Sunday, April 22, 2007

Only in it for the Money?

The following article first appeared on www.holdingwilley.com

As a reaction to India’s shock exit from the World Cup the BCCI are proposing to clamp down on players advertising and promotional activity limiting the number of endorsements any player can give to three, and no product can be endorsed by more than two players.

It’s being seen as a rather heavy handed, and has predictably raised something of a stink – and it’s surely only a matter of time before some barrack room lawyer starts talking about ‘restraint of trade’ and, going down a road that English footballers have started keenly navigating – ‘image rights’.

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to believe that the main reason we’re hearing about this now is that the BCCI are coming under immense pressure to take some action in the wake of India’s early exit from the World Cup. What better explanation could there be than to blame the players for not being fully focussed on the game and instead concentrating on lining their own pockets.

Other contributors to ‘Holding Willey’ are in a better position to comment on the Indian perspective to all this. My own thought, for what it’s worth, is that assuming a test side is picked purely on merit, then it’s in the players’ own interests to ensure that endorsements and advertising deals don’t affect performance. After all, no company will want to be associated with a player who is performing below par, or playing on an unsuccessful team and a player whose mind is on the next photo-shoot rather than the next innings is not going to stay in the side for long if performance suffers.

So, how is all this going down in England? In short, very quietly! It’s hardly made a ripple in the media and there has been little judgmental comment in favour of one side or the other.

The level of public recognition for English cricketers still extraordinarily low compared with India. Even at the peak of cricket interest in England (Trafalgar Square - September 2005) most of the winning eleven could have walked down the street relatively unmolested and unrecognised. The only exceptions would have been Freddie Flintoff -who would have been hugely embarrassed by the whole thing, and the supreme self-publicist Kevin Pietersen who would have probably had a note pinned on his back saying ‘Molest me, please’.

Very rarely are cricketers in England seen on TV promoting products – there just isn’t the sufficient recognition factor that a marketing department would demand. To use some marketing speak – the English cricketing ‘brand’ isn’t strong enough. It’s noteworthy that cricketer most often seen during ad breaks is someone who retired almost 20 years ago – Ian Botham. That’s a measure how just how big a figure Botham was in his pomp, and how effective his PR agency is.

If an English cricketer were told that he was going to be limited to three endorsements his response would likely be – ‘as many as three - fantastic!’ I’d guess that even some high profile test players would be lucky to get three advertising offers in their entire career – let alone three simultaneously.

If a player is seen advertising in a magazine it’ll most likely be in a cricket one, or maybe a men’s lifestyle publication like GQ. In terms of products, it will primarily be cricket equipment, with the occasional foray into isotonic drinks or generic sports clothing. As an aside, I’d say there might be a lucrative contract awaiting Steve Harmison with Mothercare based on how he’s been acting like a big kid since his return home from Down Under – but that’s a different story.

It’s a different story in Australia – where, unlike in England, cricket is the sport at the top of the pecking order. To my eyes as a visitor last winter, almost every TV ad shown during the recent Ashes series seemed to feature at least one test player prepared to whore himself to the highest bidder – and if any product marketer couldn’t persuade Ricky or the boys to get involved, there was always Richie Benaud who seemed virtually omnipresent on screen at times.

In terms of an England/India comparison, a more instructive comparison would be to look at Indian cricket alongside the English football team. For ‘Tendulkar’ read ‘Beckham’, or possibly now ‘Rooney’. The cost of players ‘image rights’ are astronomical – the total value of Beckham’s recent transfer to the US has been estimated at over a quarter of a billion pounds once the advertisers and product manufacturers have had their share of the cake.

English footballers generally have a far higher recognition factor that cricketers– matching Indian cricketers on the ‘mobbed in the street’ scale.

It’s also instructive to consider the English football comparison because there are eerie similarities with what is happening with the Indian cricket squad at the moment. After 2006 World Cup debacle, certain sections of the media suggested that if they cut down on their advertising deals and promotional work and concentrated on playing the game it might have helped them get further than the quarter finals

Beyond the endorsements issue there was a wider search for scapegoats – some blamed the presence of wives and girlfriends, others blamed media intrusion, which was rather ironic considering it, was the media themselves who were doing the scapegoat hunting! The old chestnut of ‘too much football’ was also trotted out. Cloistered away in their happy world living in the lap of luxury the players weren’t concerned at all – as long as they were still picking up their £100,000 per week pay cheques they didn’t mind who got the blame.

The truth was that side were badly prepared, badly managed and didn’t perform up to the sum of their parts. In India’s case - maybe – just maybe – the same applies and it wasn’t the deodorant ads that caused them to lose to Bangladesh – they just didn’t play well enough on the day and were beaten by the better side.

1 comment:

David said...

Good Article, Mark - thanks for the insight into how cricket 'fits' in England.