Zimbabwe's return to Test cricket was a success on the field, but it will take at least "five to ten years" to have the same effect on the board's bank balance. Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) will incur over US$2 million in losses as they re-enter into the game's premier format this summer.
ZC are hosting three tours in the space of five months, playing one Test against each of Bangladesh, Pakistan and New Zealand and a bigger number ODIs and Twenty20 matches. "It costs us around $1.1 million to host a tour," Ozias Bvute, managing director of Zimbabwe Cricket told ESPNcricinfo. "We only earn about $200,000 from TV rights, although it will be slightly less against New Zealand, and about $150,000 from sponsorship." The deficit, of around $750,000 per tour, is made up through loans from local banks, who allow ZC to repay them over an extended period.
Given the rate at which cricket is growing in the country, Bvute believes it will take up to a decade for the debt to be cleared and for ZC to start making profits. "It's a really vicious cycle," an insider said. "We have to get more sponsorship, but the only way we can do that is by playing and winning and we can't play any more if we don't have the money to have more series."
Cricket boards only earn money when they are hosting and Zimbabwe have calculate that only the hosting of India or England will result in a profit, because of the sums of the amount they can make in broadcasting rights, but even that is not an easy option for them. "England have a policy that they don't tour Zimbabwe and India are not available to come very often, so that makes it hard," the insider said.
Instead, ZC has had to find ways to attract more sponsorship from local sources which they have done by presenting them with a bigger market to advertise to. "In order for cricket to be sustainable, we needed people to participate," Bvute said. "So now that we have both black and white supporters watching cricket and attending matches we can work on creating a commodity that is financially viable." There are signs of that already happening, with the domestic twenty-over competition almost breaking even, suffering only "minute losses of about US$80,000".
The introduction of the franchise system two seasons ago has been an essential part of ZC's attempt at financial revival because it has allowed for 100 cricketers in the country to earn salaries. The ZC supplies the five franchises with grants to contract 20 players each, although often for small amounts. Another source revealed that a franchise rookie contract is worth $200-300 a month and that the senior players earn around $5000 a month, but national players can expect to earn more than that once central contracts come into effect.
Wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu raised the issue of no national contracts and the ZC have said they will address the situation by awarding contracts for 12 core players at the start of the domestic season, when franchise contracts come up for renegotiation.
The other major concern is the non-payment of match fees, another matter brought up by Taibu in his criticism of the administration. "There is a provision in the player contracts that says we can pay match fees up until 180 days after a tour," Bvute said. Taibu indicated that match fees had not been paid in a period longer than the stipulated six months, with some players still waiting for their money from the series in Bangladesh that was played in December last year. The board is aware of the problem and Bvute said that they "hope to be able to pay all our players as soon as we can".
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent