November 17, 1999

Aussie state champions to drink from the Milk Cup

It's a week for radical moves by the Australian Cricket Board. Yesterday, they announced a three-match one-day series against South Africa in the middle of winter, almost certainly under a closed roof, most definitely clashing with footy finals all over the country.

Today they announced the end of a 107-year tradition. Australia's interstate first-class competition, generally regarded as the strongest domestic league in the world, will no longer be played for the Sheffield Shield. A new naming rights sponsor for the next four years was announced today by the Australian Cricket Board.

Tomorrow, when Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia walk onto the Richmond Cricket Ground and Adelaide Oval to begin their fourday battles, they won't be playing for points on the Sheffield Shield ladder.

They will be playing for the Pura Milk Cup.

The sponsorship of the competition, for which National Foods Limited (the manufacturers of Pura Milk) have paid an undisclosed fee, will run for the next four seasons up to and including 2002/03. The Sheffield Shield competition has been running at a loss of several million dolalrs annually for many years. The ACB, despite being highly profitable across all their operations, decided to put the naming rights to the tournament up for sale as part of the overall sponsorship package.

In addition to exclusive naming rights the deal includes branding on player shirts, perimeter fence signage, grass signage and stumps.

The Sheffield Shield trophy, in use since the 1892-93 season, will remain on display in the Australian Cricket Board's office in Melbourne. A new trophy will be struck to be raised for the first time by the Pura Milk Cup champions next March.

The structure of the tournament will not be changed by the new sponsorship deal. Prizemoney for the competition this year will be increased to a total of $ Aus 220,000. The Pura Milk Cup Champions will receive $ 75,000, the runners-up receiving $ 45,000.

In changing the name, the ACB claim to have "canvassed the opinion of a wide stakeholder network, which consisted of current and past players, cricket administrators, cricket supporters, the media and other cricket stakeholders."

Just a week after the Australian people rejected, in rather ambivalent fashion, a break with the British monarchy, the demise of the Sheffield Shield ends a symbolic tie with British colonialism. It was in 1892 that wealthy English cricket enthusiast, the Earl of Sheffield, donated 150 pounds to the New South Wales Cricket Association to fund a trophy for intercolonial cricket in Australia. After Victoria and South Australia (the only other Australian colonies - as they then were - playing first-class cricket at the time) agreed, an annual tournament between the three teams began in the 1892-93 season, with the combatants playing for a silver shield named in honour of its financial benefactor.

Lord Sheffield was, in a sense, the first naming rights sponsor of Australian domestic cricket - though his name was never painted on grass or stuck onto stumps!

Right around the cricketing world there are many examples of domestic firstclass competitions which have changed names due to the sale of naming rights sponsorship. In South Africa the Currie Cup became the Castle Cup and now the SuperSport Series. In New Zealand the Plunkett Shield has been superseded by the Shell Trophy. The West Indies have seen the Shell Shield, followed by the Red Stripe Bowl and now the Busta Cup. In England the name changes have not been quite so total, with evolution through the Schweppes County Championship to the Britannic Assurance County Championship to the ppp Healthcare County Championship.

In India, however, the name of the great Ranjitsinhji remains in the title of its first-class competiton, while no one in Pakistan has sold out the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy yet.

The question that remains to be seen is whether the Australian public will accept the "Pura Milk Cup" as the catchphrase for interstate elite cricket in this country. English soccer fans will recall the sponsorship of the Football League Cup that had teams playing between 1981/82 and 1985/86 for The Milk Cup. How will Aussie cricket fans - already facing the dilemma of one-day cricket and football finals on the same nights next August - cope?