Discovery Channel Pulling the Plug
(pic from thepaceline.com)
A change in the top level management at Discovery Channel has resulted in a loss of sponsorship for the cycling team at the end of 2007.
Armstrong’s agent spoke to USA Today to relay the news that was released on the Friday which is when most high profile people like to dump bad news.
Stapleton told USA TODAY Friday that the Discovery’s decision to not renew for a fourth year is connected to Monday’s firing of Discovery Network’s president Billy Campbell by new Discovery Communications president and CEO David Zaslav.
Campbell was the major force behind the company’s decision to sponsor the team in 2004. He also pushed the team to sign Italian star and Tour favorite Ivan Basso this year despite a since-resolved controversy about the rider’s role in a Spanish doping scandal.
“This would not have happened if Billy Campbell was still there,” Stapleton said. “This is about their change in management.”
Stapleton said the company is already evaluating potential replacements for Discovery and could sign another company before the 2007 season is over.
Tailwind sports has some very good prospects of picking up a new sponsor for 2007. iShares may want to get back into the cycling game after dumping the takeover of Phonak dude to the Landis scandal at the Tour de France. Other companies may also be interested in picking up sponsorship of the high profile American team. Cycling is going strong in the USA with more races getting UCI ratings so the sport can easily attract a new high profile sponsor to replace Discovery.
For Discovery Channel, the run was short and could be marked by a lack of marketing buzz outside of cycling. The promised features with Lance Armstrong having a show on Discovery Channel never really materialized. Sure there was a profile on George Hincapie on Fit TV’s “Art of the Athlete” and the Lance Chronicles, but Discovery Channel never fully used the cycling team to the full potential.
Discovery Channel team jerseys were available in the Discovery Channle stores, but outside of that not much more. Discovery may have had a great deal of exposure from Lance’s 2005 victory where he road to victory in Disco colors, but last year’s lack of success showed a team in transition struggling to find its new role. 2007 will be a much bigger year as the team brought in Ivan Basso who could prove to be either the new leader or a new liability. The Tour de France organizers ASO have not decided what to do with Ivan Basso. They talked tough saying they will not allow Operation Puerto tainted riders into the Tour. But their stance may be getting lenient since most charges have been dropped and Operation Puerto is yet to convict a single rider much less provide any solid evidence against anyone.
If Ivan Basso is barred from the Tour again this year then Tailwind sports will be in big trouble. However, with Lance Armstrong’s celebrity and profile, the team could probably wrap up a new sponsor deal before the Tour.