Cricket and Kia announce ground-breaking sponsorship deal

Sue Mott Sports Journalist
Sue Mott
Sports Journalist

by Sports Journalist and WST guest blogger Sue Mott.

“Ten out of eleven women care very little for cricket…and though from the goodness of their hearts they insist on coming to the grounds….it would be far kinder to all concerned, and less like cruelty to animals, to leave them quietly at home.” DLA Jephson, Surrey cricketer and journalist, 1871-1926

Yes, well, Digby, you would be amazed. Now, a century later, not only do women insist on coming to grounds, they also insist on playing on them with the result that England cricket (female branch) has just won back-to-back Ashes series while England cricket (male division) were rather spectacularly losing same. In a quiet, decorous, determined and utterly unstoppable fashion, cricket is enjoying a cultural revolution.

The latest sign of the times is the ground-breaking two-year sponsorship deal with Kia Motors, announced today [on Monday], the first ever standalone commercial arrangement for England women’s cricket. “I keep having to pinch myself,” said England women’s captain Charlotte Edwards as she posed for photos with a swish, white car near (but not on – at some things revolutions do draw the line) the outfield at Lords.

The significance is huge. No longer will women’s sports teams be simply deemed a tag-on element to male negotiations, a handy receptacle for the sweepings left over when the big boys do their deals. It means women’s sport can be considered good enough, popular enough, entertaining enough, valuable enough to be seen as a property in its own right.

Furthermore, it is a car company throwing its cricket cap in the ring. Once anything connected to an internal combustion engine was ruthlessly marketed to men. Women didn’t so much drive as demonstrate their colossal spacial awareness defects in supermarket car parks, seemed to be the prevailing attitude. But slowly businesses are responding to research that suggests up to 70% of a household’s expenditure is influenced by women. We can probably all think of households where that figure rises to 100%.

This could be a forerunner of many happy relationships. A FTSE/female sport alliance that vastly amends the shocking 0.4% figure representing women’s share of overall sports sponsorship.

“It’s so exciting,” said Clare Connor, former England captain now head of women’s cricket at the ECB. “It’s significant that a car manufacturer, part of the Hyundai group that back the football World Cup and Rafa Nadal, want to be part of women’s team sport. Now we have a sponsorship worth in excess of six figures a year and every single player in the squad gets a car — although Tash Farrant hasn’t passed her test yet.

“It happened, I think, because of the success of the team, the support of the ECB in terms of absolute integration and commitment, our development programme through ‘A Chance To Shine’, visibility through broadcasters like BTSport and Sky, our players being great role models, our recent introduction of professional contracts and the general shift in attitudes brought about by London 2012. Women’s sport is growing up fast. We’re challenging the norms. Companies like that.”

If cricket can do it… Who would have thought that a sport so fusty with ancient maleness would be in the vanguard of female sporting liberation? Less than 20 years ago a religious-like fervour was attached to the the campaign to repulse women from the Marylebone Cricket Club – the institution that has represented the soul of the hallowed game at Lords for nigh on two centuries.

But placid equality now reigns (although you still have to wait for an awful lot of people to die before being admitted this particular heaven on earth) and it is largely Rachel Heyhoe Flint’s fault . She is the (now) Baroness who scored 30 centuries during an England career remarkable for its cavalier exuberance, making her Test debut in 1966 and barely suppressing her desire to shout “Hallelujah!” as the Grace Gates opened at Lords to admit her. She was a jolly and feisty heroine, forged in family of brothers who used to hold the vacuum cleaner over her head so that her plaits were sucked up the machine. The Royal Marines couldn’t have trained her better for social warfare.

Far from having sponsorship money in her day, the players used to shell out themselves to go on tour. They only had blouses because Marks and Spencer took pity on them.

Following her retirement from playing, it was she who helped kick the MCC’s ‘No Women’ policy into touch – but only after a fearsome tussle. Cricket buffers were implacably opposed to people in skirts making hay – ie sitting – in the Pavillion. It was around the time that former England rugby captain Will Carling made his infamous remark about rugby being run by ’57 old farts’. The then-MCC President, Sir Oliver Popplewell, could top that. “You won’t find 57 old farts here,” he said to a quivering job applicant. “There are 18,000 of us.”

It would be wonderful to report that the MCC saw the error of their ways in those days. In fact, they were threatened with loss of government funding if women were not admitted as members, but as time has demonstrated that the cries of “Howzat!’ have not been drowned out by the mass clash of knitting needles or rustle of curtain swatches, the relationship between the sexes has gone from strength to strength.

Connor, heads up the ECB’s women’s cricket division with flair, steel and diplomacy and Edwards , the current captain, is one of Wisden’s five International Cricketers of the Year (gender irrelevant). Hardly surprising given her Ashes exploits. More than that, her checklist of attributes to which a cricket captain must aspire, almost qualifies her for sainthood. “Honesty, approachability, good listening skills, ability to delegate, humour, confidence, good decision-making, drive, passion, fun and most of all be yourself.”

She grew up on a potato farm bowling Maris Pipers at her brother. An earthy start to a majestic career. If that proves to be a symbolic of the future of women’s sport, old Digby Loder Armroid Jephson might be surprised but few others.