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Cricket players to get forced ad-break

During ICC Trophy, Indians can't endorse rivals of ICC sponsors, reports Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Sep 05, 2006 17:20 IST
Kadambari Murali
Kadambari Murali

This year, Diwali comes unusually early, on October 21. The run-up to Diwali, the 20 days between India's biggest festival and Dusshera (on October 1), is traditionally the time when advertising reaches a peak, when the great middle class expects to empty their wallets and companies try and extract mileage from everything they can to entice consumers.

Given that many mainstream consumer brands sell their products through either Bollywood or cricketing stars, one would expect that in this period, TV channels, newspapers and magazines would be flooded with images of Indian cricketers selling everything from televisions to bikes to phones.

This year, though, might be strangely blank. For the ICC Champions Trophy is on in India between October 7 and November 5. And during this period, no advertisements in any form, print or electronic or anything else, featuring Indian cricketers in the squad will be allowed if the company they are endorsing is a rival of an ICC sponsor.

The ICC has four global partners - LG, Hutch, Hero Honda and Pepsi - apart from three partners for the Champions Trophy - Indian Oil, Visa and Cable & Wireless.

This means that ads featuring, say, Dhoni or Tendulkar for TVS, Tendulkar for Airtel, Dhoni for Reliance Infocomm or Pathan for Tata Indicom, Dhoni again for Videocon, Sehwag for Coke, or Dravid, Pathan or Sehwag for Samsung will all have to be kept on hold.

In addition to this, the players cannot be seen to be even promoting any of these companies while the tournament is on. Said the marketing agent of a top Indian player, "I've been receiving frantic calls from sponsors asking if anything can be done and I don't really know what to say. Everyone understands the issue but as the festival season is on then, along with the Champions Trophy, when TV viewership will be high, they're looking for any possible loophole."

ICC Media Manager Brian Murgatroyd told HT that the rules were very clear. "Squad members are not permitted to use player attributes in any way, unless it is a sponsors event, for any other commercial event involving a rival brand, unless they have special permission from an event sponsor from the time of the first game to when the tournament ends. In this case, it means October 7 to November 5."

When asked what exactly constitutes "player attributes" as far as "ambush marketing" by rival sponsors came in, Murgatroyd said that is where the problem perhaps lay.

"Lawyers can probably have great fun with these things but basically, there has to be a certain amount of common sense used in what constitutes an attempt to ambush official sponsors. For example, if player X happens to wear a T-shirt of a mobile company that is not Hutch during a press conference, it will not be allowed."

There are grey areas, though. Like, if a player appears at a charity event sponsored by a company that is in competition with ICC sponsors. Murgatroyd agreed that there were things companies could do and that is why the ICC had to try and protect the interests of "people investing heavily in cricket".

"If we don't give them value for money and, say, preferential treatment within the ground, why would they invest in the game?" he asked. "I have to stress that the ICC is doing nothing different from what organisations do elsewhere to protect their sponsors' interests, during the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup, for instance.

The important thing to bear in mind is we have to see whether something is a deliberate attempt to ambush (take away attention from an official sponsor by a rival brand) or something that is inadvertent or reasonable."

Murgatroyd did not go into what exactly the penalties would be (if any) on an individual player if he is party to flouting the ICC's rules on promoting a rival brand but there are precedents for what happens to other people who do.
One problem at the moment in India is that there is no law on the matter. Other countries have dealt with the matter quite seriously.

The South African parliament, for instance, had passed a strict law regarding ambush marketing during the 2003 Cricket World Cup, with criminal penalties.

The legislation was called Sunset Legislation, so named because it ends with the end of the event it is enacted for. The Caribbean nations have similar laws in place for the 2007 World Cup.

Having no law might be an issue. Says a spokesman for one of the sponsors, "Nothing might happen but frankly, we have no legal recourse if something does. There is no legislation in India to enforce criminal penalties on ambush marketing.

"If someone decides to ambush us, we would have to complain to the ICC and then see where it goes, the process will make it too late. There are any number of ways to ambush; for instance, there is nothing stopping anyone from even using the words Champions Trophy to sell something, they cannot use the words ICC Champions Trophy."

First Published: Sep 05, 2006 02:04 IST