Stanford confirms review of cricket involvement
Allen Stanford, the Texan billionaire underwriting much of West Indies cricket, has denied reports that he is set to pull the plug on his investment in the game, although his future involvement with the Caribbean remains up in the air. As a consequence of the contractual disputes between the West Indies Cricket Board and its main sponsors, Digicel, that threatened to derail the recent Stanford 20/20 for 20 series in Antigua, Stanford has announced a full review of his 2008 programme in January, although that process began on Monday with the dissolution of his 12-man board of 'Stanford Legends'.
Back in October, Digicel won their case at the High Court in London after it was argued successfully that the "Stanford Superstars" who went on to win the US$20million jackpot on November 1 were a West Indies representative side in all but name, and therefore ought to have been bound by the same lucrative contract that had been signed between Digicel and the WICB. A last-minute compromise was reached between Stanford and Denis O'Brien, the head of Digicel, which involved - among other things - Digicel being given their prominent positioning on the team's shirts. Initially they had demanded this for the full five-year term of the Stanford deal, though it was agreed as one-off measure to ensure the show went ahead.
Stanford signed a five-year deal worth $100 million with the ECB last summer for the Stanford 20/20 for 20, an annual match where each member of the winning XI is guaranteed $1m. But according to a report in the Daily Mail, the inaugural tournament made a loss of more than US$40 million, and also failed to break into the lucrative US television market, which had been one of the core objectives of the enterprise. Should he now choose to walk away, the impact could be devastating for the ECB and in particular its chairman, Giles Clarke, and chief executive, David Collier, whose reputations now hinge on his continued involvement.
However, a press release from Stanford 20/20 read: "Contrary to some recent negative press speculation, in relation to Stanford's broader involvement with cricket and specifically the future of the Stanford 20/20 for 20, the Quadrangular Tournament at Lord's and the English Premier League, Sir Allen reaffirmed his desire to continue to work with the England & Wales Cricket Board and discussions are currently ongoing between Stanford 20/20 LLC and the ECB."
On the other hand, the mood at the WICB will be less cheery, for Stanford's continued involvement in the Caribbean has not yet been explicitly stated. "Stanford 20/20 and the efforts of its board have reinvigorated widespread interest in the game throughout the Caribbean and have enhanced the image of West Indies cricket globally," said Stanford himself in a press release. "The board has been instrumental in developing a whole new fan base in the region."
Whether Stanford sees West Indies cricket as an ongoing concern remains to be seen, however, especially now that the more prominent ECB, facing the loss of their major sponsor, Vodafone, could provide him with a much more desirable entry-point into the world game. Most of the Caribbean's islands have been boosted by Stanford's investment - with Antigua, the venue for the Stanford Super Series, the largest beneficiary - and the cash-strapped WICB is increasingly reliant on his money to stay afloat. The dismissal of the 12-man board of legends, which includes Sir Viv Richards and Sir Garfield Sobers, may be seen by some as the writing on the wall.
"The Stanford 20/20 Board was dissolved on Monday December 15th pending the review," read a statement, "and Sir Allen Stanford personally thanked each of the legends of West Indies cricket for their involvement, guidance and counsel over the past three years. The Board has been integral to Stanford 20/20's commitment to the development of West Indies cricket and the board members continue to play an important role in the review process.
However, the former West Indies fast bowler, Colin Croft, said he would be surprised if Stanford pulled out of Caribbean cricket altogether. "The man has lived in Antigua and Barbados for about 20 years, he is as much a West Indian as many people," Croft told the BBC. "It would be strange if he invested all of that money and then at the drop of a hat decided he is going to remove himself.
"I would be surprised, I would be disappointed. West Indies cricket needs Sir Allen Stanford. He has contributed to each of the individual territories, giving as much as $200,000 each year for the last two or three years, so everybody is going to lose if he is removed from the equation."
However, the former England captain, Michael Atherton - a strident critic of the Stanford 20/20 for 20 - told The Times that he would not be surprised if Stanford cut his ties. "From the start he said he wasn't a fan of Test cricket and so his involvement has always been a business decision, designed to exploit his brand," said Atherton. "When business deals go bad, businessmen will just up sticks, there is no emotional attachment to the game, so in that sense I'm not surprised."
Stanford's high-profile relationship with English cricket - he sealed the deal after landing at Lord's in a helicopter, and with a trunk full of $20m in banknotes - hit a rocky patch in the first of the week-long Super Series - including the inaugural Stanford 20/20 for 20 - which was held in Antigua in October-November. He was caught on camera in the stands with several of the England players' wives and girlfriends, which only heightened the off-field tensions. The ECB subsequently said it would be holding its own review of the Stanford Series but the process has been delayed by the complications over touring India.
On Thursday, Matt Prior - whose wife, Emily, was one of those filmed with Stanford - was philosophical about the prospects of the deal falling through. "If it carries on then fantastic, but if not there'll be other things," Prior said in Mohali. "There's a huge amount of money going into cricket at the moment, but maybe because I've been out of it and come back you realise it's not just the cash, it's the huge amount of pride you get from playing for your country."