England Down Under: Cash In The Ashes

England’s triumph in the Test series could mean a real boost to the sport’s bank accounts. John Stern reports on the commercial benefits of victory in Australia

WITH ONE or two exceptions England’s Ashes heroes failed to cash in on the IPL bonanza at the most recent player auction but many can expect to benefit from a commercial bounce on the back of their victory in Australia.

As an immediate result of winning down under, the England team shared a £1m pot from the ECB, part of increased incentives to be successful in the Test arena to stave off the lure of the IPL rupees.

And it is not just the players who can benefit. The cricket industry as a whole is rubbing its collective hands at the biggest shot in the arm for the English game since 2005. The timing could not be better for the ECB,  which is looking for a new Test match sponsor to replace npower, whose deal runs out at the end of the summer. Other England team sponsors like Buxton water, Marston’s and Red Bull, whose two-year deals end this year, can expect to pay more for the privilege of their association.

The Professional Cricketers’ Association, which negotiates sponsorship deals on behalf of the England team, is expected to pursue partnerships in currently uncharted waters like the airline industry, IT and electronics, and male grooming.

At the Test match grounds there was relief as much as excitement. The Ashes win has given ticket sales for the coming summer’s internationals a much needed boost after a bad 2010 that suffered from poor late-summer weather, an unappealing fixture list, a discredited Twenty20 competition and ticket prices that appeared to discount the recession.

By the time the Sydney Test ended Warwickshire reported 4,000 tickets sold in the previous week alone for the third Test against India in August, the largest period of demand since tickets went on sale last November. With £32m spent on redeveloping Edgbaston, Warwickshire needed the boost and their chief executive, Colin Povey, described the demand as “unbelievable”. Nottinghamshire have also reported increased sales.

Sky Sports enjoyed good ratings with a peak of 1.5m watching the last day of the Melbourne Test compared with 417,000 for the first day of the series.

Gray-Nicolls, the bat manufacturer, have had what its sales and marketing director, Richard Gray, describes as “our best-ever coverage in the media” thanks to “the winning captain and the stand-out player of the series using the brand from head to toe. We have already noticed an upsurge in orders on the back of the result which it is fair to say surpassed anything that most had expected before the squad left ?for Australia.”

There is frustration, though, among retailers of replica shirts who reported selling out of adult-size England Test shirts even before Christmas. The manufacturer adidas requires retailers to order stock six months in advance, so there is no room to react quickly to increased demand. One retailer told TWC that his company could have sold twice as many shirts as it has.

The current players are already well remunerated but their off-field possibilities are now substantial. “After the 2005 Ashes victory, the England players’ off-pitch earnings rose by about a third, though it was considerably more for Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen,” says Nigel Currie, director of the sports sponsorship and marketing agency Brand Rapport.

“Traditionally English cricketers have found it hard to increase their off-pitch earnings significantly. Over the years there have really been only four players who have secured major sponsorship and endorsement agreements – Denis Compton, Ian Botham, Flintoff and Pietersen. But the game has changed dramatically in the last five years. It has increased its general appeal and largely the successive Ashes wins have overcome the lack of terrestrial TV coverage. This latest victory is as significant as 2005, if not more so. It is a unique occurrence and as such will offer great opportunities to the players who have performed best. The two stand-out players, Alastair Cook and James Anderson, are hugely marketable – young, good- looking, clean-cut, understated – and will certainly offer something new to the marketing world.

“I would expect Cook, Anderson and Andrew Strauss and possibly Graeme Swann each to have the potential to increase their off-pitch earnings by about £500,000 per year for a two-to-three-year period. That’s as far as you can look ahead at this stage.”

Anderson, whose dry wit and endearing modesty have shone as Swann’s sidekick in his famed video diaries, is already believed to have been offered a £100,000 advance by publishers Simon and Schuster for an autobiography. And Cook is top of the list at Jaguar, already a Team England sponsor, to be offered a personal endorsement deal. He fits the bill for Jaguar’s desire to market themselves to a younger audience.

But there is a challenge also for the ECB to keep the players’ minds on winning matches and not allow the post-2005 loss of focus that culminated in the Ashes whitewash of 2006-07.

The ECB believes it has upped its game since then, increasing its education of younger players about how to deal with increased media scrutiny and “the whole package of celebrity”.

Before the tour of Australia the ECB had a ground-breaking meeting with the England players’ agents. It was the first time the board had convened such a gathering of all the players’ representatives. “There’s a growing realisation that we have to work with agents,” an ECB official says. “There’s a lot more sharing of information than before.”

Regardless of what increased commercial activity may lie ahead for England’s players, they are already committed to around 200 personal appearances a year to service the team’s key sponsors like Brit Insurance and Jaguar.

Privately the board is delighted that most of England’s Ashes winners had no time to wallow in their triumph à la 2005. They were straight on a bus to Canberra to begin the limited-overs leg of the Australia tour and then they are straight into the World Cup. There is no rest for the virtuous.

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