Australian Twenty20 teams on the market
Australian cricket is on the "dance floor" of private ownership after Cricket Australia's board opened the way for the part sale of two Twenty20 franchises to outside investors. James Sutherland, the CA chief executive, confirmed the decision following a two-day board meeting at which the pressing issues of the 2011-12 Big Bash League loomed large.
A stalemate between CA and its players over pay issues remains a major stumbling block, and Sutherland could not yet say which of the teams - one each in Sydney and Melbourne - would be put up for sale. Nonetheless, the formal decision to seek private investors, either in Australia or overseas, was highly significant for the game.
There had been whispers of discontent among prospective buyers, some based in India, about financial and team modelling surrounding the sales, but Sutherland said administrators were now confident the move would meet with success. Money derived from the sales, with figures mentioned in the tens of millions, would come back to CA and then be distributed according to the wishes of board directors.
"It's fair to say we wouldn't be making these decisions today if we didn't have a level of comfort or anticipation about that," Sutherland said of the 49% model. "We might be on the dance floor but there are things that need to be put in writing and signed off on in order for those deals to come to fruition and that's really the stage that we're at.
"The board arrived at a decision this was an appropriate step to take bearing in mind the focus we need to have on the launch of the BBL, bearing in mind the levels of interest we are seeing from potential private investors, and just trying to balance all those things. We believe it's appropriate to put our toe in the water."
That toe will be protected by plenty of terms and conditions, designed to prevent the kind of circus atmosphere that prevails in the Indian Premier League. Shane Warne's revelations that he threatened to quit Rajasthan prior to the tournament's first edition unless given full control of team selection will not be mirrored in Australia.
"There's no doubt CA and the state associations are very concious of ensuring control of the game and the teams rests with the respective state associations and that's why the board's resolved to sell to allow private investment of up to 49%," Sutherland said. "That said ultimately it becomes an investment proposition we put to respective buyers, and there will ultimately be some sort of term sheet that a buyer needs to consider. We've got strong ideas on value, and not just in terms of dollars, but also other terms and conditions - there are some things that are not negotiable."
Negotiations on the MOU between the board and the players have proceeded even though neither party has shown an inclination to change its position, but Sutherland said the best chance of resolution lay in the healthy relationship that exists between CA and the Australian Cricketers Association. His optimism will be tempered by the shrinking amount of time left to reach agreements before player contracts expire on June 30.
"My sense having spoken to Paul (Marsh, the ACA chief executive) a number of times over the last couple of weeks is that there is a sense of goodwill on both sides to try to find a way through things and certainly our board is of that mindset," Sutherland said. "How those issues get resolved or unfold is really something that Paul and I and others from our respective teams need to work through, and we will I'm sure.
"I don't really have any firm timeframe, obviously the sooner the better, but I'm confident there's enough goodwill on both sides to find a way through this. We both need each other, we know we need a positive outcome and resolution, we'd like to have Australian players, state players and BBL players contracted as soon as possible."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo