The fallout from the XXXX brewery sponsored “beach cricket” intruding on Cricket Australia’s official program and its long-term sponsorship with rival brewery Foster’s has arrived even before the final beach cricket match is played, and it has the potential to be very divisive for cricket in Australia.

Now Cricket Queensland is caught between a rock and a very hard place as a result.

Queensland Cricket has long been sponsored by Lion Nathan through the XXXX brand. But Queensland Cricket now has to sign up to Cricket Australia’s new venue marketing and “ambush marketing” agreements sent to all state associations to protect the national body’s sponsors, including Foster’s.

It is also undoubtedly to protect the biggest “sponsor” of all – Channel Nine. The beach cricket series is on Channel Ten, which has been using greats of the past in its promotional material. Nine would hardly have been pleased.

While Queensland is not the only state with Lion Nathan as a sponsor, it is the one state where the brewery is the major sponsor – The XXXX Gold Queensland Bulls. That is why Cricket Queensland is in a difficult position when it comes to signing up to Cricket Australia’s new venue and marketing agreements.

And there is no chance Lion Nathan will let Cricket Queensland out of its contract – given that the “beer war” has had the greatest impact in Queensland, with Foster’s range of beers now overtaking XXXX for the number one spot in the Queensland market (see clarification below). Twenty years ago that would have been unheard of.

If Cricket Queensland can’t agree to the conditions by next Monday, Cricket Australia will have a real problem on its hands. Technically it will not be able to ratify the allocation of the first Test for the 2007/2008 season to the Gabba unless Cricket Queensland signs the agreement.

If that happens, it won’t just be cricket fans who will be complaining. The Queensland Government spent a sizeable sum upgrading the Gabba to accommodate Test and One Day cricket and the Lions AFL team. The loss of the Test and One Day matches would not only be a financial problem, it would be a political problem as well.

The dispute may end up in the courts – though all parties may decide it would be best to avoid court action given that the restrictive practices involved might come under unwanted scrutiny.

But whatever happens, the next few days will be an interesting test for the growing determination of national sporting bodies to prevent ambush marketing arrangements and protect the rights of sponsors – and the demand by sponsors that they do so.

Lion Nathan’s Corporate Affairs Director, James Tait, writes: Please note that the comment within the story that “Foster’s range of beers now overtaking XXXX for the number one spot in the Queensland market” is completely inaccurate. Castlemaine Perkins’s portfolio in Queensland remains the largest by some distance with almost two of every three beers drunk in Queensland a Castlemaine Perkins product. XXXX Gold is the largest beer brand in Queensland with approximately one in every three beers a XXXX Gold.