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Sir Albert bowls Edgbaston a fast one

Sir Albert bowls Edgbaston a fast one

🕔13.Mar 2013

cricketWarwickshire County Cricket Club’s dogged persistence in courting Birmingham City Council for a major sponsorship deal is now clear for all to see, but the answer remains a firm ‘no’.

The proposal, which involves re-naming the county and Test cricket ground the City of Birmingham Edgbaston Stadium, is dead in the water and WCCC will not be able to squeeze a requested £4 million out of the council.

Council leader Sir Albert Bore initially rejected the club’s proposal last summer, on the grounds that it would be wrong and politically difficult for a local authority facing £100 million in spending cuts to spend a large sum of money on an exercise to market Birmingham.

His decision was also taken against the backdrop of a £20 million council loan granted to the cricket club for improvements to Edgbaston in 2009. The loan is repayable at an interest rate of five per cent a year over 30 years and there is a clause allowing the club to invoke repayment holidays if necessary.

Sir Albert, it can be assumed, probably thought that the council had already done its bit for Warwickshire County Cricket Club.

That might have been the end of the matter, were it not for WCCC’s determination to keep trying and for the enthusiasm of scrutiny committee chairman Cllr Majid Mahmood, a keen cricketer.

Cllr Mahmood appears to have persuaded the club to submit a revised sponsorship proposal containing an enhanced package of community-based benefits designed to appeal to the city council’s Labour leadership.

These include 40,000 free tickets to be distributed across the city’s 40 wards, free use of the main Edgbaston pitches and coaching centre for schools, free public entry to one county game and a one-day competition and 5,000 free tickets for each Birmingham Bears T20 fixture to be distributed among groups nominated by the council.

Oddly, WCCC’s new offer did not make its way directly to Sir Albert. It went instead to Cllr Mahmood’s scrutiny committee and details were published on the council website, much to the displeasure of the council leader.

The report quickly disappeared from the website, although it is unclear who ordered the document to be removed. All of this clearly raises important questions about the relationship between the cabinet and the independence of the scrutiny function.

After a couple of days of confusion, the council leader moved swiftly to end any hope of a sponsorship deal. His spokeswoman said: “Informal discussions took place with WCCC and the leadership of BCC last summer with regard to sponsorship opportunities. However, because of the council’s financial position these opportunities were not pursued.

“Since then a dialogue has opened up between the club and one of the council’s scrutiny committees to explore more community-led activity. However, the proposal still had significant and unaffordable financial implications for the city council. As a consequence, WCCC has now withdrawn its proposal.”

The club and council issued a joint statement pledging to mutually support each other, particularly through a programme of community-led initiatives”.

Sir Albert will have been acutely aware of the unfortunate timing attached to the latest WCCC sponsorship offer, coinciding with a controversial cabinet decision to move the wholesale markets to an out-of-city site on the grounds that the council could not afford to build a new market in Digbeth.

It’s not difficult to envisage the bad publicity that would have resulted from a move to throw £4 million at a profit-making cricket club while at the same time pleading poverty in the case of the markets.

One question that the scrutiny committee and the cabinet might pose is why a thriving private business finds itself having to ask the public sector for money at a time when the city council is facing the worst financial crisis in its history? Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles might not be over-impressed by Birmingham’s request for a better financial deal if several million pounds can be found to buy a logo on a cricket stadium and players’ shirts.

In its document setting out sponsorship proposals WCCC outlines similar deals achieved by other clubs.  The Oval, home of Surrey CCC in London signed a deal with the Kia motor company for £3.5 million. Hampshire CCC re-branded their home ground as the Ageas Bowl at a value of £1.8 million. Emirates Airlines has recently confirmed a naming rights partnership with Lancashire County Cricket Club reported to be £10m for a 10-year agreement. The national stadium in Dublin was branded the Aviva Stadium at a cost of £3.5 million over 10 years.

None of these major stadiums, it can be assumed, went to their local council asking for money. Or if they did, they didn’t get a satisfactory answer.

The Birmingham cabinet might also ponder on a line in the WCCC submission making it clear that a suggested sponsorship of £400,000 a year for 10 years could be “discounted” to £350,000 year, or £3.5 million, if the council was prepared to pay a “substantial element” of the funding as a lump sum at the start of the agreement.

 

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