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WI cricketers pawns in battle for market share
Posted: Wednesday, March 30, 2005

By George Alleyne Newsday TT

Should Cable and Wireless (C&W) enforce a clause in the personal endorsement contracts with six leading regional cricketers, who as a result of the contracts were not considered for the upcoming West Indies-South Africa Test series, it will see the players once more eligible for selection by the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). The relevant contract clause gives Cable and Wireless the right to terminate the agreement should the individual involved be ?dropped as a player from the West Indies cricket team for a period exceeding two months due to injury or otherwise.? The question arises: Why, with Cable and Wireless having the option of terminating any or all of the individual agreements, is it insisting that it has no intention of releasing any of the six players, in addition to star batsman, Brian Lara, with whom it also has a personal endorsement contract, from the agreements?

Particularly, since the gesture would not be lost on the millions living in Caricom. Clearly, the sponsored agreements are about the marketing of Cable and Wireless services in the English speaking Caribbean, a region in which cricket is the major sport, and Brian Lara, its most famous player, an icon. The issue here has always been one of marketing, whether it was Digicel?s US$20 million five-year contract with WICB, or Cable and Wireless entering into personal endorsement contracts with seven of the region?s leading players of the game. Meanwhile, there has been another interesting development. Digicel has requested the West Indies Cricket Board to have an unencumbered team of players and officials by June 30. Digicel?s D-day falls outside of the date in which Cable and Wireless (C&W) can initially exercise its termination option. The offer by CL Financial, Digicel?s mobile phone service partner in Jamaica, to buy out Digicel?s contract with the WICB has been turned down. Understandably, both Digicel and its business associate (in Jamaica) have noted the tremendous regional and international marketing possibilities of having the five-year contract with the WICB.

In addition, CL Financial has made it clear that along with the question of sponsoring the team it is interested in a direct financial involvement in the rebuilding of the team. And while, CL Financial has made the offer, it may have in mind having Angostura Limited, with its internationally famous Angostura bitters and its brands of rum, as the potential beneficiary, through planned sponsorship. West Indies cricket would also be a major beneficiary. Sponsorship of the West Indies team would be a considerable plus for CL Financial and its associated company, Angostura Limited, particularly in countries which have a history of Test cricket and to an extent somewhat in lands where cricket is played, even though not as a major sport. I had stated earlier that CL Financial partnered Digicel in the cellular market in Jamaica. Together, both companies had paid some US$47.5 million for a cellular licence there. The partnership immediately set about to capture the majority share of the Jamaica cellular market.
Part of its marketing strategy was to announce that it would provide a coverage of Jamaica that would be 331/3 percent greater than that provided by C&W, a telecommunications company that had been in Jamaica for generations.

What we are witnessing in Trinidad and Tobago today is merely an extension of Digicel?s marketing thrust in Jamaica as it sought to access majority market share. Admittedly, it paid attention, as had C&W to the provision of quality service. But it knew that it had to arrest the attention (forgive the cliche) of the average and below average man in the street, to whom visible product, price and ready availability of service are critical components which would in the end help to determine his choice. These could always do with an assist from marketing. The Jamaicans are well known for their love of music, whether it be reggae, dub, calypso or sankey songs among others. So with C&W sponsoring, in large measure, Byron Lee?s Jamaica version of the Trinidad Carnival, replete with calypsos, Digicel became a sponsor of the well known Bacchanal Carnival Group. But I have strayed.

The two telecommunications majors are in a battle for the Caribbean, cellular market. Theirs is a fight that has moved from Jamaica, to the Eastern Caribbean, and in 2004, to Barbados. Today, even in advance of awards of licences to operate mobile telephone services in Trinidad and Tobago it has moved to this country as well, in effect virtually covering the English-speaking Caribbean. West Indies cricket and cricketers are tacit pawns in the struggle for market share. mThe English telecommunications major, C&W and Digicel, the cellular arm of the Irish telecommunications giant, Mossel, are waging their war for market share, a matter that seems to have escaped the WICB.

The WICB will need to seek a compromise. It will have to step down from its embarrassingly arrogant position and attempt to work out a compromise formula, in conjunction with both C&W and Digicel, understanding as it walks this road that cricket and the concept of the strongest possible West Indies team are more important to Caribbean people than the Board.

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