London:With Vodafone deciding not to renew a four-million-pound-a-year sponsorship deal with it, the England and Wales Cricket Board fears a new financial backer would be hard to find in the middle of worsening economic crisis and reduced state funding.
The four-year agreement with the telecom giant ends after England's tour to South Africa next winter and the ECB is already losing sleep over finding a new sponsor.
"This is the first downturn in the period. It is going to be more difficult than the past, but cricket audience and media exposure are excellent and it will be down to the way we handle the market place. Renewals and extensions are easier to secure than new partners," admitted ECB commercial director John Perera.
Chairman of Sports Impact John Taylor, who negotiated sponsorship deals between the ECB and Tetley's and npower, said the ECB will find a sponsor nonetheless but the "question is at what price?"
"The market is difficult at the moment. The top deals are still being done and smaller deals are still there, but the middle is being squeezed," he said.
"It would be unfortunate if they were having to look for three sponsors at the same time. But even in that scenario, I think they have such strong properties that they would find somebody to take them up because cricket has good TV and media presence. Maybe areas like banks and insurance companies which have had links to cricket in the past may not be as conducive at the moment," Taylor added.
Meanwhile, the ECB was also fuming at, what it called, reduced funding for cricket from Sport England.
Cricket was awarded 37.8 million pounds, the largest share in the overall grant for sports, but the ECB argued that comparitive analysis reveal that this year's allocation was 33 per cent less than previous years.
"In real terms, that is a 33 per cent cut in our base funding, with the two highest increases in participation in the past two years (27 per cent in 2006-07 and 24 per cent in 2007-08)," ECB chief executive David Collier told 'The Times'.
"We believe this is inconsistent with Government policy that non-Olympic sports will not suffer as a result of 2012," he complained.