Firms braced for stampede from the losing teams

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The Independent Online
Companies are bracing themselves for a rush of sports administrators knocking on their doors looking for new sponsorship cash to replace the pounds 9m a year spent by tobacco companies.

There are currently 34 sports events sponsored by tobacco companies in the United Kingdom and countless individual team sponsorships in all manner of sports. The deals range from the pounds 250,000 a year that the little-known Ice Hockey Superleague receives from Benson & Hedges to the pounds 20m international deal between Rothmans and the Williams Formula One team.

Tobacco money is estimated to be worth up to pounds 200m to Formula One, whose organising body is planning to float on the stock exchange later this year.

Benson & Hedges' links with their chosen events go back many years. The B&H Masters, in snooker, began in 1975; the B&H Cup in cricket started in 1972; there has been sponsorship of golf - the B&H International - since 1970.

More recently they have provided the B&H Cup in Ice Hockey (1992) and, through Silk Cut, another branch of its parent company Gallaher, there has been sponsorship of the Rugby League Challenge Cup since 1985.

Industries such as financial services, mobile phones and computing are being talked about as the ones to replace the tobacco money. However, as one sponsorship executive said: "It is dangerous to believe there is a queue of people waiting to come in and replace tobacco."

Barrie Gill, of the sponsorship agency CSS, said: "When Silk Cut pulled out of Hickstead this year horse jumping lost an event."

John Lord, chief executive of the Ice Hockey Superleague, predicted a "mad scramble for money". He said: "Most sports are constantly looking for new sources of revenue. Now everyone will be redoubling their efforts all at the same time."

The sponsorship industry believes the timing of a sponsorship ban will be crucial. Some sports, such as cricket, have already cut their dependency on tobacco funding while snooker and darts remain heavily dependent.

The snooker manager Ian Doyle said yesterday: "If the ban was to take effect immediately it would be our worst nightmare."

The tobacco industry's sponsorship has been held back to within the rate of inflation since a voluntary agreement with the government in 1972. The agreement prevents the industry sponsoring sports that attract a young following, such as football, or what is known in the industry as "puff" sports such as athletics, swimming or cycling.

The voluntary agreement also limits the use of cigarette names and logos on Formula One cars in the British Grand Prix, although they can use the sponsor's colours.

Tobacco sponsorship of sport dates back to the early 1960s when snooker and motor racing were sponsored by the industry because it could not advertise on television.

Mike Scott, director of the Institute of Sports Sponsorship, said: "Tobacco has been instrumental in the development of sports that did not have public exposure or even their own national tournament. Sport sponsorship is now more developed in the UK than in the rest of Europe, but it will still be hard for minority sports to replace the lost money."

The Tobacco Manufacturers' Association has requested a meeting with Frank Dobson, but has yet to receive replay.

A spokesman said: "We believe there is no justification for any erosion of our ability to compete in the market place. Our sponsorships increase the reputation of our companies, and also increase brand awareness. But there is no convincing evidence that banning sponsorship and advertising has any effect."

Six of the best deals

Sponsor and event Value

Embassy: Snooker, World Championships pounds 54m

Rothmans: Motorsport,Williams team pounds 20m

West Brand: Motorsport, McLaren team pounds 12m

Benson and Hedges: Motorsport, Jordan team pounds 10m

Benson and Hedges: Snooker, B&H Masters pounds 4m

Silk Cut: Rugby League, Challenge Cup pounds 2.1m

Deals as of May 1997