Australia’s blatant cheating in the South African cricket test over the weekend has left plenty of sports fans like myself feeling hugely let down. I can’t begin to imagine how former Test players must feel, many of whom played for the honour of proudly wearing the baggy green cap way before the big money that now comes with the privilege. For years it’s been said that the two highest offices in Australia are our Test cricket captain and then the Prime Minister. Somehow that point is missed by the guys who cooked up the plan to break the rules by fashioning makeshift sandpaper to scuff up one side of the ball.
It’s not like the Australians are the first ones to do this. The current South African captain has been charged twice for ball tampering and he’s still the captain! How they deal with their issues is up to them and not for us to concern ourselves with. The problem is that Australia has always been very quick to point the finger at cheats. Over time we’ve seen swimmers, gymnasts, cyclists, sprinters and lots more rightly scorned as deserving the disdain of everyone who believes in a level playing field. Australians generally believed that would never happen here. Well sadly, what happened on the weekend was pre-meditated cheating.
While there have been odd indiscretions in the past, Australian cricket has always risen above them. The Test team has been untouchable, which made our national summer sport a pretty bankable commodity for those who invest commercially. So let’s look at some implications for cricket as a business.
Over summer, cricket has traditionally rated well – look no further than the nightly Twenty20 matches on Channel Ten over the Christmas holidays for proof. At contract renewal time, the Free-To-Air and Pay-TV networks battle it out for the rights. Cricket Australia only recently told the networks to go back and sharpen their pencils as their offers to cover the Tests, One Day Series and Twenty20 weren’t good enough. Those same bidders must be licking their lips right now downgrading counter-offers. Plus, of course, there’s an arrangement with Optus as the game’s multimedia partner and three radio networks who might not be quite so keen to commit the significant broadcast resource that is required.
What about sponsors? Even when they haven’t been performing all that well on the field, our Australian cricket team has been solidly supported by commercial sponsors. They generally reflect strong Australian family values and the Test team has always been a brand that advertisers were queueing up to be associated with.
Currently, brands such as Commonwealth Bank, KFC, Qantas, JLT, XXXX Gold, Magellan, Milo, Weet-Bix, Bupa, Toyota, Bet 365, Asics and many more make large investments to be linked to the values of the Test team. In the coming months, it’ll be very interesting to see just how much cricket is on the nose for brand managers of Cricket Australia’s commercial partners, and the possible financial fall-out for Cricket Australia. This concern extends beyond the national team as a brand. Are there impacts at state sponsorship level? No doubt there are consequences for the individual brand endorsements that the players in the middle of the scandal have in place, from sporting equipment to TV sets.
The knock-on effects extend into other areas, one of which is junior recruitment. Cricket Australia has always been proud of the fact that, despite increasing competition, more Australian kids participate in the various forms of the game than any other junior sport. No doubt a few less young boys and girls will want posters of their heroes from the team’s leadership group hanging on their wall.
For the players involved it quite literally means the loss of millions of dollars in contracts and earning potential. Worse still it means being labelled a cheat whenever their names are mentioned. If they didn’t like being sledged before, they’re in for a huge shock whenever they step out! Some of these guys had the potential to be legends of the game, but that all went out the window thanks to an inexplicable decision. You can’t help but wonder how they had such little comprehension of the broad-reaching impacts of choosing to break the rules and the responsibility that comes with wearing the baggy green. Surely if they did, someone would have said, “No way, what the hell are you thinking?”
To do anything else is just not cricket.
Alan Kewley is a Group Account Director at BCM