The decision by Investec to call an early end to their sponsorship of England men’s Tests, six years into a ten-year deal, has little direct relevance to the women’s game – our Tests (few and far between though they are) are sponsored by Kia. But with Waitrose having already pulled out of their England shirt-sponsorship agreement last year in similar circumstances, what started as a drama begins increasingly to look like a crisis.
Investec, like Waitrose before them, cited a diplomatic desire to “explore other options”, but you don’t have to scratch very far beneath the surface to get to the truth – cricket in England is increasingly marginalised – largely relegated from the back-pages to the back-streets of a pay-TV ghetto, where no top-dollar sponsor wants to be.
This is not to deny that the ECB’s ten-year waltz with Sky TV hasn’t benefited cricket, and the women’s game in particular, thanks to the huge influx of cash it has shovelled into the coffers at Lords. Without it we might not have central contracts or a Kia Super League. But this will all be for nothing if what was once the nation’s “second sport” continues its slide into irrelevance.
The simple fact is that, aside from a highly vocal “choir” of serious fans like us – those prepared to pay Sky’s shilling – no one watches cricket; and even the big crowds at a typical men’s Test seem to be there as much to catch-up with “the chaps” over a few beers, as for the cricket itself.
The ECB can (and do) quote participation figures; and point to advertising campaigns, such as the Girls Rule The World poster on the London Underground for the Women’s World Cup; but until some cricket is back on “proper” television, they are shouting into a growing void of public unconsciousness.
If they weren’t, the sponsors would be clamouring to extend their deals, not terminating them early.