In 1999 it was no sponsor, low pay and a player strike. In 2005 team sponsor Digicel and Cable & Wireless, sponsoring seven players, came to blows. Now another WICB/Digicel sponsorship dispute has threatened the November 2008 Stanford 20/20 tournament. Nick Johnson lifts the bails.
Who: West Indies Cricket Board, Digicel, Sir Allen Stanford
When: October 2008
Law stated as at: 30 October 2008
Telecoms company Digicel, the main sponsors of the West Indies Cricket Board, were successful in their High Court arbitration against the WICB and have subsequently negotiated various sponsorship rights in relation to the US$20m Twenty20 cricket match in Antigua on 1 November 2008.
Although the lucrative and highly publicised match is between England and the "Stanford Superstars", rather than the West Indies cricket team as such, Digicel argued that sponsorship rights offered by the event organisers to Cable & Wireless would cut across its deal with the WICB.
Do the Stanford Superstars represent the West Indies?
Clause 3.2.3(a) of the Digicel/WICB agreement provides that Digicel's sponsorship rights apply in relation to any match involving a team that "…represents, purports to represent or may reasonably be perceived as representing the West Indies…".
Given that the Stanford Superstars XI had been held out as consisting of leading West Indies cricketers, and that the WICB had given its official approval to the match (and indeed the five-year series of which it is part), it is perhaps not surprising that the arbitrator ruled that the WICB was in breach of this clause and would have to withdraw its official sanction.
The ruling gave the WICB and Sir Allen Stanford a problem that needed to be resolved quickly. Proceeding without WICB's sanction would not have been an option. From the WICB's point of view, this would have deprived them of substantial remuneration for the series. More critically for Stanford, it would also mean that the series would amount to "unauthorised cricket" under ICC rules. That in turn would make it very difficult in practice for the England XI to participate, given the ECB's high-profile part in campaigning against the so-called "rebel" Indian Cricket League.
But to avoid Digicel's contractual rights applying, the line-up of the Stanford Superstars would have needed to have been changed to a weaker team that would not be perceived as representing the West Indies. Commercially, this was clearly not an attractive option, and within two days after the ruling a compromise was thrashed out between Digicel, Stanford and the WICB.
Why this matters:
The dispute is a great illustration of the importance of careful drafting in sponsorship agreements. Without those seven words "or may reasonably be perceived as representing", Digicel would have had no realistic case. But with that drafting, they were able to secure valuable rights and prevent a competitor from undermining their association with West Indies cricket.