WICB lands US$20m Digicel sponsorship By Tony Cozier in LONDON
Stabroek News
July 6, 2004

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CAPTAIN Brian Lara was conspicuous by his absence asWest Indies Cricket Board (WICB) president Teddy Griffith finally put pen to paper at afive-star London hotel adjacent to Lord's yesterday to seal a five-year sponsorship deal with mobile telephone provider Digicel, worth over US$20 million.

Lara, who was listed as attending in the joint press release, has a personal contract with Cable & Wireless, Digicel's direct competitor in the Caribbean and West Indies' team sponsor for the past 19 years, as do seven other West Indies players.

The West Indies team was represented at the conference by manager Tony Howard, coach Gus Logie, media liaison officer Imran Khan and junior players Tino Best and Dwayne Bravo.

But Digicel's chairman Denis O'Brien dismissed a suggestion that there was any significance to Lara's non-appearance.

"None whatsoever," he said.

He explained that Lara had arranged to be at the press conference that was originally scheduled for noon but was put back to 4 pm.

"This is the only day he had free (of cricket) and he has other commitments," O'Brien said. "He's hoping to get here in the next few minutes."

Lara never did.

A similar clash over board and individual sponsorship caused a rift in India prior to last year's World Cup. But Griffith was not concerned about the same situation arising now.

"I don't see this as creating any problem," he said.

The new sponsorship, that starts with the West Indies tour of Australia next January, covers the team for both home and away Tests and one-day internationals for the first time.

It also incorporates what WICB chief executive Roger Brathwaite called "unprecedented incentives to raise players' performances," and puts an additional US$1 million into age-group cricket from under-13 to under-19.

The incentives, Brathwaite said, would apply to victories over those teams above the West Indies in the International Cricket Council (ICC) ratings.

Cable & Wireless announced last week that it would not be continuing its sponsorship after the expiry of its latest three-year agreement with the WICB, worth US$10 million.

Instead, it has turned to signing up individual players and has already been appointed an official sponsor of the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean.

O'Brien acknowledged that Cable & Wireless had a "deep relationship" with the WICB and "obviously wouldn't be too happy that we have lifted this sponsorship."

"I have to say they were a very good sponsor and we would like to follow in their footsteps ultimately and be a good sponsor for the West Indies cricket team," he said.

Digicel is an Irish-based company that was launched in 2001 and has invested US$600 million in establishing mobile networks in seven Caribbean countries to date with plans to start in others.

It claims to have become "the mot successful mobile telecommunications network in the Caribbean," in that time, outstripping the long-established Cable & Wireless.

It also sponsors the Caribbean Football Union Cup that starts in October.

Griffith made it plain that the decision to change sponsors had been reached after "long negotiations" with Cable & Wireless.

"There came a time when the sides were still apart and we exercised our option to go to the market," he said.

On the question of loyalty to a company that sponsored West Indies cricket for 19 years, Griffith said: "Loyalty has a cost."

"The reality is that there comes a time in the life of all sponsorships when it is difficult to produce that extra value per dollar the longer you go on," he noted.