By Ken Jacobs
As Cricket Australia (CA) moves towards its two largest test matches of the summer headed by the Boxing Day test in Melbourne, Directors and senior management will have little time to reflect on their “hat-trick” of key decisions taken in 2011 that will shape the way cricket is played, and managed, in Australia in the years ahead.
First, has been the Argus Review into the performance of the Australian team following the disastrous home Ashes Series in 2010/11 which followed hot on the heels of the 2009 Ashes defeat in England.
The Argus Review contains some 51 recommendations, many of which have already been implemented with a new coach, captain and selection committee together with a restructuring of the management structure around the team.
Whilst much of the report is rightly directed at the elite level, deep within are also a series of recommendations aimed at recognizing grade/club cricket as a vital part of the pathway system, as well as the “grass roots” or community cricket competitions.
Despite claims of cricket being Australia’s most popular sport (this is very much debatable be it across attendances, levels of sponsorship, media rights etc), the levels of people actually playing the game are, and should be, of concern to CA.
I specifically refer to “playing” as against “participating” which is the overarching description used by CA to promote the numbers involved in the sport. CA’s census of 2010/11 indicated that were some 850,155 indoor and outdoor participants involved in the sport as distinct from regular players in the sense that all understand.
Participants include those involved in modified forms of cricket, social cricket, and introductory forms of the game for children aged 5-10 years – entry level participation accounted for 19.22% of the total. In fact, of the 850,155 only 317,309 were regular or traditional club cricketers! And, herein lies the challenge!
Even more concerning are reports of the loss of players (as distinct from participants) in the current season with some reports indicating as much as a 15% decline in 2011/12 and below targets level for the IN2CRICKET programme.
The message to CA is clear - fix the top levels of the cricket structure by all means but ignore club cricket at your peril and take heed of advice from people running the grass-roots game on a volunteer basis!
The second leg of the hat-trick has been the Crawford /Carter Governance Review of CA.
If adopted in its entirety, the majority of the current Board of directors will be serving their last season as a Director of Cricket Australia. It is proposed that the current Board of 14 will be replaced by a Board of 9, which will probably see one Director coming from each State and three independent Directors.
The shareholders of CA are, in fact, the 6 State cricket Associations who must approve or reject the proposed changes to the CA constitution no later than February 15th 2012. If adopted, CA CEO James Sutherland would also be appointed to the Board as an Executive Director.
The key for State Associations may well be the outcome of a review of the financial structure and distribution model which has been conducted concurrently with the governance review. Interestingly, the financial review has been conducted “in-house” by CA Directors!
Clearly the debate will continue to rage about the merits of the governance changes as recommended which will most certainly see more centralization of power. Notwithstanding valid claims of conflicts of interest in the current system, the “system” has, nonetheless, worked pretty well over many years.
The third and, possibly, most vital act is, of course, the introduction of the new Big Bash League (BBL) T20 competition (launched on December 16th). This competition comprises 8 new franchises (compared to 6 in the previous Big Bash) with players crisscrossing the country to ply their trade and each franchise topped up by a couple of internationals (but no Indian players!).
The strategy behind the BBL is aimed at young families in an effort to attract them to the game of cricket as participants, spectators or “consumers” of the sport. The second target is clearly a new media rights deal for CA in 2 years time with the BBL becoming one of their most valuable assets.
Already television ratings have been very encouraging; although, not necessarily matched by the somewhat underwhelming live attendances given the promotional efforts on the back of the return of Shane Warne. (This could well change in the holiday period in January).
The new BBL has been a tough market for the franchises to secure sponsors and members. It has been an expensive exercise for Australian cricket with estimates of $11-15million being pumped into the start-up phase but, it is early days yet. CA and the 6 State Associations who own the franchises are not anticipating profits being made in year 1.
So, as they enjoy the spoils of the festive season (and, hopefully, some good Test cricket), the Directors of CA and their senior management team may consider these recent decisions and whether they will, in fact, take Australian cricket into another golden era!
About Ken Jacobs:
Ken Jacobs has many years of experience operating in the sports and leisure industry across a range of issues relevant to the sports business sector at local, national and international levels.
From 1980-2007 he managed significant growth in one of Victoria’s leading sports as CEO of Cricket Victoria. During this period Ken was responsible for the management of an increase in participation levels from 100,000 to 185,000 across 1100 cricket clubs in Victoria and a growth in revenue from $500k to $25million. He was also responsible for the implementation of Cricket Victoria’s renowned local government and volunteer recognition programs and the implementation of its first strategic plan. This period also included management and promotion of the iconic Boxing Day Test match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground which has been recognised by the State Government as one of the State’s marquee events
From February –May 2007 Ken was engaged by the International Cricket Council as Event Manager for the staging of cricket’s World Cup in the Caribbean region.
The growth in the business of cricket has been replicated across sport generally which includes an increase in employment in the sports sector, an increasing involvement of government at local, state and federal levels which has coincided with increasing commitment in the funding and promotion of sport.
Ken is a qualified accountant (FCPA),is a member of the Australia New Zealand Sports Law Association and has an extensive network of high level sport, government, commercial and media contacts to ensure clients receive the desired outcomes. Ken was awarded The Medal of the Order of Australia on Australia Day 2009 in recognition of his contribution to cricket and the community.