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Team Sky mum on rumors about future

Rumors of a merger or an extension with Comcast are intensifying. Sky is in an unusual situation because its exiting sponsor is also the team owner.

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There are a lot of rumors and reports flying about the future of Team Sky. It’s great for journalists in the off-season, just don’t expect team management to say much.

Team Sky officials refused to comment on the latest reports about mergers and contract guarantees.

“We are not in a position to provide a running commentary,” an official from Team Sky said on the team’s sponsor quest. “We won’t be commenting on it at this time.”

Team Sky officials have remained quiet as team manager Dave Brailsford and others work to shore up the team’s sponsorship future beyond 2019. Officials were told in December that longtime sponsor Sky is exiting at the end of this season. Brailsford has just a few months to find new backers to save the team.

Brailsford has telegraphed a message of confidence that Team Sky will exist in some form beyond this racing season.

That hasn’t stopped the rumor mill from churning. On Tuesday, Israel Cycling Academy owner Sylvan Adams confirmed to VeloNews he is exploring merger opportunities with an existing WorldTour team in order to race the Tour de France in 2020.

Adams did not reveal which teams in the WorldTour league he has been in contact with. Insiders suggest that a merger between Team Sky and Israel Cycling Academy, however, is not being considered right now.

Mergers can often be messy. Professional racing teams slowly build their unique tone and brand over years, and recent mergers have revealed that one team invariably is absorbed by another and often loses out in terms of riders, staffers, and identity.

Team Sky officials would not confirm if a partnership with another sponsor is under consideration. And it’s unclear if Brailsford, who led Team Sky to six Tour de France victories since its inception, would be willing to cede any control to a new partner even in order to save the team.

Also Wednesday, La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that Comcast, the American cable giant that bought out Sky this fall, could be poised to give the team a lifeline beyond 2019.

Citing unconfirmed sources, La Gazzetta reported that Comcast is considering paying up to 70 percent of Sky’s operating budget of $43 million annually in 2020 and 2021. That’s an interesting twist because many pro teams are often private holding companies that rent out sponsorship deals to the highest bidder. Sky the broadcaster, similar to how EF Education First and Trek own their respective racing teams, is Team Sky’s owner.

If true, the deal would be reminiscent of T-Mobile in 2007 when the German company pulled the plug on the team in the wake of doping scandals but paid out its sponsorship contract. That team became High Road and raced five more seasons.

If Comcast would cover much of the team’s costs and contract obligations, that would give Brailsford more time to find would-be sponsors in the short-term. It would also allow more flexibility in the search a new permanent long-term partner.

The team has several riders under contract beyond this season, including Geraint Thomas, Chris Froome, and Egan Bernal. Sources told VeloNews Team Sky’s unique ownership structure could set up possible contract disputes between riders and the ownership over future contract obligations. It’s likely most riders and agents would try to find new contracts to keep them racing in the event that Sky did collapse at the end of 2019. There could be potential for legal wrangling if riders under long-term contracts at Sky do not find new deals with equal pay. It’s hard to imagine, however, that a cycling agent would be able to out-lawyer a fleet of attorneys from Wall Street.

And what was Team Sky’s response when reached for comment on the report? No comment. Don’t expect anything to be coming out of the Team Sky camp until the contracts for any future deal are signed.