A ring-fenced marquee fund to attract overseas players to the Big Bash League is under strong consideration by Cricket Australia as the governing body begins its debrief of a tournament that expanded enormously in 2018-19 while also raising numerous red flags in terms of crowds, broadcast audiences and scheduling.
BBL clubs and broadcasters are both adamant that more needs to be done to bring in major names such as AB de Villiers, Eoin Morgan and Andre Russell in an increasingly competitive global T20 marketplace, with each group raising the issue in recent weeks.
ESPNcricinfo understands that CA will explore the option of creating a separate marquee fund for overseas players, outside the general BBL salary cap of AUD1.77 million and similar to that used by the A-League in concert with Fox Sports. This would serve to close the yawning gap that has opened up in terms of potential remuneration for players coming to Australia relative to the Bangladesh Premier League and Pakistan Super League, to name but two of the competitions on the circuit.
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While any such fund is unlikely to be large enough as to compete dollar for dollar with other leagues that are defined by privately-run franchises and the deep pockets of many of their owners, the ability to offer international marquee names a contractual figure somewhat closer to those available elsewhere will bring in other pull factors such as Australia's weather and lifestyle that had attracted numerous high profile players in the past.
The questions of how the marquee fund would work, and how players would be distributed among the clubs - perhaps via the use of a draft based on finishing positions from the previous tournament - remain to be answered. CA's previous use of extra marketing funds to sweeten deals for the likes of Shane Warne and Kevin Pietersen has been raised by clubs, with the qualification that any new fund must apply more equitably to all.
Other areas in which the BBL will be the subject of plenty of review discussion will include its 60-day running time, a stretch that many players and coaches thought too long relative to the number of matches, not least the coach of the champion Melbourne Renegades team, Andrew McDonald.
"I think I have formed some strong views around it," McDonald told SEN Radio. "I think it went too long in terms of time frame. We saw it sort of peter out coming to the business end. I think it lifted again for the Grand Final but the semi-finals I think were sort of somehow lost. If you weren't probably working in the industry you didn't realise that they were on.
"I think the 14 games was magnificent. I think the opportunity that creates for the younger players, we see it in the IPL as well, where younger Indian players get an opportunity throughout a 14-game season, I think we saw that with the younger Australian players coming in, the Sam Harpers, the Mackenzie Harveys for us, and I think that's great that those guys are getting opportunities and that will accelerate their development and fast track them where they need to get to.
"I think there's a lot of positives that go with 14 games. We had a couple of seven, eight-day breaks that didn't make a lot of sense at the back end and made it difficult really to be fair. We sent players home, guys were going back to their home states for three or four days and coming back in. So we would have liked that accelerated a little bit at the back end."
Kim McConnie, the head of the BBL, said ahead of a final watched by 40,816 spectators and a combined average broadcast audience of 1.14 million that the Sydney and Melbourne markets both needed more attention. "The reason we shifted to a full home and away season was to make sure we are a sport for all Australians, and in order to be a sport for all Australians, you need to play in all parts of Australia," McConnie told The Age.
"We also knew that it wasn't going to be about average attendances. We also knew that it was going to take fans a while to catch up...that we'd end up with smaller crowds at some games. And we're OK with that. It's going to take us a couple of seasons to push that back up. Because this is only our eighth year, we've got the luxury of time.
"The challenges we see are in our two-team markets. As we look at it, there are a couple of isolated areas where in big major cities, we're just competing against so much more, it's a little bit harder for us to pick up that momentum. There's a little bit more work to do in Sydney and Melbourne to build the fan base back up again."
There is also a strong lobby by numerous clubs to change the finals series format from two semis and a final to a system whereby the top two teams get a double chance. "The finals is one of the things that we're going to review first," McConnie said. "We're going to see if this finals structure is the best structure. There's definitely momentum for the top team getting a second chance."