English cricket yesterday launched a desperate search for a new sponsor after Vodafone ended its 12-year link with the game. The company's decision not to renew its agreement when the present deal ends in early 2010 will cost the England and Wales Cricket Board £4m a year unless it can find a replacement.
Although the mobile phone company's withdrawal was widely predicted, it could not have come at a worse time with corporate sponsorship across all sports being affected by the credit crunch. At the very least the ECB may be forced to negotiate a shorter-term deal and may struggle to find a high profile name, especially if England lose the Ashes next summer. They will, however, balk at reducing the £4m-a-year asking price.
Vodafone has become almost synonymous with the England team since the turn of the century. Wherever an England cricketer has turned up, a cap adorned with the red Vodafone logo has not been far behind. The shirts they play in have sported the firm's name and it became a standing joke that whenever a player was interviewed somebody would be in attendance to ensure he was wearing the appropriate cap.
John Perera, the ECB's commercial director, said yesterday: "We understand these are challenging times and it could take three to six months to reach agreement with a new partner. This is perhaps the flagship of all our sponsorship deals and when you consider that the England team is playing for 100 days a year and on duty for about 250 that is an awful lot of product, if you like."
Brand identity will be a key criterion as well as money. The ECB will start with a clean sheet but something like a consumer electrical goods company may be high on its wish list.
It will be earnestly hoping that the other two of its main sponsors, Npower and NatWest, who sponsor, respectively the home Test and one-day series, will renew their deals when they run out next year. If it has to search for new sponsors on three fronts it will be in serious trouble.
The ECB is insulated to a large degree by the TV rights deals it negotiated this summer with Sky worth £300m over four years. Broadcast contracts make up 80 per cent of the board's income. They might have signed at a good time. Speculation is growing in India that ESS – a partnership between ESPN and Star Sports – which paid $900m (£587m) for rights to the Twenty20 Champions League are unhappy about the vast outlay both because of the state of the advertising market and the fact that the competition has been postponed.
Vodafone's annual sponsorship of England.