Contract killing: how franchise cricket is getting boards in a muddle

Warner and Smith, Austalian national cricketers

Tony Bishop

When a cricketer is centrally contracted to their country, how much can that country's governing body restrict their commercial activities when they play in T20 franchises or leagues elsewhere?

Just such a scenario is playing out between Cricket Australia (CA) and the IPL.

CA has said that Australian players should not be seen promoting betting, fast food, alcohol and tobacco brands during the IPL, it has been reported.

According to Cricbuzz, a recent advisory from the BCCI to the IPL franchises says, quoting the CA, "a full team photo – for use only by the sponsors of the relevant IPL team in print media in India and any such photo should not involve or include the name or branding of a company primarily engaged in the business of alcohol, fast food/fast food restaurants, tobacco or betting"

The Australian board has put in a few other restrictions too. For example, "no more than one player from a Big Bash League (BBL) side and a state team should be used in advertising campaigns".

The BCCI mail said, "Cricket Australia has imposed the following restrictions on Franchisees' use of Australian players in advertising and/or promotion.

"... Each Franchisee may use: (a) no more than one player who has a central contract with Cricket Australia; and/or; (b) no more than one Australian player from the same Australian state; and (c) no more than one Australian player from the same Big Bash team..."

There are 19 Australians scheduled to play in this year's IPL, including the likes of franchise stalwarts David Warner, Glenn Maxwell and Steven Smith.

Some franchise officials have questioned the logic behind the request with one of them stating that it "is not a major issue because alcohol, betting and tobacco brandings don't happen in India anyway but the BCCI, in principle, should not accept such conditions".

Hang on, though. Doesn't one IPL franchise ride a coach and horses through these restrictions by actually naming the whole franchise after an alcohol brand: Royal Challenge?

One thing is pretty clear. The debate is about commercial protection and not social responsibility. Among CA's major sponsors are Bet 365, XXX Gold and of course KFC who have full naming rights to the Big Bash. CA does not want two Australians from the same side seen promoting brands like McDonald's or Subway.

Let's fast forward to the Hundred. Our much-awaited new format is sponsored by KP Snacks and their multitude of brands, with the players shirts of all teams emblazoned with everything from Butterkist popcorn to Hula Hoops, luring the impressionable young audience towards a lifetime of obesity. Similar restrictions may well apply and the ECB would do well scrutinize the contracts of its Australian recruits.

So, whether motivated by social responsibility or commerce, how much can a country's board restrict their players' commercial activities when they play in T20 franchises or leagues elsewhere?

Any lawyer will tell you that it depends on what's written in the contract (and then lighten your pocket of a decent sum for the advice not doubt). Of course, the players will have to sign contracts with their other employers too, so what if those contracts are contradictory? Happy lawyers everywhere. Kerching!

As a footnote, Guerilla Cricket will happily discuss sponsorship with a purveyor of alcohol or sugary snacks that get us through the day and night on our listeners' behalf and no two guerrillas will be seen in the same room at the same time touching anything from your competitors. For a price.