Losing out on international matches as a result of the Azeem Rafiq racism crisis would represent the biggest hit to Yorkshire’s revenues and ability to attract top-level sponsors in future, a consultant has said.
Sponsors have deserted the county in droves in the last 24 hours in response to Yorkshire’s handling of allegations of racism and bullying made by their former player Rafiq, with Harrogate Spring Water and reportedly Nike the latest brands to sever ties on Thursday.
The Emerald Publishing Group also withdrew as the title sponsor of the county’s Headingley ground on Wednesday.
Jon Long, a strategic consultant at marketing and sponsorship firm Onside, says the most significant impact would be felt should the England and Wales Cricket Board, which is conducting its own regulatory process, remove existing hosting rights from the county or strip them of future ones.
Yorkshire’s 2019 accounts showed it raised more than £10million from international match ticketing and hospitality, while commercial income – which would include sponsorship – was just over £3m.
Long, a former head of strategy at the International Cricket Council, told the PA news agency: “The sponsorship that Yorkshire generates is principally around the assets that it has and those are the venue and the teams.
“Yorkshire generates more money from sponsorship than a county like Essex or Kent, and the hosting of those international matches is the biggest differential.
“If you look at the revenue of the likes of Yorkshire, Lancashire, etc it’s more than double some of the smaller counties. The main driver of that is the hosting of those international matches, and the ticket sales and all the things that go around that.
“There’s no doubt there are indirect benefits, including naming rights. That would be the biggest of those – you think about Emirates Old Trafford and the Kia Oval.
“You take away the exposure that those venues get around the international matches and it certainly diminishes the value of those sponsorships.”
Headingley is due to host England men’s Test matches against New Zealand in June and South Africa in July next year, and is due to host an Ashes Test in 2023.
🚨 You have just 3⃣ days left to enter the international ticket ballot! 🚨
— Yorkshire CCC (@YorkshireCCC) October 5, 2021
Long said the reaction of the sponsors was not altogether surprising.
“It’s not the first time a sports organisation has found itself in this sort of situation and in situations where the issue is not dealt with effectively, or not seen to be dealt with effectively and swiftly, it can snowball a little bit,” he said.
“The issue has become so big that the sponsors have felt that they need to do something, and the pressure has built over a period of time.”
Long said it was important for any organisation where reputation has been damaged to “not just be seen to do things, but actually do them”, but said it need not take a long time to rebuild trust if the right actions were taken.
“I work with a number of organisations where they’ll do stakeholder research, first of all to try and find out what people think about them and what the issues are, what they really need to focus in on and then to demonstrate a programme of work that they’re going to undertake to try and repair the damage to rebuild reputation, whatever the particular challenge is that they’re facing.
“There are plenty of examples of businesses that have incurred reputational damage and rebuilt and it can be a long road, but it can be a relatively quick road as well, depending on how how effectively the issues are addressed.”