DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 20, during the Cricket SA media briefing at Selborne Country Estate on June 20, 2012 in Durban, South Africa Photo by Anesh Debiky / Gallo Images

Cricket had slipped in popularity behind soccer and rugby, largely because of the bonus payments scandal, acting Cricket South Africa CEO Jacques Faul admitted at Selborne Country Club on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast oon Wednesday.

“We’ve got to be honest about this, and I don’t think it’s a quick fix,” Faul said during a break in a conference for chief executives.

“I do think we’re making a move in the right direction – and of course we’re happy with the recent sponsorship deal with Momentum – but I think it’ll take a while before corporate SA as a whole can be comfortable with us again.”

Faul added that the recent Rugby World Cup had also influenced cricket’s downward spiral.

“We’ve got to be careful,” he warned, “we don’t want soccer and rugby to open a big gap between themselves and cricket. Up to now we’ve always been very close to rugby in popularity.”

He said there were also lessons to be learned from soccer and rugby in terms of their strong branding, an area where provincial cricket in particular lagged behind.

“Compare, for example, the Sharks and the Dolphins. Sharks fans go to a game to support their brand, while local cricket fans tend to go to a provincial match to have a cricketing experience.”

Faul agreed that diminishing crowds in domestic cricket – a worldwide trend – were “a huge concern”, but he believed that CSA could address the problem.

“I think we can do it better. We need to improve our marketing and brand-building, and we’ve got to do things more scientifically. Research shows that cricket, like rugby, needs passionate supporters.

“People support brands, that’s been shown in the Indian Premier League, and it also shows at a national level where the Proteas are the biggest brand by a country mile.”

On a more optimistic note, Faul said CSA had secured a generous Test sponsorship for next year. He could not reveal their identity, but it’s an open secret that last season’s Test sponsors, Sunfoil, have confirmed an even more generous package for next season.

Faul said it was a little early to talk about a T20 sponsor, but he said it was possible the process would be opened to tender.

Addressing other issues, Faul said that there was a “real chance” that the Champions League T20 competition would be played in SA in September.

“I will be going to the ICC conference in Kuala Lumpur next week and the matter will be discussed then.”

The increasingly vexed issue of the maintenance of stadiums was hotly debated.

The low standard of the floodlights and scoreboards throughout the country is a real worry, but few unions can afford to upgrade their facilities and up to now CSA hasn’t financed capital projects.

“It’s a complex issue,” said Faul, “and we need to be conservative about how we spend our money. On the other hand, cricket is our business and we need to find a way to maintain our stadiums.” – The Mercury