The murky waters surrounding the T20 Global League threaten to remove the shine from the event, writes LUKE ALFRED in SA Cricket Magazine.
Tony Irish, chief executive of the SA Players’ Association, doesn’t pause for thought when he’s asked if Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) much-trumpeted T20 league is the way to go. ‘Absolutely,’ he says. ‘It’s the way things are moving internationally. The players and the fans want it and the system needs it. My only question relates to whether everything will be done correctly.’
Irish is surely right in his assessment, insofar as he represents the players and their wishes. His view, however, is very much the view from within the game – the establishment view, if you like – and is therefore one that has an in-built bias.
A sceptic might argue that the players favour the emergence of the T20 Global League because they see the competition as a once-in-a-lifetime payday. Irish notes that the tournament is a dollar-based one, and while players are legally prevented by South African legislation from being paid in dollars, they will nonetheless be paid in rand equivalents pegged to the dollar.
The lucky 144 contracted players (18 per franchise) parcelled out to the eight franchises have an eye on many things, including the shop window that is the tournament itself, but we’d be deluding ourselves if we didn’t realise that all of them are also after the healthy wodge of wonga they’ll get at the end of their six weeks’ work. Better-than-usual Christmas presents for Chris Jonker’s inner circle, anyone?
The establishment view is one thing, the view from the business community, the fans and media, quite another. From the very beginning, the T20 Global League has been shrouded in controversy. This is largely the result of CSA’s lack of transparency on whether bids have been lodged and deposits paid and what these are, but questions haven’t been confined to matters of behind-the-scenes finance.
There have been whispers since the very beginning of Lalit Modi’s shadowy influence, and CSA’s initial hope that ownership of the eight franchises would be divided between four local owners and four overseas owners has not transpired. Osman Osman, a Laudium-based impresario, only has a 10% stake in the Centurion-based franchise rather than being a majority shareholder, and Brimstone, the Western Cape-based investment house, declined to become involved in the Stellenbosch franchise after weeks of equivocation.
This effectively means that all eight franchises are foreign-owned. They are therefore less subject to scrutiny than locals would be.
And at a time when foreign influence in public utilities, through families like the ‘Guptas’ has become the political hot potato of the moment, exclusive foreign ownership strikes a particularly raw nerve among many South Africans.
Given Brimstone’s withdrawal, it is worth scrutinising their justification. Mustaq Brey, their chief executive, said: ‘We follow a rigorous investment process. This venture [the Global T20] had to undergo the same process and be tested against our standard investment criteria as all other investment proposals. Our investment decisions take cognisance of the risks and benefits to all our stakeholders. We wish CSA well with the T20 Global league.’
What, aside from Brey’s abrupt jump from a discussion of ‘investment decisions’ to wishing South African cricket well, lurks between the lines of his statement? In a slightly clumsy way, Brey’s public relations firm are telling us here the competition’s perceived risk outweighed its benefits. Brimstone are guardians of public money. Bluntly put, the tournament was not a place where they felt money should be invested, because there was no immediate possibility of that investment paying dividends.
Irish made a similar point but in a different way. He was of the view that foreign ownership – particularly as some owners already own franchises in the Pakistan Super League or the IPL – made greater sense than did ownership from locals. Global franchise-owning moguls are able to centrally contract a squad of players and coaches, as well as ‘trade’ and cross-refer across several tournaments and in various corners of the globe. There are far more synergies, real and potential, if a foreign owner owns several franchises. Expertise and playing style can be concentrated under one brand and an owner can begin to accumulate intellectual capital.
It is far less obvious to see how the tournament might benefit a local owner.
Owners will not be pleased to know that the broadcast rights payday that will presumably add to their coffers is yet to be concluded.
SA Cricket magazine can confirm that CSA had to pay the International Management Group (IMG) $1-million to stop them taking legal action in reneging on CSA’s broadcast rights deal with them and had to pay Lagadere $350 000 for doing exactly the same. (IMG traditionally take CSA’s broadcast rights to market and Lagadere were the company CSA approached to sell the T20 Global League broadcast rights after they decided they’d do a better job than IMG.) This convoluted business took a further turn when Venu Nair, a former Lagadere employee, resigned in February. In April he formed Ortus Sports Management; Ortus (and Nair), with a handful of employees and no track record of broadcast rights sale, have been entrusted by the CSA to sell the new tournament’s broadcast rights internationally.
Locally, it is known that CSA and SuperSport are struggling to reach an agreement, with SuperSport arguing that the current rights’ agreement covers the T20 Global League; CSA argue differently, saying the new tournament needs a separate negotiation. As of mid-September, the two parties were at an impasse.
Where does this leave the local fan? Yes, the opportunity to see Alex Hales, Brendon McCullum or a returning Johan Botha in the flesh is a prospect worth saving money for, but attendances at live sport in general are dwindling. A ticket for the Springboks’ Test in October against the All Blacks set a fan back R950 and the once-proud Currie Cup is all but dead on its feet. Tickets for the T20 Global League are likely to be pricey and without a platform on SuperSport to drive interest and energy, the only way for fans to watch matches (if they aren’t televised) is to get themselves to the grounds.
This said, there are some significant names lurking in the fine-print after the recent draft and squad announcements. Stephen Fleming, a savvy limited-overs coach, has been named as coach of the Stellenbosch Kings, with well-respected names like Paddy Upton in charge of the Durban Qalandars. The tournament also gives coaching opportunities to stellar former players like Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, with Smith having landed the bonsella team in that he will be travelling to Benoni to coach the Zalmi. Thankfully, the gig only lasts six weeks. He’ll be back in Cape Town to spend time with his young family for Christmas.
The most germane question in all of this is to try to gauge what the effect will be on South African cricket. The Proteas had a poor winter in England, with the exception of their fine performance in the second Test at Trent Bridge, and cracks in the domestic edifice are obvious. Will the T20 Global League widen such cracks? Or will it usher in a host of young stars; stars capable of finally teaching more established players the art of playing successful T20 cricket? Only time will tell.
– This article first appeared in the October-December issue of SA Cricket Magazine, now on sale