Archive for the ‘cricket’ Category

Sport’s Seasonal Disorder

It’s the traditional time of sporting transition from winter to summer in the northern hemisphere but there is no shortage of rightsholders who believe they can defy nature.

At its root, the original Anglo-Saxon notion of sport involves men or women following around a ball of some description on a grass surface. Those sports which require near constant running (football, rugby, field hockey and so on) have historically been played in the winter months because the running keeps you warm, whereas the sports that inevitably lead to a certain amount of standing around (tennis, golf, cricket, baseball) are played in the summer and tend to have to stop when it rains.

Hence the Masters Tournament that took place last week in Augusta, USA was, as always, the first “major” golf event of the season and in England the cricket season has just begun. In Monte Carlo the first outdoor men’s tennis event of the year in Europe is reaching its conclusion.

Sporting rightsholders, who are virtually all based in the northern hemisphere, long ago worked out that they could extend their seasons by hosting events in places with the right climate. For this reason the global tennis season starts in January in Australia and golf’s European Tour goes to such un-European places early in the year as Dubai and South Africa.

So far, so good. But, under pressure in a crowded and competitive calendar, rightsholders sometimes seek to defy nature. The Formula 1 Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix in the first week of April was wrecked by a monsoon, which is a fact of life in the early evening in Kuala Lumpur in April. The Daily Mail and others criticised the decision to hold the race at 5pm to suit European broadcasters when a race held earlier in the day would have been less likely to suffer interruptions.

The second season of the Indian Premier League starts today in South Africa. When the event was first conceived it was squeezed into a short window in April and early May in the already over-crowded cricketing calendar. Such is the financial power of the Indian cricket economy that other nations have had to compromise and accept the disruption to their domestic schedules.

Due to recent tragic events in India, the organisers were compelled to move the tournament to another country at a few weeks’ notice. England was ruled out principally because there is too much rain in April to play a packed programme of fixtures. Instead, South Africa has taken on the challenging task of organising a big event with very little time to prepare. Although the weather is likely to be favourable and there is a  strong following for cricket in the country, the regular domestic season has just finished and it remains to be seen if the passion and enthusiasm of last year’s event can be replicated in another part of the world.

In the circumstances, all sports fans will hope that the IPL in South Africa is a success. Nevertheless, other sports rightsholders should take heed that it is a big gamble to host major events out of season and away from their regular home.

Big Test for South Africa

As 2009 begins, South African sport is looking in better shape than ever before, 18 months ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup . In the last days of 2008 the South African cricket team achieved their first ever test series victory over Australia away from home. It was a considerable achievement because Australia had not lost a series on home soil for 17 years. Even TIME Magazine noticed and the news made the front page of the Melbourne Sun and other Australian media, who paid generous tributes to the South African team.

In June and July this year the South Africa rugby union team (the reigning world champions) will host the British and Irish Lions rugby tour, which is likely to attract tens of thousands of fans from the UK and Ireland. At the same time the FIFA Confederations Cup will also take place in South Africa, involving eight national teams from around the world. It serves as a vital test of venues and systems a year before the FIFA World Cup.

In contrast to the success of the rugby and cricket teams, the South African football team, known as Bafana Bafana, is currently languishing in 75th place in the world rankings. No doubt the football authorities in South Africa will be urgently looking for improvements in the coming months.

It was only in 1992 that South Africa was readmitted to international sport after the end of the Apartheid era. The country still faces huge challenges and sport is frequently entangled in racial politics (for example racial quotas and the badges on the South African rugby team jersey).

In a country with such a strong sporting culture, the successful hosting of sports events over the next 18 months could provide a stimulus for further economic and social progress. But the biggest boost of all would come if the South African football team could sneak through to the knock-out stages of the World Cup. The pressure is on for Bafana Bafana.

Vanity Sponsorship

On 1 November on the Caribbean island of Antigua, the England cricket team was soundly beaten by the Stanford All Stars (almost the West Indes team) in the Stanford 20/20 competition. The victorious All Stars will be rewarded with a remarkable $1m US per player for this single match, with substantial amounts also available for the backroom staff and the cricket boards.

The brainchild of Texan businessman Sir Allen Stanford, the whole week-long series of matches has been condemned in much of the UK media as a meaningless money-making exercise (see, for example, Mike Atherton in The Times). With Sir Allen staging the matches at his own private ground, the whole spectacle gives the impression of a supreme act of vanity.

Question: What do you buy the man who has everything?  .
Answer: His own cricket tournament with top players competing for the biggest prize in the history of the sport.

What might be termed “Vanity Sponsorship” is by no means a new phenomenon in sport but it seems to be a growing trend. The most visible example is the spate of wealthy foreign owners of English and Scottish football clubs, such as Vladimir Romanov, majority shareholder of Heart of Midlothian FC.

The general pattern is that an astonishingly rich man or men (I haven’t seen any women involved) approaches a sporting institution and offers to invest sufficient money to restore them to their rightful place at the pinnacle of their sport. A business plan is brandished, which tantalises with a scheme for world domination in three to five years. In return for their largesse, the new owner or benefactor seeks public adulation and the right to have their whims indulged. Occasionally there are rumours of other political or economic motives as well.

One or two years later the relationship between benefactor and sponsored organisation sours, often resulting in the acrimonious departure of the sponsor, minus a large chunk of their fortune. The sporting institution somehow muddles on, amid much hand-wringing and calls for tighter regulation.

I am all for good financial governance in sport but a dose of realism is necessary. The leaders of sporting institutions are by their nature desperate for success. It would be surprising if they were to turn down a major investment, even with strings attached. Similarly professional athletes, who have short and insecure careers, will naturally welcome the chance of a windfall. Supporters may find the whole thing distasteful (as parodied in a Budweiser football advert) but ultimately they also want to see victory.

In short, rich men will continue to indulge themselves with vanity sponsorship and some of them will end up looking like fools. As for Sir Allen Stanford, he may just have spotted an opportunity to revive West Indes cricket that traditional brand sponsors had missed. Only time will tell.