Australia's men's cricket teams have managed to attract a new corporate naming rights sponsor two months after the Newlands ball-tampering fiasco, with Alinta signing on at a time that the emerging energy company is looking for some more positive press of its own.
While its owners are Hong Kong-based, Alinta has a long history as a West Australian brand, and has signed on for four years to be the major partner for the Test, ODI and Twenty20 teams, with their logo to sit on the players' shirts. They replace Qantas, which signed a short-term, cut price deal with Cricket Australia for the same rights last summer in the absence of any other bidders.
Following the signing of a six-year, AUD 1.18 billion (USD 892 million approximately) broadcast rights deal with Fox Sports and Channel Seven, Alinta's signature is another step away from the ball tampering scandal by CA, after it lost the AUD 24 million Test series naming rights sponsor Magellan immediately after the Cape Town Test on the basis that the actions of the team were "so inconsistent with our values". Commonwealth Bank had also distanced itself from the men's team in 2017, allowing Qantas to step in - the airline will still sponsor next month's limited overs tours of England and Zimbabwe.
Talks with Alinta are thought to have taken place either side of Newlands, with the move of two-thirds of international formats behind the Fox Sports paywall under the new broadcast deal also believed to have been a variable in CA's sponsorship asking price. This means that only the Test team will showcase Alinta's branding to the vastly larger free-to-air audience. An additional component of the deal is sponsorship of CA's MyCricket digital platform, which hosts statistics and details for grassroots clubs nationwide.
"Certainly I think what happened in South Africa jolted all of us in one way or another, and certainly our current and prospective sponsors and partners were understandably upset about it," the CA chief executive James Sutherland said in Perth. "So from that perspective it was cause for conversations with various parties, but Alinta have been fantastic all the way through. We were already in deep conversations at the time and I can only commend the management team at Alinta.
"It's certainly not any difference in terms of [sponsorship] value. We've restructured our sponsorship portfolio a little bit where there's exclusive sponsorship of the Test series, exclusive sponsorship of the one day and T20 series and then separately this is effectively a new product. Qantas were on the shirt last year, but Alinta are coming into this role as a four-year partner."
Alinta's managing director and chief executive, Jeff Dimery, described Australian cricket as an "institution". "This is an exciting moment for Alinta Energy. This partnership reflects our growth into a national energy player and gives us a great opportunity to take our message around more affordable energy further than ever before," he said. "Australian cricket is an institution that will continue to engage and inspire us, and we're proud to be backing the sport from the community to elite level for the next four years."
Dimery was formerly employed by the fellow energy company AGL, owner of the coal-based Liddell power station in New South Wales, which was this week subject to a rejected bid of AUD 250 million from Alinta to continue its operations. AGL has flagged that it will shut down the power station by 2022.
In South Australia, Alinta had previously shut down the Northern and Playford B power stations in Port Augusta in May 2016, causing consternation over the suddenness of the closure. Initially, the company had indicated that the Northern plant had another 15 years of operations left in its lifespan beyond 2015, before announcing it would be shut in 2018 and then shortening that to 2016.
There have been issues around the closed plants this year, with local residents flagging health problems related to the dust and ash stirred up by the plants' closure and demolition last month. A new company, Flinders Power, was cleaved from Alinta to deal with the process of closure and "remediation" of the area to its former state. Dimery, when questioned by the ABC's 730 program, said Flinders Power had been well-funded to complete the process but ruled out irrigation of the land as "uneconomic".
"I'm not sure what the big issue is but it's between $200 million and $300 million," Dimery told the ABC. "Alinta have played a really responsible role in rehabilitating and restoring the site, great progress has been made. It's uneconomic to irrigate the site. I mean natural rain will take care of it. We've had an unusually dry period."