Shane Watson, the Australian Cricketers’ Association president, believes Cricket Australia should re-examine the notion of private ownership of BBL clubs, a decade after the governing body’s initial “float” of stakes in the T20 league met a quiet end.
Private ownership of BBL clubs, the tournament model favoured by a large portion of overseas domestic leagues including the IPL, PSL, CPL and BPL, was a contentious issue at the time CA elected to move towards new identities for eight T20 teams, with a prospectus drawn up and a business mission taken to India to gauge private interest in the idea. Some of the initial structures of the BBL clubs, namely the independent boards and chief executives of the Melbourne Stars and Melbourne Renegades, were drawn up partly with private investment in mind.
CA’s executives, led by the then CEO James Sutherland and former head of strategy Andrew Jones, were cooler about the idea than some members of the CA board, and the idea fizzled out as the league was launched on a trajectory towards securing a far larger slice of an A$1.2 billion broadcast rights pie in 2018. Three years on, with CA embroiled in a battle with Seven West Media over the network’s campaign for a discount to its fees and Covid-19 affecting events more broadly, Watson reckons the concept should be revisited.
“Yes, it 100% needs a revisit, and it’s a way to continue to get a cash injection as well,” Watson told ESPNcricinfo. “Obviously they’d need to set things up to put things in place to make sure CA still have control that they desire across the franchises and the playing group, but absolutely, it’ll bring in an influx of different people, new money as well, to be able to continue to grow the game. So I think that absolutely would be a big step forward.”
There are plenty of other backers of private investment around the ACA board table: chairman Greg Dyer and director Neil Maxwell – also a Cricket New South Wales board member – have both publicly advocated for the concept in the past. Others with considerable knowledge of the area include the NSW Cricket chairman John Knox, who in his former role with Credit Suisse drew up the prospectus when privatisation was first mooted in 2010-11. Much of the opposition to private investment focused on differing priorities between team owners and governing bodies.
“I’ve seen it in a lot of the tournaments I’ve played in, one thing when you have private owners is it brings in a new type of person, a new type of industry, new money streams into a very traditional cricket environment,” Watson said. “It’s the same sort of sponsors, the same people who’ve always been around cricket in Australia for example, so if you open it up to privatisation it means you’re getting some very successful people or business with different ideas on how to be able to expand things, make them better, challenge the status quo.
“Not just from a financial point of view but also just from a brand and evolution point of view. I’ve always been very surprised it hasn’t been something that CA have looked at, and gone for. I’ve seen it work so incredibly well in the IPL and the PSL for example, because it brings in new, successful people, new money into something that’s been, in CA’s case, the same sort of status quo for a long period of time.”
Speaking on other issues around the game, Watson expressed his disappointment that dressing room questions about the mentoring style of the coach Justin Langer had reached the public domain, but said that it was incumbent on administrators to be “proactive” about how the national team’s leaders were operating relative to the ever-changing nature of the dressing room.
“The person who stands out straight away to me there is Ricky Ponting; he was never chasing the captaincy, a great team man, but then when he got it, yes he was a leader, but he still cared about others, it wasn’t just about him”
“The biggest thing is having the right person at the right time, the right coach or the right captain at the right time,” Watson said. “People retire, people come in and out of the team and as soon as a couple of people move in and out of the team, that can change the whole dynamic of what’s required from a coaching or leadership perspective. That’s where we have to make sure we are really proactive, because when the decision-makers aren’t proactive around what’s required right now, that’s when we can get into trouble.”
Watson noted that it was vital for the game’s custodians to be aware also that – whatever might be said publicly – leadership roles in Australian cricket were highly sought-after as prizes with rich rewards for their holders, meaning that it was critical that open discussions were had about whether anyone might be hanging onto them for too long.
“That is one of the biggest things – are the people who want to be the captain of Australia doing it because that’s just been their whole goal and that’s all they want, and they’ll do anything they can to get to the top, and that’s not just in the Australian cricket team, that’s leadership in general,” he said. “What are the reasons why you want to be in the top position, is it because it’s all about you and you’ve always wanted that and you’ll just make sure you get there and then you make sure you stay there.
“For all different reasons, whether it’s sponsorship or marketing, whether it’s just because you love being the main man. Or whether it’s the other side of things: you love helping people, you love getting the best out of them, you weren’t chasing it, but once you got an opportunity, then you loved helping people out and guiding people. The person who stands out straight away to me there is Ricky Ponting; he was never chasing the captaincy, a great team man, but then when he got it, yes he was a leader, but he still cared about others, it wasn’t just about him.
“For some of these coaches, [Australia] is a huge job. You’re the one who’s pointing the ship of Australian cricket in one direction, you’re making the call, that’s your vision filtering down through all the layers. You’re dealing with the media, with the board, with the playing group to get the best out of them, and then your coaching staff as well. So of course, the coach of Australia does get paid incredibly well, and there’s no question that’s going to be one of the reasons why some people hang in a bit longer, because it’s such a big carrot dangling in front of them.”
In addition to his ACA role, Watson has ventured into the bats and equipment game, arguing he is trying to “break the model” of established brands and high overheads with a direct-to-customer model based largely upon online sales under the T20 Stars umbrella with which he has also launched a podcast.
“I’ve always been a cricket gear tragic since I was a kid, so I’m very particular about every little detail of my gear,” he said. “When it comes to challenging the pricing model that’s out there, it’s just something that when I really started to dig into it I had the realisation of just how expensive cricket gear has got from when I first started playing in my early years. My parents certainly weren’t wealthy, they just got together enough money for me to be able to feel like I never went without.
“But nowadays there’s no way they could’ve afforded the top of the range gear. So when I dug into why things have got so expensive, there is a really simple way to be able to break that model down, which is going direct to consumer…and that means the people buying the equipment because they want to get into the game, can actually get it more affordably, just because it’s going directly to them.
“The biggest challenge is that everyone’s used to going to cricket shops to try the gear and feel the bats. Absolutely there has to be a way for people to touch and feel the gear as well. I’m getting some guys I played cricket with around the states to be like the agents to get gear into people’s hands, and in Sydney I’ll be getting out to schools and clubs to allow them to see the products.”
Shane Watson’s cricket equipment is available at www.t20stars.com
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig