Cricket Australia's financial wish-list revealed
An in-house media unit and game-development staff, major infrastructure investment, a 150% rise in women's pay, and a virtual freeze of domestic men's pay levels are on Cricket Australia's pay proposal to the Australian Cricketers Association
An in-house media unit and game-development staff to rival the Australian Football League, major infrastructure investment, a 150% rise in women's pay, and a virtual freeze of domestic men's pay levels. These are among the key items on Cricket Australia's (CA) wish-list under its pay proposal to the Australian Cricketers Association (ACA), in exchange for breaking up the fixed-revenue percentage model that has remained in place for the past 20 years - the most prosperous two decades in Australian cricket's history.
As MOU negotiations continue ahead of the June 30 deadline, ESPNcricinfo has seen the full pay offer put to the players by the board, which outlines the landscape that CA wishes to create by radically altering its existing partnership with the ACA. The board's rivalry with the AFL for players and supporters is writ large across much of the 29-page proposal, with the league currently embroiled in a parallel pay dispute as footballers chase their own fixed-percentage model.
Though CA has publicly pushed the vast increase in pay for female cricketers as the keynote of its offer - backed up by a series of supportive statements from state associations - its full proposal spends a great deal of time outlining realms the board claims it cannot fund due to the fixed-revenue share model. While the ACA has contended that the board currently gets 80 cents in the dollar to spend on "whatever it likes", the areas in which CA have effectively "cried poor" include:
- Further growth of CA's in-house media unit, which expanded vastly over the past four years via a AUD 60 million (USD 45mn approx) digital component of the board's current television rights deal, plus around AUD 15 million (USD 11mn approx) tipped in by the telecommunications company Optus in 2015. AFL Media, housed across town from CA's Jolimont headquarters, employs more than 100 staff, far in advance of CA's digital arm.
The document states: "CA is currently precluded from considering increased in-house media production, because the current revenue-share model would see a share of any increased media revenue allocated to the PPP [player payment pool] without offsetting any of the additional investment that was required."
- Increasing the number of game-development staff around Australia from 170 to 290, again closing the gap with the AFL's network of more than 450 employed in equivalent roles. CA estimates that this expansion would cost in the order of AUD 17 (USD 13mn approx) million annually.
- Addressing issues being raised by the first national audit of Australian cricket infrastructure, a process in its final stages of assessing around 6,000 facilities. While the full audit is yet to be released, CA's offer states that "early indications suggest perhaps 75% of facilities do not yet have female-appropriate amenities". In all, CA has estimated up to AUD 76 million (USD 57mn approx) in funds could be reallocated to "grassroots" investment under its proposal.
- Removing CA's requirement to pass on percentages of revenue drawn from areas such as state sponsorship deals and also providing a cash equivalent to the players for "contra", the practice of providing free television advertising for cricket on the Nine and Ten networks rather than the networks paying the full amount of any broadcast rights deal.
- The pursuing of other commercial "growth initiatives with returns that would be attractive to other organisations" that the board claims it cannot currently undertake because the break-even margin is too high after the players' percentage is taken out.
As first flagged in its initial submission to the players last December, CA's offer contends that while the wages of female cricketers and also international men deserve to rise significantly, those of domestic male players - in both the Sheffield Shield and Matador Cup competitions plus the Big Bash League - have been growing at unsustainable pace.
Having outlined how average state retainer contracts have grown from AUD 50,000 (USD 38,000 approx) in 2011-12 to AUD 87,000 (USD 66,000 approx) in 2016-17, CA proposes to offer only another AUD 1,000 (USD 750 approx) to these contracts next summer, and just AUD 6,000 (USD 4500 approx) overall across the five years covered by the proposed MOU period. Average match fee totals would go from AUD 58,000 (USD 44,000 approx) per player in 2016-17 to AUD 62,000 (USD 47,000 approx) in 2021-22. Similarly, BBL contracts would creep from an average of AUD 78,000 (USD 59,000 approx) in 2016-17 to AUD 104,000 (USD 79,000 approx) by the conclusion of the agreement.
By combining state and BBL figures, CA claims that its domestic wages are now "higher than the NRL [National Rugby League] and growing towards the level of the AFL in 2016" - average AFL salaries were calculated at AUD 300,000 (USD 200,000 approx) and NRL AUD 244,000 (USD 185,000 approx) last year. However not every state player has a BBL contract: for instance neither this season's highest Sheffield Shield run-maker Ed Cowan, nor the highest wicket-taker Chadd Sayers, played any part.
This dramatic slowing of domestic player wage growth is justified by CA's statement that "domestic cricket (i.e. men's and women's BBL and state cricket) is not expected to deliver any significant financial surplus in the next MOU period". The offer goes on to state domestic wages will be "effectively funded by sharing the international cricket financial surplus with domestic players".
It is a forecast that contrasts wildly with common estimates of the extra money expected to be pulled in by the standout success of the BBL on free-to-air television over the past four years. The Ten Network paid AUD 20 million (USD 15mn approx) a season up to AUD 100 million (USD 75mn approx) over five years for the tournament, a deal that will expire in 2018, one year into the proposed MOU period.
Estimates of the figure likely to be fetched by CA for the next domestic BBL rights deal have risen as high as AUD 60 million (USD 45mn approx) a season for a total of AUD 300 million (USD 227mn approx). This is without mentioning the domestic and overseas rights deals to be negotiated around the same period. Nine paid just under AUD 500 million (USD 379mn approx) for international cricket in 2013.
While talks between CA and the ACA have resumed after a public breakdown in negotiations last December, the players have appeared unmoved in their opposition to the current proposal. The ACA's chief executive, Alistair Nicholson, said as much last week.
"We've spent a lot of time with the players talking about what's coming," he told the Australian. "And now what's been coming has come, I'm confident that the players have a good understanding of the issues and are determined not to settle for anything other than what has given the game success over 20 years."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig