On the Front Foot: Hot and cold sponsors keep the money pouring in

 

As one sponsorship door begins slowly to shut, another opens wide.

It will be intriguing to watch the relationship between the two multi-million pound backers of England international cricket unfold in the next few months. Investec, the new sponsor of home Test matches, has entered the fray with abundant enthusiasm, having signed an unprecedented 10-year deal worth around £50 million. The branding of the asset management group will make its debut at Lord's on May 17, the first of some 70 Test matches which will bear its name until 2022.

But Brit Insurance, sponsor of the England team, appears to have gone distinctly cool on its deal. Although it does not expire until next year, management changes at the company have led to a review of options. The chief executive appointed last year, Mark Cloutier, is a Canadian not immediately familiar with cricket and has also changed the structure of the business. One of his first acts was to dispense with the marketing and communications department. Last month the regional business, whose clients were often the recipients of corporate hospitality at Test matches, was sold. Brit insists that it is business as usual, though concedes it will target mostly London Test matches for the rest of the deal, worth around £5m a year. The England and Wales Cricket Board will almost certainly be left looking for a new team sponsor next year. It is in a position of strength despite the current gloomy economic outlook.

Gillette became the first cricket sponsor in 1963 and forked out £6,500 for the privilege. When it pulled out 17 years later it was partly because more people associated the company with cricket than razor blades.

When more is less

The most durable sponsor in cricket is NatWest, now in its 32nd year in one form or other. It has gone from backing the game's domestic knockout cup – it took over from Gillette in 1981 – to supporting England's home one-day internationals. The company is keen to stay in the game when their contract finishes next year.

But there is unease about the number of limited overs matches England will play this summer: three against West Indies, five against Australia and five against South Africa. NatWest are worried about being squeezed because, as so often, more means less.

Sofa causing discomfort

The ECB are watching to see if internet broadcaster Test Match Sofa carries out its promise to continue providing ball-by-ball coverage of international matches this summer. Although the commentaries are not illegal, they clearly cut across the BBC's broadcasting rights. Sofa's profile has been raised since it was bought out by The Cricketer magazine and neither the BBC nor the ECB are happy about the state of affairs.

In Sri Lanka, Sofa – still nowhere near as funny as it thinks it is and on the evidence of its opening podcast of the summer capable of highfalutin tedium – was available, Special was not. It remains to be seen what penalties the ECB can impose but it is possible it will withdraw co-operation from The Cricketer, which was founded by the former England captain, Sir Pelham Warner, in 1921.

Bowling maiden overs

Given its title it behoves this column to welcome Girls On The Front Foot. Under the umbrella of Chance to Shine, which has been successful in ensuring cricket is once more played in state schools,its initial aim is to raise £250,000.

Almost half CTS players are girls and there are now 565 girls' sections in clubs. Only one in 10 girls are involved in physical activity by the age of 14 that will benefit their health and by 18, 40 per cent have dropped out of playing sport completely.

s.brenkley@independent.co.uk

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