The pay dispute between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers Association (ACA) has escalated to a level that no one had expected, or wanted it to go to.
However, with the June 30 deadline already passed, 230 cricketers in Australia are unemployment, and while the very best players, particularly the best male players in Australia are unlikely to feel the pinch of not being paid, the ongoing dispute over Cricket Australia’s desire to make changes to the revenue sharing model.
In most businesses, a revenue sharing model is the distribution of profits (and losses) between the stakeholders of a business, which could be general partners, employees, or between companies in some kind of business alliance or partnership.
The players in this circumstance are not only employees of Cricket Australia, they are also general partners of Cricket Australia, the major product for Cricket Australia and of the game of cricket, and the ability to generate profits, such as from ticket sales for matches, particularly big matches, such as international matches (Test Match cricket, One Day International (ODI) cricket, and Twenty20 (T20) International cricket), as well as domestic cricket, including the Big Bash League.
However, if the pay dispute between Cricket Australia and the ACA continues on for a longer period of time, then the ability of Cricket Australia to generate profits from their major product, the players, will become close to non-existent, and this puts at grave risk the Tour of Bangladesh, the ODI series in India, and The Ashes series against England at home in Australia.
Cricket Australia’s motive for wanting to change the revenue sharing model is the need in their view to pour more money into grassroots cricket, and junior development programs, but at the expense of domestic male cricketers, the players who aren’t on the Contracted Players List at Cricket Australia, and female players, with payments increases capped at 18 percent and 150 percent respectively out of a total surplus revenue share for the whole game (both men’s women’s players, including contracted players at Cricket Australia) of up to $20 million.
The motive of the ACA for wanting to keep the revenue sharing model the way that it has been is about keeping on a path that strives towards equality in Australian cricket, and making sure that players at both international and domestic level in both the men’s and women’s games receive their fair share of the monetary pie. They also believe there is already more than enough funding going into grassroots cricket, and junior development programs at that level. They also believe that Cricket Australia is giving them little to no details on their plans for the future of Australian cricket.
Looking at both sides, I think we all agree that a lot more money should be put into junior development to help the stars of tomorrow.
However, should more money be placed into grassroots cricket, and what do you define as grassroots cricket?
Is it grade cricket in the major capital cities of Australia? Is it grade cricket in the major regional cities of Australia? Is it grade cricket in the regional towns of Australia? Or is it junior cricket across all cities and towns in Australia?
If grassroots cricket refers to junior cricket development, then everyone would agree investing money into that would be beneficial for everyone in Australian cricket. If grassroots cricket refers to grade cricket across all cities and towns in Australia, I don’t think you can invest vasts amounts of money into grassroots cricket.
Both sides of the pay dispute know that for a player to make it all the way to the top, and potentially play for Australia in the game of cricket, they must be identified at a young age, and both sides of the argument know that there is a very, very slim chance that a mature-aged cricketer is going to come up from lower grade cricket to end up suddenly playing international cricket for Australia.
So, it makes it all the more astounding that Cricket Australia hasn’t clarified to the ACA what they meant by the term “grassroots cricket” so that the ACA can readjust or reaffirm their side of the argument in terms of what the players want from the new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
However, the biggest crux of the pay dispute between Cricket Australia and the ACA is to do with the revenue share that domestic cricketers and female players could receive from the total surplus revenue share for the entire game.
Cricket Australia want payment increases capped at 18 percent (domestic male cricketers) and 150 percent (female cricketers) out of the $20 million surplus revenue share. The domestic payment cap doesn’t include cricketers playing in the Big Bash League, who would receive a 42 percent pay increase under Cricket Australia’s because they see it as the biggest revenue maker for them.
However, the Big Bash League has made a loss of $33 million over the last five years, and the host television broadcaster of the Big Bash League, Network Ten, is currently in receivership after being placed into administration last month, and at this stage, logic suggests its contract to broadcast the Big Bash League will not be renewed at the end of the coming season.
Though, that is not the reason why the ACA is furious about the cap on player payment increases.
The Australian Cricketers Association (ACA) value domestic cricket, and feel that the Sheffield Shield and the Domestic One Day Cup is the best way to produce the best international cricketers, and believe the cricketers who primarily play at this level deserve to be paid their fair share, more than the 18 percent Cricket Australia says it should be.
In addition to this, the ACA feels that the player payment cap increases for female players shouldn’t be at 150 percent, because they want male and female players to have an equal say in the way the game of cricket is being run in Australia. They want to be equal partners in the game of cricket at all levels, and this what the talk about being partners in the game of cricket in Australia is all about!
It is not about Cricket Australia and the ACA feeling like they are equal partners in Australian cricket, because Cricket Australia is still and will remain the governing body of cricket in this country, but the ACA wants the players at all different levels, and of all different genders to be paid and treated equally.
On the otherhand, I think Cricket Australia is trying to send a message to the domestic male cricketers of Australia to think about playing first class cricket overseas, particularly in England during the Australian winter, to improve their games if you want to challenge for Australian selection.
However, there is no way Cricket Australia can get away with treating female cricketers the way that they are, and the ACA is holding them to account on that one!
However, the current pay dispute between Cricket Australia and the ACA affects more than just the players, it effects all broadcasters and narrowcasters, particularly television and live streaming providers.
In terms of live streaming providers that show primarily the lower levels of cricket, such as the Sheffield Shield, the Women’s National Cricket League and the matches of the Women’s Big Bash League that are not shown on television, the way that Cricket Australia is valuing domestic male players and female players by giving them a smaller share of the monetary pie (in their proposal) should have these narrowcasters alarmed!
Narrowcasters, or live streaming providers, who are already struggling to generate money to survive, despite many of them saying that they are growing, will be wondering, along with current, and prospective business partners, if live streaming cricket competitions that are not being valued by the game’s governing body in Australia, even if the ACA wins their debate over Cricket Australia, is the best way to go about their business? It is caveat emptor on that one!
However, in terms of the television broadcasters, their deals to broadcast in the game of cricket in Australia all comes to an end after the upcoming season, and things aren’t looking good for Cricket Australia on that front.
Network Ten, as I explained earlier, look set to lose the rights of the Big Bash League due to issues at the besieged broadcaster, but also because of the growing value of the competition, despite it making a loss, which may reflect badly on Network Ten more so than anyone else.
The Seven Network is currently under contract to broadcast the Australian Open (tennis) and Australian Open Series (tennis) until the end of 2019, so it is unlikely they will bid for any broadcasting rights to show any form of cricket in Australia.
The Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) are also unlikely to be able to afford the sort of money Cricket Australia wants to broadcast cricket on television in Australia.
That just leaves the Nine Network, Fox Sports and Optus Sport as the only television broadcasters who could afford to cover cricket, and with the anti siphoning list currently the way that it is, the Nine Network is only suitable candidate to cover international cricket in Australia, as well as the Big Bash League.
However, I don’t think it will end up this way.
I suspect there may be changes to the anti siphoning list for the coverage of international cricket in Australia to allow competition for broadcasting rights so that Cricket Australia gets the money that it wants from the rights for the next four years or longer (depending on the length of the deals).
The Nine Network have been urged by financial analysts UBS to consider ending its long-term association with Cricket Australia and the game of cricket due to losses per year of $30-40 million during its current deal of around $500 million ($100 million per year), and explained back in April that “We think it would seem logical for Nine to enter negotiations with the following mindset: i) more cricket content at no additional cost, or ii) to step away from the cricket contract.”
However, with Cricket Australia wanting around $250-300 million for the television broadcasting rights of the Big Bash League, that is unlikely to happen.
So, will the Nine Network step away from covering the game of cricket in Australia?
I don’t think so, but I suspect the Nine Network will have to give up some of the cricket content they have in their current portfolio if they want to broadcast the Big Bash League.
The Nine Network still values Test Match cricket, and is covering Australia’s Ashes Tour to England in 2019, and decided to send their own commentators over to England in 2015 to cover The Ashes series.
So, I think the Nine Network will want to cover test matches in Australia, but I suspect they will have to lose the broadcasting rights to all other international cricket matches in Australia in order to get the Big Bash League, and maybe also the Women’s Big Bash League.
So, what would happen with the rights to one day international (ODI) cricket, Twenty20 international (T20I) cricket, women’s international cricket, and the online/mobile rights for covering cricket in Australia?
For Test Match cricket in Australia, as well as the Big Bash League and the Women’s Big Bash League, I would think it would be logical for the Nine Network to have the online rights through its 9Now service/app, or like they have in recent years, simulcast their coverage on cricket.com.au, and through the Cricket Australia Live App.
As for the rights to ODI cricket, T20I cricket, women’s international cricket, and the online/mobile rights to those three, I suspect Fox Sports and Optus Sport will be in a fierce bidding war for the rights to each of those three, and while I suspect Fox Sports would be the favourite to take the cake on all three, plus online rights through its Foxtel App, Optus Sport have been getting involved in Australian cricket over the last couple of years with addition premium extras and reports on each match, showing matches live in conjunction with the Cricket Australia Live App, and showing classic moments of years gone by.
If Optus Sport wins the rights to any, or likely all three formats/items, plus the online and mobile rights, Optus will need to consider calling a truce with Foxtel to allow Foxtel customers the access to Optus Sport, either by adding them to the existing sports package for a small fee increase, or be sold separately in a different/additional package to Foxtel customers.
If Fox Sports wins the rights ODI cricket, T20I cricket, and women’s international cricket, then I would suspect Optus will get the mobile rights to all cricket in Australia, including Test Match cricket, while Fox Sports would have the online rights to its coverage, plus having access to their coverage via the Cricket Australia Live App.
Another thing that will also need to be considered is whether either Fox Sports and/or Optus Sport would want to show Test Match cricket in Australia, the Big Bash League and the Women’s Big Bash League, particularly if they use their own commentators and score graphics, even though the Nine Network would be the host broadcaster?
All of this could give Cricket Australia the money that it needs in terms of broadcasting rights to then sort out its issues with the Australian Cricketers Association (ACA) and the players, who I suspect would want the next television broadcasting deal sorted first so that they know what they are working with in terms of sorting out their pay dispute with Cricket Australia.
However, Cricket Australia want to sort out the pay dispute with the ACA first because they will have no chance of convincing television broadcasters that they should bid for a product where 230 of its key assets are unemployed.
Overall, both parties involved are at fault for where we currently stand right now, and are both situated between a rock and a hard place, putting at grave risk the Tour of Bangladesh, the ODI series in India, and The Ashes series against England at home in Australia.
In conclusion, and in my opinion, you may think that the pay dispute between Cricket Australia and the ACA only affects the two parties in question, but as I have explained throughout this article, it is far from the truth, and that is sobering thought for everyone!