ORGANISED SPONSORSHIP LIFTS CRICKET TO SPECTACULAR GROWTH

So, largely the scene of proper marketing and sponsorship remains as elusive as ever in Pakistan except for cricket. How one hopes that we wake up to the contemporary realities and organize our sports on more modern lines

From KHALID BUTT, Lahore
July 04 - 10, 2005

Sports marketing and sponsorships have reached dizzying heights in the world today. Whether it is Olympic Games, Soccer World Cup, Golf Masters, Wimbledon or other Grand Slam Tennis competitions it has become a multi-billion dollar industry. In cricket as in Olympic Games the mega buck, has been rather late in starting to roll. While Los Angeles Games became the first-truly commercialised Olympics in the modern era, ICC too was rather late in proper exploitation of its true potential. It fell to the lot of current IOC Chief Ehsan Mani of Pakistan origin to change its fortunes when he was handling its financial affairs. During his stewardship after he was elevated to President, on rotation basis, the ICC apparently is placed in an enviable state as never before in its long history.

In Pakistan the history of sports marketing and sponsorship is of relatively recent origin and that too largely based on the spectacular growth witnessed in cricket. While Pakistan in early years notably in the golden 50's & 60's had excellent opportunity or products in several sports their proper packaging or marketing largely went untapped.

It is therefore the game of cricket which took the lead to set the ball rolling in the field of organised sponsorship and marketing of its products. In barely over two decades after the Cricket Board ventured out the result of this effort is obvious for all to see. Pakistan Cricket Board is today by far the richest with its coffers full, the following of game peaking to ever higher limit, to make it an envy of all others.

But if one was to look back it would be amazing to see its remarkable transformation in such a short period. Pakistan cricket which took off in 1952, in real sense, after being given official recognition by ICC, had to struggle through its early years for its survival. Without hardly any organisational structure or regular income it was highly dependent on regular dole from the government to make it function. The cricketing activities too consisted of a thin international commitment and irregular and ramshackle domestic competition. All foreign home & away tours and domestic activity was carried out on annual financial grants by government right upto the 1980s. The Board used to prepare an annual budget, present it to the sports ministry and was given a grant which by today's standard appears a pittance. How did this all change? It makes an interesting study.

It all started in late 1970's when Pakistan Tobacco Company came into sponsorship of cricket to extend assistance both in international and domestic cricket. This partnership between cricket board and PTC was to last for over two decades and prove to be a sheet anchor for the game. Although the sums offered to start, which now appear meagre, at that time, provided regular and continued sustenance to the game whose coffers were empty. The grant from the government was both irregular and erratic and largely dependent on the whims of the officials concerned. The princely sum of annual grant at that time was around Rs 3 lakh, something which currently forms the basic pay of an individual "A" class player per month.

PCB was able to extricate itself from the syndrome of these petty grant, and occasional subsidies in the 1980's. The Board improved its liquidity both through enhancement of sponsorship amount and exploring other avenues of income. This included proper exploitation of marketing, its ground ticket sales and ground advertisements. By 1987-88, PCB had become fairly self-sufficient and was able to effectively use some enterprising individuals and firms to achieve this goal. The name of Tahir Memon, Aziz Qureshi, late Abbas Kazim, Nasim Hashim Rao and later the role of TWI comes in with Commander Jillani at its helm in Pakistan. PCB still had no organised or proper marketing setup of its own and was therefore outsourcing this aspect to raise the required finance.

The state of marketing and sponsorship still in its infancy is reflected in the fact that CBSF had to pay PTV and some individuals connected with it to get its event covered in Sharjah. One incident which spiralled the whole game to new heights was Javed Miandad's sixer, on the last ball of the match, to bring the One Day Internationals (ODI's) to popularity lever hitherto unknown in the whole region. It also ski-rocketed the sponsorship craze to never look back ever since.

PTC also renewed its next tenure with PCB on much higher terms now running into a multi-million deal, which at that time was considered big. PTC acquired rights for all international and domestic cricket and given ground rights. Then PEPSI moved into cricket arena to start a new and welcome trend. Pakistan in 1994 signed up a mega deal with TWI for all its TV rights for international cricket in Pakistan. This had changed the whole scene in Pakistan and the multi-million dollar deal brought whiff of hitherto unknown prosperity to cricket in Pakistan. This also meant PCB was out of its dependence on the government and official patronage for the first time.

A one million dollar deal with Coke followed soon for the Pakistan team sponsorship rights. However, Coke was replaced with PEPSI, who came with a more attractive offer to acquire the team rights. Tahir Memon was appointed a marketing consultant in this period.

A lot of new sponsors including LG, PSO, Mobilink, Paktel, Instaphone, etc. came into cricket fold. In 2003, PCB signed a new deal with Tensports/ARY conglomerate for a five-year $40 million deal giving a big boost to the game.

But in 2004, PCB reached a big milestone signing $21 million dollar deal for the single series against India in Pakistan which included TV rights. All kinds of Indian sponsors competed with other international vendors and swept them off their feet. These included giants like Samsung, Hero-Honda, Airtell, and Hyundai. As if not enough, the energetic marketing team of PCB were to explore and clinch new avenues to break fresh ground in the field of sponsorships. These included mobile telephony & internet video streaming which netted a handsome amount of half-a-million US dollar of additional revenue to Pakistan Cricket.

Realising the importance of marketing and its role, PCB has finally streamlined to create a full-fledged marketing department at its head office in Lahore.

Its latest venture was to acquire the first ever sponsorship of domestic cricket and launch of 20-20 competition in its history. All sorts of modern gimmicks were used to attract a record crowd and highest ever attendance was seen in local cricket. The sponsorship reportedly worth over Rs 10 million with ABM-AMRO Bank thus taken off in a spectacular fashion. The sponsors were naturally most happy at their initiative and eager to carry on. PCB is also now focussing on finding regional team sponsors in domestic cricket, to make it more attractive and give it a new look. To help achieve this PCB has crated a new website on domestic cricket separately named (NCP) National Cricket Pakistan.

As in the words of Chairman Shaharyar Mohammad Khan, PCB is looking at its future with greater optimism "to ensure excellence in governance and also to avail and improve marketing and commercial opportunities to the maximum without compromising the basic ethos of the game".

With cricket leading the field in making it as the richest sports body in Pakistan a look at others would be in order. While cricket remains a highly popular spectator sport with its coffers filled by earnings from ever rising revenues from satellite coverage its closest rival could well be the game of hockey.

Hockey has long been considered a truly national game of Pakistan. Its popularity and appeal has been more of national passion. It has certainly a track record which is second to none. With 3 Olympic gold medals (Rome 1960, Mexico 1968 and Los Angeles 1984) under its belt and 4 world cup victories starting from inaugural event at Barcelona to Argentina (1978) and Australia (1994) it has been long considered one of the super powers in the game.

At one time it had achieved what was a unique "grand slam" of capturing all major hockey events in the world, i.e. Olympic, World Champions Trophy and Asian titles to make it almost invincible. But all this was achieved largely during the time when the game was under the tutelage of that remarkable personality called Air Marshal Nur Khan.

He had headed the cricket, squash and hockey with a vision and such a leadership was rarely seen in the world of sport, before. He brought about the much required changes to make Pakistan reach the top, besides revolutionizing sports in the country. It was his genius which set the ball volleying to introduce world cup, both in hockey and cricket, besides bringing many other changes which lifted sports from a state of stagnation to newer heights of popularity, economic viability and excellence.

He had visualized even at that early stage the possibility of what lay in future. In all three sports, he had helped to bring a semblance of financial viability and laid the foundation of proper sponsorship.

It is most unfortunate that his successors were unable to build on his initiative. Apart from the massive support extended to both hockey and squash by PIA, the Air Marshal had been able to make these sports self-sufficient by creating new and innovative avenues of financial help from abroad, especially Gulf region. That made these sports free of the heavy dependence on the meagerly sums which were being handed out by PSB and which were laughable.

After his pulling out of sports, both hockey and squash affairs have been in a state of uncertainty although they were headed by top brass. Hockey has now been once again handed back to the new PIA chief, who is from the private sector and capable of restoring the lost luster through healthy sponsorship.

Presently in hockey, there is a number of sponsors, major and minor like HBL, Chohan Estates, PSO, Samsung, Chimera, Malik Sports etc. but the sum total of all this is not something which one can write home about. It could hardly sustain the game, which needs the mega buck and above all the satellite coverage to infuse the much needed vitality into the game. Above all the PHF, needs a much more organized and professional marketing effort than its present setup which has failed to produce any worthwhile results. Let PHF look at the professional handling of affairs by countries like Holland, Germany and Spain to learn a lesson. As a result of their poor organization and lack of imaginative plans they have lagged behind. Their half-hearted attempts to advertise for local sponsors have reportedly drawn a blank.

In the game of squash, while some of the players like Jahangir Khan and Jansher helped themselves to become multi-millionaires, the PSF has remained in the hands of PAF, with no idea of how to properly market it.

While in the rest of world football has become the largest and most prosperous sport with FIFA filling its coffers with both hands Pakistan remains in the wilderness.

Even the emerging Emirates were riding on the crest of Soccer success with their higher standard and rich resources. PFF continues to remain dependent on regular dole from FIFA, which generally helps only to fill the pockets of officials rather than being deployed property for the uplift of the sport. PFF, remains without a notable sponsor and a worthwhile marketing setup which is a pity.

The same goes for POA, which for long long years had one of the noted captains of industry at its helm. Yet it failed to find a sponsor to market it properly over the years. It had been largely depending on the measly grants of the government, and subsidy from PST, which has not helped the sport to grow. Now with a new incumbent inducted it is hoped he will be able to bring about the necessary changes and create the marketing thrust it has long required but was denied for some odd reasons.

Among other sports in Pakistan, tennis is now showing signs of promise. Polo, too needs to desperately shop around for proper sponsors. Then one comes to boxing, which is headed by Prof. Anwar Chaudhry who has been heading AIBA, but somehow unable to get the sport off the ground in his home country. These were some indications that his meeting with President Musharraf and the interest shown by him would finally end the stalemate. But this has remained just a fond hope. So, largely the scene of proper marketing and sponsorship remains as elusive as ever in Pakistan except for cricket. How one hopes that we wake up to the contemporary realities and organize our sports on more modern lines. A recent example of the new possibilities was shown in Lahore, when "Lahore Marathon" was organized with such outstanding results. This event can act as a trail-blazer to revitalize the national sport and show them the way to future.