From basketball to boxing and from golf to football and tennis -money fuels the sports as the driving force

By Shahid A. Hashmi
July 04 - 10, 2005

A six off the last ball of a match worth over Rs.20 million! Even though it could not be matched to the lucrative sponsorship deals of the NBA basketball league or the endorsement of an international athlete, the six hit by one of Pakistan's most illustrious cricketer Javed Miandad proved to be the most money-yielding single stroke in international cricket.

Provenly, sports offer a pitch for successful business. When advertisers are selling something, whether it's a chocolate or soap, they want to present it in the best possible light. One way of doing so is by showing attractive models using and enjoying the products.

After all, why would you buy something if people didn't seem happy using it? To help sell their service, international business houses have used famous smiling faces to the best effects. Along with actors and musicians, well-known professional athletes are often popular choices as pitchmen.

US basketball superstar Michael Jordan was, and still is, the biggest name in the sports world to have helped soar a business house." Be Like

Mike" theme song hit the consumers like hitting the iron when it's hot. It took Nike from being a mediocre player in the athletic shoe game to a top corporate sports manufacturers. On record in the fiscal year 1998, the gross sales for Nike hit $9.89 billion, the highest in industry's history.

Jordan helped a cologne, bearing his name, became a super hit. In October of 1996, perfume manufacturer Bijan released the Jordan cologne, which retailed at $23 per bottle. Within seven weeks, the company had sold $40 million dollars' worth of the scent. By the following June, sales had reached $75 million. Jordan enjoyed royalties of roughly $5 million per year from Bijan.

From basketball to boxing and from golf to football and tennis -money fuels the sports as the driving force - for the returns are so significant that sponsors compete to their best available resources to get their entry in the sporting field. A football player is transferred from one club to another for whopping sums. At just 19 years of age England's Wayne Rooney generated a sum of 35 million pounds for a transfer to Manchester United last year. Even an average football player in English league gets a weekly salary of 20,000 Pounds. The winner of a Grand Slam tennis tournament like Wimbledon pocket quarter a million dollars!

The business houses' affection for pitching their products/ services differs from continent to continent. Cricket, being South Asia's most popular game, has made a strong entry in the business houses since Pakistan floated the idea of hosting an Indo-Pak World Cup in 1987.

Not only Pakistan and India changed the image of South Asian countries but the economy of sports in general and cricket in particular, impoverished because of lack of effort, flourished. India has since become the money spinner for cricket as most of the 550 million dollars doled out to International Cricket Council (ICC) for the 2003 to 2007 period. "It all started from the West Indies demanding a sum of Rs. 45 lakh for their tour in late 70s and there was a huge furor as to from where this money would be raised. We managed that through our efforts but after that tapped the resources for future," said former Pakistan Cricket Board chief executive Arif Abbasi, undoubtedly the doyen of brining sponsorships to Pakistan sports.

"Wills agreed to give seven lakh rupees a year for Pakistan cricket. It was a milestone in Pakistan sports and made us realize that there are numerous business possibilities. That was followed by 3.5 million dollars from Coca Cola and over 200,000 dollars a year for junior cricket from PEPSI and then 20-21 million dollars from television rights. So there are numerous business opportunities in Pakistan sports but they are linked to good results, success in the sport is the key to getting business," said Abbasi.

Undoubtedly, Wills and Pakistan cricket became synonymous and Pakistan played a key role as one of the three hosts - besides India and Sri Lanka - of the 1996 World Cup. Taher Memon, looking after the interests of the sponsors, put up untiring efforts to help form a strong base for Pakistan's domestic and international cricket. That PCB-Wills liaison helped players get better remunerations besides lifting the infrastructure of the game in the country. The baton has now passed on to the Dutch Bank ABN AMRO which gave an extra cover to Pakistan cricket through a three-year deal to sponsor domestic cricket - Pakistan's first since Wills had to abandon its deal with tobacco sponsorship about to become taboo in the country.

Nowadays, television rights make a cricket board richer. India earns around 400 million dollars for a period of five years while Pakistan netted 44 million dollars for the same period through allowing a channel to beam all international cricket played in their country.

And besides the legal money, the ills of match fixing and betting surfaced and remain an unabated force haunting cricket.

"Filthy lucre", as they call it also made its way into cricket through betting and match fixing. The ICC itself accepted around one billion dollars exchange hands when a one-day match is played! Bookmakers make hell of a lot through fixing matches, a menace that rocked the game in 2000 leading to life bans on South African captain Hansie Cronje, India's Mohammad Azharuddin and Pakistan's Salim Malik. It prompted the ICC to form an Anti-corruption Unit which endeavors, albeit in vain, to curb the malpractice.

Like they say success has many fathers but a defeat is an orphan while cricket's success brought business, other sports in Pakistan had to strive hard to attract the windfall. Football, the most neglected yet one of the most followed sport in Pakistan, got a shot in the arm when Lever Brothers entered a five-year deal worth Rs. 30 million in late 80s. It paved way for a football league but regrettably the deal was kicked out of the football grounds due to internal politics in Football Federation.

Snooker's popularity among the masses attracts Lakson Tobacco to reap the harvest from late 1980s to early next century. Red&White did to snooker what Wills did to cricket until the tobacco sponsorship ban put paid to the efforts. Pakistan did bring laurels of world title, through Mohammad Yousuf in 1994, and Asian title, again through Yousuf in 1998.

Business in the national sport, hockey, and squash, a sport where Pakistan ruled until late 1990s, were mainly forced sponsorships by PIA, various banks and other departments.

"Pakistan sports have the potential but efforts are the catch cry. Success attracts money and no one would like to associate its product/services with a sport where success is a rarity," asserted Abbasi.