Digicel Wants Full-Strength Team
Fri, Aug 5, '05
Digicel's director of business development, Liam McDermott, does not feel the mobile company is getting the best result from its five-year US$16.88 million sponsorship deal of the West Indies cricket team.
In July last year, the Irish-owned telecommunications company agreed to pay the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) a sponsorship rights fee of US$18.75 million less a 10 per cent brokerage fee owed to English sports management company, ISM Agency.
That agreement is now the subject of a multi-country investigation conducted by a three-member team headed by former High Court judge Anthony Lucky.
McDermott said as a sponsor Digicel wanted to ensure that it had the best team on the pitch. That is the message he wants to send out.
"It does not suit us as the major sponsor of the WI cricket team to have a secondary team," he said.
"It's only one year of five so you hope to come back up. We are in this for the long term and we are relatively new to it. It's our first major co-sponsorship and we want to resolve those problems and go forward," he said in an interview with the Business Guardian last week.
He said sponsorship was categorised by good and bad but Digicel was in it for the long haul.
McDermott pointed out that the previous sponsorship contracts signed by the WICB had been a minimum of three years but Digicel had offered a five-year contract in addition to sponsorship of the 'A' team and funds towards the development of cricket players and the game throughout the West Indies which has not been done before.
This, he explained is all part of the company's investment to create a bigger, better cricket.
Under Digicel's sponsorship, the West Indies cricket team has lost three consecutive Test series against South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The team has lost five Test matches, drawn two and won one. The West Indies team also lost 10 consecutive One-day Internationals against the three opponents.
McDermott said the company, which is less than one year into its contract with the WICB, would like to see the current impasse resolved and have the best team selected for its meetings.
"Cricket is such a passionate sport and we want to see it go forward and we want to see the best team out in the field representing the West Indies including Brian Lara," he said. "I think it's fair to say that there is talent out there and that talent has to be harnessed from a fitness point of view and a skill point of view."
However, Digicel's influence on the cricket impasse is limited. "As a sponsor, we don't have a real say, we can only push, we can only make recommendations, we're not involved in negotiations. There are retainer fees that might be paid, there are player fees that might be paid and the only thing we can do is push to try and get the impasse off," he explained.
He said the company was not comfortable with players having Cable & Wireless contracts.
"Standard practice around the world dictates that individual players can have endorsements from any company they wish. In the WI team, they can still have any endorsements and rights from anyone except a competitor of the main sponsor. That is standard practice throughout the world," he stated.
He said the company did not object to players receiving money from personal endorsements.
"We want to see players have as much money from personal endorsements as possible. There are many endorsements that they can do which doesn't cause problems. "Obviously, as the main sponsor, we don't want endorsements that are contrary to the main sponsor. But having said that, we know that C&W had a contract signed and we just have to work along that. At the end of the day, the best team must go on the pitch. That's the bottom line," he said.
He illustrated his point by drawing a comparison to the English cricket team and its captain Michael Vaughn.
"The English cricket team is sponsored by a mobile phone company. I can't imagine Michael Vaughn going and doing something for a competitor of that phone company. There is a standard that's there and we want players and indeed we will help because we have introduction to many companies around the world to get as much sponsorship for players as possible. Our only condition at any time is that it is not competing," he stated.
McDermott said he was not involved in the initial negotiations when the sponsorship of the West Indies team was put on the table so he was not sure why it was not made clear in the contracts.
He said all he understood about the situation was that Digicel had approached the WICB with its sponsorship package which they had the right to refuse.
"Then C&W started to sign up individual players. That all happened at a different time when I was not involved," he said.
Digicel has tried to temper the situation by having meetings with the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) and the WICB. However, he said the company planned to become more involved "in urging the parties to come together."
"We are saying to WICB and WIPA, let's get together and that's what we're doing. We can't be pessimistic," he said.
McDermott said he was happy with WICB's president-designate, Ken Gordon who he believes is "a very astute business man which may affect changes for the better."
"The board and the Players Association have to resolve their problems. C&W are gone, they are not the sponsors anymore, so they're not involved but the greater deal here is WI cricket. Everyone has to get together for the interest of WI cricket."
* In association with the Trinidad Guardian newspaper.