If things seem too good to be true, then they probably are. That, at least, should be the lasting lesson from the current controversy surrounding Texan tycoon Allen Stanford – who this week stands accused of multi-billion dollar fraud.
A major victim of the Stanford scandal is the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) – whose desperation to get its hands on Stanford’s millions has made it look somewhat foolish. The question now is whether the story will have a long-term negative impact on the prospects for the game.
A couple of years ago, English cricket was riding high. Good players were coming through and blue-chip sponsors were queuing up to get involved. But then came the offer of untold riches. On the one hand there was the revenue associated with the Indian Premier League – which immediately turned players heads. On the other, was the money on offer from Allen Stanford – which seemed to offer the ECB a way of counteracting the Asian powerbase.
Now the latter has proved to be an illusion – and the question is whether it will adversely affect the ECB’s ability to woo new sponsors. The ECB has attempted to limit the damage by cutting its ties with Stanford immediately. In a statement, ECB chief executive David Collier said the body was “shocked by the charges filed against the Stanford organisation and personnel earlier this week. Within minutes of the announcement, ECB determined to suspend any further discussions with Stanford and the board has now agreed to terminate its agreements with Stanford.”
The general feeling, however, is that the ECB should have spotted something was wrong earlier. Now it faces two problems. The first is bad publicity – which might put off other brands which had been considering a cricket association. The second, perhaps worse problem, stems from the indecent speed at which cricket took the cash.
Suppose you were a sponsor in the middle of a three or four year deal with the ECB – when all of a sudden the media exposure was being hogged by new cash-rich events. Suppose top players were no longer interested in your event because they could earn more cash elsewhere? How would that affect your own carefully-planned strategy? Would you feel loved by the rights holder your had invested in?
Probably not. This, after all, is the same governing body which has already moved all of its live inventory out of the free TV space in order to secure a premium from Sky. So English cricket is going to have to work very hard if it wants to persuade blue-chip brands to come back into the fold. After all, this is not India – where cricket dominates sporting life. Here there are many choices for sponsors.