Inside the Contract Crisis (Part I)
Tue, Nov 16, '04
A high stakes tug of war between two multinational phone companies over endorsement rights to eight players is at the heart of the latest contract crisis in West Indies cricket.
On one side is Cable & Wireless, a company that pumped millions of dollars into West Indies cricket for 18 years before walking away to focus on sponsoring World Cup 2007. On the other side stands Digicel, the Irish telco that just inked a five-year US$20 million deal to replace rival C&W as the team's title sponsor.
Trapped in the middle are the WICB and WIPA, two organisations with a history of animus that spent the last year and a half haggling over the terms of a retainer contract, only to have all that work threatened by a eyebrow-raising clause inserted into the match and tour contracts sent to the 25 invited players.
The clause (5.1; a-b) reads:
(a) The player acknowledges that the WICB has the sole and exclusive right to permit any person to represent that they, or their goods or services, have the sponsorship or approval of, or are in any way endorsed with the WICB or any WICB team.
(b) Without limiting clause 5.2, the Player agrees that at all times whilst representing the WICB (including whilst playing, training, attending official functions, attending media conferences and being present at a match venue) he will not do anything that constitutes a Player Endorsement in relation to a competitor of a WICB Major Sponsor unless he has a preexisting agreement with such a competitor that has been approved in writing by the WICB under this Contract or the Player's previous player contract with the WICB or the Player's agreement with such a competitor pre-dates any contract he has had with the WICB.
That clause, WIPA believes, is a heavy-handed and deliberate attempt by the WICB to use the new contract to circumvent the ongoing negotiations. Even worse, it represents a mischievous move by the WICB to force the players to give up all rights to individual endorsement deals or be dropped from the West Indies team.
The big issue, of course, is that the WICB has sold those individual player rights to Digicel, even though eight cricketers have inked private endorsement deals with Cable & Wireless.
The board now finds itself using underhanded tactics to deliver those rights to Digicel because WIPA's lawyers are arguing that those rights never belonged to the WICB in the first place.
"The WICB sold things to Digicel that it did not own. Now, with this new contract tied to selection eligibility, the board is basically putting a gun to the players' heads to get those rights," said one source who is familiar with the issue.
"There is absolutely no way the players can sign that match and tour contract. This is a devious attempt to throw two years of negotiations out the window."
The cricketers immediately affected are Brian Lara, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Chris Gayle, and Dwayne Bravo. Four others -- Dwayne Smith, Fidel Edwards, Ravi Rampaul and Omari Banks -- have all signed endorsement deals with Cable & Wireless.
Under pressure from Digicel, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) is refusing to approve or recognise the Cable & Wireless contracts with the eight players.
Four of those players (Lara, Sarwan, Gayle and Bravo) have been named in a pre-tour camp squad for the one-day series in Australia but the WICB is now demanding that the players throw out their C&W deals.
The issue gets even more complicated by the fact that Lara's deal was blessed by the WICB. Lara originally signed with C&W (and its TSTT partner) in 2002, a deal that included an option to renew. Lara's original contract was set to expire in 2005 but C&W decided to use the option and extend the deal through 2007.
By blessing the original Lara deal (which included the buyout), the WICB basically blessed the extension, Cable & Wireless senior vice president, corporate marketing, Rachelle Franklin said in an interview with CaribbeanCricket.com.
Bravo, too, never had a contract with the WICB at the time of his C&W deal, which was signed before he was even selected to the West Indies team. Franklin said all eight contracts were signed between April and May this year.
However, all of that becomes moot when one looks at the retainer contract, a document that was prepared and presented to WIPA by the WICB.
Here's how the WICB originally proposed it would deal with the issue of competing endorsement contracts:
"If there is a conflict between the Player's obligations under any such pre-existing agreement or arrangement on the one hand and the Player's obligations to WICB on the other, the Player's obligations under his agreement or arrangement shall prevail until the expiration of that agreement or arrangement unless the Player has not informed WICB of the details of the Player's obligations in which case the Player's obligations to WICB shall prevail."
Now, with the pre-tour invitation contracts, the WICB is now insisting that all private, individual deals are "approved in writing," retroactively, and in the future.
Officially, the WICB is refusing to discuss the matter. Because of the sensitive nature of the discussions, WICB directors who spoke to CaribbeanCricket.com insisted on anonymity before arguing that the eight individual C&W deals are invalid because they were signed at a time when the players were contracted to the WICB.
"When those deals were signed, the players were under contract to the WICB. It's a question of timing. We never approved those deals nor do we recognise them," said a WICB director familiar with the controversy.
When asked about the WICB blessing Lara's deal and the option picked up by C&W, the director said it was "more than strange" that C&W chose to exercise the option long before the deal was due to expire in 2005.
"That deal was going to expire in 2005 but suddenly we see it was extended once they knew Digicel was coming aboard. Do you see what's happening here?"
* In part two, CaribbeanCricket.com digs deeper and publishes more excerpts from the retainer contract. Also, interviews with Digicel director and former CEO Seamus Lynch and C&W senior vice president Rachelle Franklin.