto the money that flows into the team’s coffers.

Team Sky revenue

Here we can see the three prime sources of revenue: Sky, other sponsors and race fees/other income. Title sponsor means “Sky” but it’s split between Sky in Britain (BSkyB), Sky Italia and News Corporation Europe although all three entities are controlled by the same parent company, 21st Century Fox.

Note the big increase in sponsorship money. Sky are paying more and “performance sponsorship” means all the others like PepsiCo brand Gatorade and Tata Motor’s Jaguar. Race fees are paid to all teams for participation. In an era where teams are struggling for sponsorship the hefty increase in revenue here is very impressive.

Team Sky started in 2010 with initial sponsorship of £40 million for five years from BSkyB, the British broadcaster that is 39% owned by 21st Century Fox. Since then Sky Italia has come in for 25% of the sponsorship with News Corporation Europe another 15%. The £40 million commitment looks set to be exceeded because the team has received £10m in 2010, £10.5m in 2011 and £13.4m in 2012, £33.9m over three years. Note the Italian sponsorship deal explains the presence of several Italian riders, the additional motivation to win the Giro this year and why the team has had subtly different kit when racing in Italy.

Having looked at the money coming in, let’s look at what it was spent on during 2012.

This is one of the most interesting sections. Note the 40% jump in the wage bill, from £11 million to £15.4 million. We can assume a significant share of this went on hiring Mark Cavendish. Note wages went up 25% from 2010 to 2011 too.

The “Bike and performance equipment” line is interesting. As seen above, Sky earn £4 million other sponsors which includes the likes of Pinarello, Shimano and Rapha and some of this is going out in the £2.1m line above, for example when a frame is finished. But the team also has a policy of buying various items for the sake of performance, for example buying Veloflex tubulars or speciality carbon rims and each company is too small to sponsor a team of this size. We’ve seen some riders buying their own carbon wheels over the years but here we see a team doing this and the spend involved.

Team Sky Death Star Bus

Vehicle running costs include fuel the two “Death Star” team buses which cost thousands of Euro to fill. Even when parked they’re drinking diesel to power the generators for aircon and coffee-makers.

The team spends close to £1 million on public relations which shows that simply having a logo on the kit is necessary but not sufficient for corporate sponsorship, a share of the money is spent in order to get the message out and inviting VIP guests to experience events. But it still didn’t prevent them being unprepared for Bradley Wiggins’ media grilling about dopage during the 2012 Tour, and Chris Froome got the same again this year.

Having a budget in one currency and expenses others means a foreign exchange risk. As we see it’s provided a bonanza of £252,000 for 2012 rather than a loss in the previous year. This is a sum is equivalent to the budget needed to run a top women’s team for a year. The budget is so large that an un-budgeted accidental gain from currency fluctuations is enough to run a women’s team.

Now onto the assets. If you think Sky’s top assets are its riders you’re right in a way but accountants think different, riders are mere expense items. But they do show up as assets in other ways…

Mystery surrounds the rider transfer payments in 2012 which totalled £302,000. The previous payments included the transfers of Bradley Wiggins and Ben Swift, each controversially bought out of their respective contracts with Garmin/Slipstream and Katusha. The extra for 2012 could relate to new hirings but it’s feasible it relates to payments for transferring riders and staff out following the adoption of the “zero tolerance” anti-doping scheme towards the end of 2012. It’s a lesson that we get the accounts but can’t account for last operation.

Now how many people do you think Team Sky employs? You’re probably thinking of the riders, managers, mechanics, soigneurs and more, right? Wrong, the team has a staff of seven. See for yourself…

Team Sky Report and AccountsSky had one full time employee in 2010, three in 2011 and now it’s got seven. But what of all the riders and others? They’re hired as outside contractors, each selling their services to Tour Racing Ltd just like a lawyer or window-cleaner might provide services to another company.

Value for Money?
Sky’s spend is focussed on a process to achieve results rather than hiring star riders and hoping they replicate past performances.  High wages can correlate with results but Sky have had been ahead of the curve on rider wages with Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, hiring them on “contender” pay packages before they won the Tour de France. Now both are on substantial packages meaning certain outgoings for next year but uncertain results.

And for all the talk of a superteam, note they’ve practically given up on bunch sprints by releasing Mark Cavendish. Trying to win a grand tour whilst running a sprint train is too much for anyone, no matter what your resources are.

Is it worth the spend? That’s subjective but all the publicity from winning the Tour de France is very valuable. Note that BSkyB’s total marketing spend in 2012 was just over £1,064 million (yes, £1 billion) meaning Team Sky represents just 1% of the annual marketing spend.

Does money buy results?
No but it goes a long way to putting things in place to make them happen. Funding isn’t everything, just ask BMC Racing who spend big but only their trophy cabinet looks emptier. They’re now playing catch-up, for example putting Allan Peiper in as Performance Manager.

As long as Sky can access the prodigious resources of one of the world’s largest media companies it will remain a leading team in pro cycling. As we’ve seen the funding increases to match the team’s ambitions. But it can only go so far.

Amidst the numbers there’s some wording that seems to have been written near the start of the year, celebrating Froome’s win in the Tour of Oman and looking forward to the classics and Giro. Things didn’t go to plan.

What about the other teams?
Every team has to produce accounts for the UCI for the annual licensing procedure but these are confidential. To my knowledge only Team Sky makes their account public, British law requires this. But you won’t find this on the Team Sky website, the document is lodged with a government agency and only available to those who pay.

Even if we could see the accounts the numbers don’t tell everything, for example French law requires teams to take on riders as employees and jobs are heavily taxed in France so the payroll would look very different. Either way Sky’s spend is very big, it’s in a bracket with BMC Racing and Katusha and more than double the budget of Garmin-Sharp or FDJ.

If you want to know the secret of Team Sky’s success then these accounts are a good place to start. £21.4 million goes a long way in pro cycling but it’s a tiny fraction of the Sky corporate marketing budget which helps explains why the team can increase its spend every year by such a substantial amount. Other sports are wildly different but and for what it’s worth Manchester United’s wage bill should be enough to fund the entire bill for all 507 World Tour riders.

These accounts give us an insight into a pro team budget but remember Sky is the exception, your average World Tour team spends half the cash.

£1 = US$ 1.61 = €1.24 on 31 December 2012

£1 = 1.62 US$ = € 1.19 at today’s rates

Thanks to reader Simon R for sending in a scanned copy.

77 thoughts on “The Finances of Team Sky”

  1. Great piece. INteresting to know the mechanics behind Sky getting a budget increase. is tehre a liit to what they can spend? Do they request funds from someone within the organisation? When you look at it like that it’s a distdtly uneven playing field for other teams that are run more conventionally.

    Also, some of the descriptions are tantalisingly vague. Research? £45,000?

    • Exactly, we see “research” but are left to guess what this is, is it a wind tunnel session, buying materials to test or lab testing things. It’s the same with so many other things.

      But it’s a much more detailed look than we get from anyone else. I’d like to see all teams, obviously many don’t want to disclose this, but it would be interesting to compare wage bills etc.

    • There is a budget – but Brailsford is said to be known for going over it. I’d expect that he has to get approval to do so from Tour Racing Ltd board.

  2. I would assume that TV rights come into the ‘other income’ bracket. I think therein lies the problem for the world tour and its teams (in my humble opinion).

    Probably an argument for another day.

  3. Great work, as usual.

    A couple of small points where I read the accounts in a slightly different manner:

    1. Title Sponsorship will be both the various Sky Entities plus IG Cycling who came on in 2012:

    Due to the restructuring of NewsCorp in 2013 and the spin-off of the newspaper operations. I do not think The Newspaper operations sponsored Sky in 2013 – it is 21st Century Fox (Movies plus US TV), BskyB and Sky Italia. Although 21st Century hold equity stakes in Sky Deutschland (and BskyB), I do not think Sky Deutschland contribute directly.

    2. Performance Sponsorship Revenues:

    This will include all the equipment revenues and include both hard cash and indirect revenues (like the frames from Pinarello, clothing from Adidas and drinks from Gatorade)

    3. Bike and Performance Operating Expenses:

    As detailed above these costs include the kit provided as part of the performance sponsorship. I would more likely conclude that the hard cash part of performance revenues is circa £2m (£4.1m less £2.1m). Admittedly as you say Sky probably bought some kit from non-sponsors, but equally some of the sponsorship items could be in other lines (eg Jaguar deal involves them paying for fuel and maintenance)

    4. Intangible Fixed Assets

    There is no way any “zero tolerance” payoffs could be included as a fixed assets, it would have had to be expensed at the time of the deal and include in the wages line.

    This will be as stated for “Rider Transfer Payments” – who did Sky sign in 2012? Kiryenka , Cataldo, Tiernan-Locke were the main one’s. But Sky might have paid small amounts for Boswell, Dombrowski and Edmonson to keep the feeder teams happy.

    I would like to see the accumulated depreciation on this “Rider Transfer Payments” as it will give a clue as to how much Sky paid Garmin for Wiggins.

    Theoretically Sky might have received money for Cav as well and I’m guessing that this would have been in the “Other income” line.

    • Thanks, a good take.

      On your point on accumulated depreciation, it’s £637,000 per year and the transfer is amortised over the life of the contract. I don’t know the contract length to hand but this might be available online.

      • Even if they didn’t, it wouldn’t go to income, it would be released against the asset. The only thing that would go to income would be the initial cost minus what has been depreciated/amortised minus the release fee received.

    • On the accumulated depreciation/amortisation point, surely the total cost gives us a better idea of the Wiigins transfer fee since all the amortisation would tell us is the assumed useful economic life. Presumably Wiggins and Swift account for the bulk of the cost brought forward into 2011 unless Sky are paying signing on fees and putting them on the balance sheet.

  4. The intangible asset for transfer payments will not relate to ‘transfers out’. Under accounting convention that asset class can only relate to ‘ongoing type’ of assets. If payments were made to exit staff/riders/contractors then they will be in the P&L account, not the balance sheet.

  5. Very interesting piece. I see no explicit reference to prize income. I suppose the bulk of it goes to riders, and the rest goes to “other income”. I would also like to see the accounts of other teams, Euskaltel and Astana the first.

    • Often there isn’t any. I don’t know for Sky but the deal has been that a sponsor will pay a team €X in cash and give them materials, eg frames or clothing, for the right to be the official sponsor. In return they get the promotional rights, “the choice of [Rider Name]” etc and in the case of clothing or team-issue frames etc, the income on the merchandising.

  6. Best line:
    “Other sports are wildly different but and for what it’s worth Manchester United’s wage bill should be enough to fund the entire bill for all 507 World Tour riders.”

      • Man Utd got £60.8 million in TV money last season. It should be more this year even if they don’t win the league as there is a new deal. Sky must be paying a big chunk of this. It’s possible that Man Utd get more money from Sky than the cycling team does!

  7. Hi,

    Do you have a full copy of this annual report? I’m doing a sport business masters and focusing on Team Sky’s economics and market share for one of my assignments and it would be very helpful.


  8. It does seem that the expenditure in 2012 was larger than had previously been planned for (40% increase as you say). Probably two main reasons for that. The opportunity to sign Cavendish was too good to turn down at the time and also Froome’s performance at the 2011 Vuelta led to a significantly improved new contract.

    It will be interesting to see what the expenditure was in 2013 with Cavendish and a few others leaving at the end of 2012.

      • He might be an employee, but not full-time, because of his role at British Cycling. The same could apply to some of the coaches and other support staff. Expressing it in FTE terms can cover many possibilities.

        • Brailsford is a contractor at Team Sky. Cavendish and the increase in the Froome contract plus other increases to other riders for the 2012 season led to the large increase in rider salaries. Cavendish was on more than anyone had reported for the year and Froome went from a six figure salary to a very handsome 7 figure salary.

  9. “Note the Italian sponsorship deal explains the presence of several Italian riders, the additional motivation to win the Giro this year and why the team has subtly different kit when racing in Italy”.

    I know it’s a small point in a very detailed article but in what way is the Sky kit different when they race in Italy? I had never noticed this…

  10. Where does the $37K in taxation go?
    Are these organizations obligated to pay all of their profit as tax, or do they back into their “Profit Before Tax” figure by increasing certain expenses so that their profits after tax are zero?

      • **tax accountant**
        Although UCI rules state a team cannot run at a profit this is unlikely to meet the rules of being not-for-profit for UK tax, so all income net of expenditure is likely to be liable to UK corporation tax

        Tax depreciation on fixed assets is deducted for tax in the UK differently to the depreciation shown in the accounts, plus some expenses such as hospitality would not be deductible for tax, hence a tax liability in the UK even though the accounts show the company broke even.

  11. The reason for the small number of staff and the high number of contractors is likely to be down to the more favourable tax treatment available for contractors/seperate companies vs the relatively constrained and perhaps more punitive tax treatment for employees (in the UK at least).

    • Exactly, it’s up to the rider. Often there might not be a big saving here because the rider has to pay the tax so they as for a bigger gross salary to cover this but it does save the team and also Sky make no pension contributions for riders etc, another cash saving.

        • This probably depends on the laws of the country the team is from. UK is one of the countries with the most laissez-fair labour rules in Europe. INRNG mentions that under French law riders have to be employed by the team.

          It makes me wonder if cycling teams sometimes incorporate in countries like Luxembourg or Monaco to avoid taxes or problems with work permits?

          • Like a ship being registered in Panama?!

            To be fair, I don’t know of any teams registered in Monaco. However various teams from overseas have been registered in the UK in recent years, like Barloworld and at least one other but the name escapes me.

          • Anyone with an iPad/iPhone can read a piece I wrote about this with 2R

            Tax is a big issue for teams behind the scenes. What could be more Italian than Vini Fantini or Bardiani-CSF? Actually the first is registered in London and the second is in Dublin. Similar with Astana that’s in Luxembourg despite being Kazakh with operations in Italy and France.

            I’ve written about tax before and sounds like it’s time to return to it again soon.

        • I think it would be because it is more beneficial for the riders to be employed as contractors, and so they are happy to be employed as such rather than employees. It would allow more scope for choice of payments/ payments to companies allowing one off dividends etc. I can’t see Sky – for all its many faults – trying to short change the riders or staff.

          • Part of it relates to where the rider lives (ie. if a rider lives in Monaco, why get taxed 50% of earnings over £150k a year, which it was at the time of the accounts in question for the first four months, when you can earn the full amount tax free as a contractor) the rest is it makes it easier to leave a team at the end of the contract or if payments are not made at all.

        • Most riders will have multiple sources of income – endorsements, appearances, etc – which makes it very easy to pass the HMRC IR35 rules on what constitutes an employee. However it would be a but tricky to pass the ‘substitution’ test – can your service company supply a replacement if you’re not available? Errmm, no!

  12. In the revenues, the “Race fees and other income”, is the winner’s prize comprised in this or is it simply an amount paid to every team that enters a race? If it’s the latter, I’m kind of surprised by how large an amount it is, especially considering that pretty much every protour team would get the same. It would be a large incentive for teams to go Protour, close to 4M Euros is enormous for the smaller teams!

    • It’s a good question and I think because of what you suggest it has to include the prize money. Teams are paid cash to take part in races but of course it’s expensive to be a on a race with travel (accommodation is supplied by the race) and they have to pay for a UCI licence, fund anti-doping and more.

        • Prize money is not paid direct to a team at any point in general that is registered outside of France, due to employment law. Prize money is generally collected by one rider (a Norwegian rider was the collector at Team Sky in 2012) and distributed equally by him from his bank account throughout the season. In some cases the rider who wins the prize money is given the prize by the race organiser or national federation of the race the country is registered in. The rider then determines the destination of the bank account it gets paid into.

          • And there are deductions by the national federations, the UCI and more. Some teams put it into a pot to share but this is up to the team and maybe beyond the reach of the auditors for some teams, at least it’s been one of the more unregulated aspects.

  13. Any idea how this relates to Sky’s involvement in British Cycling, or is that a completely different budget? I’m thinking the track team, sky rides etc etc…

  14. I was just wondering at the Worlds about the crossover between Sky and Team Gb. From a sporting point of view it’s difficult to see where one starts and the other ends, so in accounting terms it must be pretty vague.

    For example, did team gb pay sky for the use of the team bus at the worlds? Do they cover petrol, insurance etc?

    • irng has written about this before (, and there was an audit by Deloitte to ensure there were no conflicts (

      In short, Team Sky should pay British Cycling for the use of any of their facilities or assets. Likewise British Cycling should pay for the use of Team Sky assets. In your example British Cycling would probably had to have hired the bus as the going commercial rate to ensure no conflict of interest. I believe the Norwegian team had the other Sky bus at the Worlds and I don’t imagine they got it for free.

      • I always loved the ‘conclusions’ that were drawn from this never-published report. The only actual references I’ve seen quoted from it, talked about ‘no major issues’. I don’t think that actually means the report did not find any issues? Likewise, the report was looking at conflicts and I don’t recall any conclusions on that front actually being made public either?

        Dave B did make some in-depth summary along the line of ‘broadly supportive’ and there being areas of ‘mutual benefit’.

        Maybe I’m being cynical, but I don’t think the Deloitte report did actually conclude that there was no conflict of interest…

  15. There was a report commissioned a year or two back to show that team Sky’s finances were separate from those of british cycling. It has been referred to on here previously but I can’t recall who did it (some big accounting firm).

    I would guess then that Sky’s sponsorship of British Cycling is separate financial entity, albeit far from coincidental given their broad-reaching involvement in cycling (sky rides and so on).

    As far as the bus goes, I would doubt any money changed hands; hardly worth the administration, probably. Most of the major national teams have the use of a proteam bus at the worlds, typically that of a team registered in the nation in question. In fact before Team Sky came along, this facility was provided to the British team by Barloworld. Maybe it was a condition of registration?

    • Hi Dave, obviously we are not one or the same person.

      The answer to the “big” accounting firm is Deloitte. There were 30 points about BC and Team Sky they had interest in for governance purposes most of which were completed very quickly from memory. Some were still being worked on in late 2012, after the UK Sport commissioned audit took place.

      • All correct and thanks to Chum above for a similar point too. The report was written but not published as the draft form was enough to make some of the changes happen. There is still some crossover.

        It is not unique, see the close links between Russian, Kazakh or even French cycling with Katusha, Astana and FDJ.

  16. You know what turns me off about this team? Rupert Murdoch. His FOX “News” network has so poisoned politics in the US it’s unbelievable.

    • You’re on a hiding to nothing thinking that way. Private business and ethics rarely go hand in hand. Do you think Katusha or Orica are whiter than white?

    • You want poison in physical form? Go and search for Orica + environmental issues.

      You start blurring sponsors business interests and ethics, with teams, athletes, event sponsors etc across the sporting genre, and you won’t be left with a lot that meet your high standards.

      • regsf didn’t say he disliked Sky and everyone else is just fine and dandy. He simply said he didn’t like Sky for its distasteful Fox outlet in the USA.
        In the same way I have never bought Sky to watch football and will never wear a Sky cycling vest while the Murdochs have anything to do with that company.
        But I will do a search for Orica etc as Sam suggests!

        • Thanks Peter, that’s exactly what I meant. And I didn’t even mention the Sky phone tapping fiasco in the UK. Professional cycling has obviously had to financially associate itself with some pretty sketchy businesses of late to make a go of it. I believe the doping climate in the sport is largely to blame. But Sky-Fox News-Murdoch has had a huge part in poisoning the politics of the American electorate.

  17. British Cycling may be run seperately enough to satisfy Deloitte, but there were a noticeable number of cutbacks at BC following the arrival of Cav at Sky. Women’s coach Simon Cope for one was made redundant and spent a year with Exergy before returning this year, and there were a few other departures that I don’t remember off the top of my head.

  18. Thanks for another insider info, hope you will later add also the 2013 budget, could be instructive. If an average WT team earns 1/2 of Sky, the poorer teams have to work with cca 1/3? Recently it was mentioned that Tinkov showed interest in Cannondale, one of the bellow-average teams. But rumours also say that key riders were not happy about it, money is not all that matters and after the oligarch’s rudeness concerning Contador’s underperforming I can understand the riders’ point of view very well. Alonso sponsoring of cycling will be much more welcome.

    • Its data in the public domain, not insider info. However, INRNG does a great job of analysing it and posting on his/her blog. Did the same for the 2011 accounts last year – and the year before also, INRNG?

      • You are right, but by “insider” I did not mean spreading something confident, just inrng’s activity plus rather deep knowledge applied in the analysis, that I would not find (by common googling) anywhere else. Thus from my point of view it became really public just yesterday.

  19. Small point, but they have the equivalent of 7 full time staff, so head count could be much more accounting for part time employees (eg 50% bc 50% sky would be 14 head count, 7 FTE).

  20. Research £45’000 hmmm

    I read potential for personal lab technician creating extreme diuretics to assist in weight/power ratio issues, when challenging for Grand Tour success. Not cheating, morally wrong though.

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