UPDATE-6-Cricket Australia loses major sponsor over players' 'conspiracy' to cheat

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UPDATE-6-Cricket Australia loses major sponsor over players' 'conspiracy' to cheat
Credit: © Reuters.

(Adds lawyer comment paragraph 11, 12, adds details on broadcast rights paras 21,22)

* Magellan says ball-tampering a team leadership conspiracy

* Magellan ends Cricket Australia three-year sponsor deal

* Breakfast cereal maker Sanitarium drops Smith

* Sports apparel maker ASICS drops Warner and Bancroft

By Byron Kaye

SYDNEY, March 29 (Reuters) - The Australian cricket team lost a major sponsor and a host of large companies tore up branding deals with individual players on Thursday as the fallout of a ball-tampering scandal tore into the financial core of the country's favourite pastime.

Fund manager Magellan Financial Group Ltd MFG.AX binned a three-year team naming rights deal, which was only seven months old, while sports apparel giant ASICS Corp 7936.T and Commonwealth Bank of Australia CBA.AX joined other firms in dropping players caught in the scandal which has shaken cricket.

The quick financial fallout to the ball-tampering last Saturday in South Africa, 11,000 km (6,835 miles) away, shows the eagerness of the corporate sector to distance itself from scandal at a time when the internet and social media can keep public criticism alive seemingly indefinitely.

"A conspiracy by the leadership of the Australian men's test cricket team which broke the rules with a clear intention to gain an unfair advantage during the third test in South Africa goes to the heart of integrity," said Magellan CEO Hamish Douglass in the statement.

"These recent events are so inconsistent with our values that we are left with no option but to terminate our ongoing partnership with Cricket Australia."

A day earlier, Cricket Australia slapped captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner with 12-month bans from international and domestic cricket for their role in an episode that has earned condemnation from leaders all the way up to the prime minister.

Cameron Bancroft, who was caught on camera attempting to scuff up the ball with improvised sandpaper during a test against South Africa in Cape Town, was banned for nine months. All three were sent home from South Africa.

Magellan has not put a price on the sponsorship deal and did not immediately return calls seeking more details, but Australian media reported it was worth about A$20 million ($15.30 million).

The relatively low profile company's 2017 annual report said it struck the Cricket Australia deal to improve its familiarity with Australians and forecast a "material increase in its currently modest marketing expenditure" in part because of the sponsorship.

Moral clauses are commonplace in sports sponsorship deals, allowing both parties to exit if the other engages in conduct that might negatively impact on the image, goodwill and reputation of their partner.

"Any celebrity must be aware that large corporates will not tolerate conduct which might damage their brand," said Andy Brian from UK law firm Gordons.

"We have seen this many times before... I would not be surprised to see more action by other sponsors in the coming days and weeks."

More than 52 percent of Australians thought suspending players for a season was the most appropriate punishment for ball tampering, a poll by Australian cable television network Sky News found. Nearly a third supported a lifetime ban.


Commonwealth Bank, Australia's biggest lender, said it was dumping captain Smith as an ambassador "in light of recent circumstances". It also did not disclose the price of that relationship.

Breakfast cereal maker Sanitarium Australia, which is owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, also fired Smith as a "Weet-Bix brand ambassador".

"Weet-Bix ambassadors represent our brand values of trust and integrity, and they speak to everything that is good about being Australian," said Sanitarium executive general manager Todd Saunders.

"Based on the ball tampering incident and the findings of Cricket Australia's investigation, we are unable to continue our relationship with Steve Smith," Saunders added.

ASICS cancelled sponsorship deals with both vice-captain Warner and Bancroft, describing their actions as "not something that ASICS tolerates and are contrary to the values the company stands for".

ASICS was the second sponsor to abandon Warner in two days, after electronics maker LG 066570.KS scrapped a newly-inked sponsorship deal with the 31-year-old.

Specsavers, a Cricket Australia sponsor, said it was "shocked and disappointed" and "in no way condones the behaviour of those involved", but did not comment on its future with a sport seen by most Australians as the embodiment of fairness.

The ball-tampering incident occurred at the climax of talks about a five-year broadcast rights deal with Australian television networks.

Australia's Channel 9, which holds the broadcast contract, won the rights to the Australian Open tennis grand slam on Thursday, raising questions as to whether it will have the money - or inclination - to compete.

Other Cricket Australia sponsors stood by the organisation.

A spokesman for Yum! Brands Inc (NYSE: YUM ) YUM.N , owner of fast food chain KFC, a Cricket Australia sponsor, said it was "pleased that Cricket Australia has dealt with this incident swiftly for the benefit of the game and its fans" without commenting further.

A spokesperson for Toyota Corp 7203.T said the carmaker supported "Cricket Australia's decision to initiate an independent review into the conduct and culture of the Australian men's teams".

($1 = 1.3075 Australian dollars)

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