Unhappy Indian sponsors refuse to play ball in row

Published: Thursday, September 12, 2002, 18:49 [IST]
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New Delhi: Cricket's major sponsors warned on Thursday they would not play ball if they were asked to sacrifice commercial interests again, following the debacle over the Champions Trophy.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) was this week forced to water down sponsorship agreements to enable India's top stars like Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly to play in the 12-nation event in Sri Lanka. But two official sponsors of the ICC event, both from India, said they would not make further concessions for next year's World Cup in South Africa. "The time is probably right for a sponsors union because their interests need to be protected also, given the huge investments in the game," said Ganesh Mahalingam of LG Electronics India. "The Champions Trophy has not delivered on the commitments made. But the row ended up pretty well and satisfactorily for everybody because nobody wants to see second- string teams playing any tournament." The Indian players had initially refused to sign sponsorship contracts that prevented them from endorsing products which conflicted with official sponsors for 30 days before and after the event. The ICC, however, agreed to limit the terms to only 17 days after the tournament and pledged to bear the consequences of any future claims made by the sponsors. The ICC is expected to review the players contracts at the conclusion of the Champions Trophy later this month. Hero Honda, another official sponsor, said its charity ended with the current tournament. "In the interest of sending the best Indian national team, we agreed to reduce the 30 days provision to 17 days," Atul Sobti, senior vice-president of Hero Honda, said. "It is unfortunate everything got messed up. We hope the matter gets resolved immediately after this tournament. "We can't be expected to be charitable as a business organisation beyond a point." The world governing body had inserted the ambush marketing clause in the contracts to protect its sponsors who had shelled out $ 550 million for three Champions Trophy and two World Cup events till 2007. Cricket's most famous case of "ambush marketing" came during the 1996 World Cup when soft-drink major Pespi overshadowed the tournament's official sponsors Coca Cola by signing up the world's top cricketers in its "nothing official about it" campaign. The cricket endorsement market in cricket-mad India is valued at over $ 10 million a year with the country's top three cricketers, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Rahul Dravid gaining a major chunk of that sum. It is estimated that almost $ 280 million of ICC's entire sponsorship amount of $ 550 million has come from India-specific companies eager to bank on huge television audiences in the country. Samsung India, rivals of LG Electronics, which had signed up seven Indian cricket stars, said on Thursday it will abide by the agreement and not air players' advertisements for 17 days after the tournament. "We have an alternate campaign in place. After that we will revert to the original images of the players," said Samsung's Ruchika Batra. Two other companies that promote Tendulkar, TVS scooters and Fiat, also said they will not air the master batsman's advertisements for the stipulated 17-day moratorium.

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