In a surprise about-turn, Cricket South Africa's (CSA) board has reverted to its original idea of a privately owned franchise T20 competition and will now engage the current owners in the Global T20 League to determine whether the tournament is still feasible.
The eight owners - of whom three are IPL franchise owners, two are PSL franchise owners, and only one is South African - have had scant communication with CSA since the inaugural edition of the tournament was postponed in October last year. At the time, some of them expressed their support for CSA and willingness to stay involved with the tournament but since then, the uncertainty over the future of the tournament has left owners concerned. All eight paid a refundable deposit of USD 250,000 for their successful team bids, money that has been in CSA's coffers, and were concerned about their cash as well as their future involvement.
The prospect of a collective claim from the owners, which would include an amount for losses should the league not go on as originally conceived, was one of the reasons CSA has decided to embark on further discussions with the existing owners to determine if a league is still viable.
The decision was made at a joint sitting of the CSA board and members' council which took place at a luxury golf estate 40km north of Kingsmead on Saturday, but it does not provide a guarantee that the T20 Global League will go ahead.
A final decision will only be made once CSA have tested the tournament's "financial viability in both local and international markets". An eight-member task team that includes acting board CEO Thabang Moroe, CFO Naasei Appiah, three member presidents and three member CEOs will present their findings to the members' council at the end of March, when a final decision on the tournament's future will be taken.
That will bring to six the number of months CSA has spent trying to get its own T20 tournament off the ground after postponing it last October when it was estimated that the inaugural season would lose USD 25 million. At the time, it was suggested that the absence of a broadcaster and a title sponsor were the main reasons CSA could not pull off the tournament after parting ways with former CEO Haroon Lorgat in late September. The GLT20 was Lorgat's brainchild but he was accused of not keeping the board fully apprised of developments. That, and his non-existent relationship with the CFO, with whom he was not even on speaking terms, ultimately led to Lorgat's position becoming untenable.
Post-Lorgat, CSA has tried to come up with a different business model for the T20 Global League. In February, the members' council was presented with a proposal for a move away from private ownership and towards a CSA-owned-and-run league, which would include transformation targets and minimal overseas representation. The members' council rejected the idea fearing mainly for the state of the six-franchise and 13-provincial domestic game if CSA was to own a separate T20 competition. Other options have included selling the league in its entirety and ESPNcricinfo understands that one of the proposals put to CSA was a joint bid by SuperSport, the South African broadcaster which holds the hosting rights to cricket in the country, one of the eight franchise owners, and an Indian businessman to buy out the league.
While it is not known how seriously CSA is considering the offer, negotiations with SuperSport will still be crucial to the future of any new tournament. In South Africa, SuperSport is the only viable broadcast partner for CSA, and had offered it much less than Lorgat wanted to buy rights to the T20 Global League for last year. Though Lorgat travelled to India to try and pursue another deal, it is unlikely broadcasters from the country would be overly interested in holding rights to a tournament that does not feature any India players. In December, CSA said it was engaging in talks with the BCCI about the possibility of Indian players being made available for the T20 Global League but the tournament's window - November-December - clashes with the Indian home season, so it is unlikely that will happen in the near future.
Without a significant broadcast deal, the T20 Global League would be unsustainable for CSA, which speaks to the need for the task team to engage with SuperSport to determine what kind of deal can be struck. Then, they would need to evaluate costs like the player salary bill - which cost CSA the bulk of the USD 14 million it lost on the postponed event - and gauge the appetite for the tournament before deciding whether to go ahead. South Africa's players are still hopeful of the event taking place and see it as crucial to ensuring job security in years to come.