Franchise Cricket Threatens the Whole Structure of the Modern Game

Money makes the world go round and cricket cannot escape it. The recent IPL broadcasting deal has meant that a single IPL match carries the second highest value of any single sports match behind the NFL. That is mental. We are now dealing with games of cricket in monetary terms that have been unheard of throughout the entire history of the game. And it now means private ownership is taking over the game.

It has now been reported that all of the six franchises in the up-coming South African T20 league have been bought by owners of IPL sides. This shows the clear state of cricket boards and their funding. They are realising that private ownership is the most efficient way to inject money into their game, attract the best players with this money and then market these best players to make money from spectators, advertising and TV rights. However private ownership means that boards lose control of their schedule to plcate these investors. No one has the interest or capital to out-bid the owners of the IPL sides, as shown in the South African deals and these owners will eat into the property of the boards.

South Africa forfeited a three match ODI series vs Australia, threatening their automatic qualification for the next World Cup, to prioritise this domestic T20 tournament. This also jeopardises their relationship with Cricket Australia who will have lost a significant amount of income from the ticket sales and broadcasting rights of this series, especially considering that this new South African franchise league, as well as another in the United Arab Emirates, are in direct competition with the Australian Big Bash.

So what we are seeing is cricket boards moving away from relationships between each other and towards private owners. This will dilute the power of the big-three nations: India, England and Australia, but place it into the hands of owners who are more likely to sacrifice the traditions of international Test Match and ODI cricket in favour for their own T20 leagues. There’s the possibility that an owner of an IPL side could invest in numerous franchise sides in different leagues and essentially have a year long IPL…

The Knight Riders Group, originally from Kolkata, now has a Caribbean franchise in Trinidad and Tobago, a Los Angeles franchise in the planned Major League Cricket, and they have also been in conversations with the UAE T20 League for a Abu Dhabi franchise as well. A player could play in the UAE for Abu Dhabi Knight Riders in December and Jan, then in India for KKR in April and May, in LA in June and July, and finally in the CPL for Trinbago in September. No doubt at some point they join up September and December for a whole 12 month cycle, all for one franchise, one coaching and backroom staff, one XI. Unfortunately the boards won’t be able to compete and they will lose their players.

Ultimately, players are going to go towards whoever will pay them the most. David Warner has expressed interest in playing in the UAE league rather than playing in his home country’s Big Bash. And you can’t blame them for it because at the end of the day it’s their career and they have dependents relying on them. Plus, especially with non big-three nations, there isn’t a lot of money in the game if those players decide not to play franchise cricket; Michael Holding tells a story that the first time he ever saw a comma in his bank account was when he played in Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket.

Money has controlled the game for years but the rise of franchise cricket places pressure on any other form of cricket, especially the 50 over game. The Royal London One Day Cup has been relegated to a 2nd XI tournament that is out of the public eye and countries have had no issue backing out of an ODI series. The ICC Super League is a failing attempt to revive interest in this format.

Test Match Cricket is also at risk. It’s very well reported that for the big nations, matches against smaller ones make less money. Ravi Shastri’s comments that only the Top 6 nations should play Test Cricket shows how money is changing the match. There’s potential for the big 3 to alternate in Test Match series between their franchise leagues and disregard the smaller nations. We are quickly heading towards T20 Cricket being the face of cricket, with Test Matches being an annual revival of an archaic tradition.

Cricket is making more money than it ever has before and has shown no sign of slowing down. In the past, this money has gone to players and boards to do as they see fit. Part of this is distributing it into grassroots and pathways to develop new players and improve facilities for the everyman of cricket. With private ownership and the ruthless nature of rampant capitalism, will money trickle down? Or is it more likely that the gap between the wealth of the professional game and the amateur game widens, disenfranchising people that have played cricket every Saturday for years, and threatening the talent pool and growth of our beautiful game?

Thomas Rose

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