CA versus ACA: Who will blink first?

As Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers Association combat to get the better of each other, it is the belligerence, inherent in the DNA of Australian cricket, that both parties need to work around for the overall good of the sport.

Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland’s statement about “players with contracts expiring in 2016-17 will not have contracts for 2017-18” added fuel to an already raging fire in the CA versus ACA row.   -  Getty Images

It started in 2012. That year, a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Australian Cricketers Association (ACA) and Cricket Australia (CA) was drawn, which the then ACA Chief Executive, Paul Marsh, described as a "ground-breaking agreement."

The significant outcome for every category of the ACA included annual increase in the Player Payment Pool (PPP), with the association touted to receive 26% of the net 2015 World Cup revenue to fund a 'past player and game development legacy programme.'

"Under the new model, players are guaranteed a minimum of 24.5% and can earn, in any particular year, a maximum of 27%, depending on the performances of the Australian teams," the new MoU explainer said in August 2012.

It had even stuck to the revenue-sharing model, previously agreed upon in the 1997 MoU, where "men's and women's international players shared in up to $20 million of surplus revenue generated by the game's elite form, but players at domestic level are granted mandated pay increases."

The ACA-CA ties then seemed hunky dory Down Under.

The CA-ACA row

Three years later, Australia, led by Michael Clarke, lifted its fourth World Cup at home. The sight of Clarke's men, crowned and elated, was billed as a significant event in the annals of the game. Australian cricket had regained its mojo.

However, in 2017, Australia is No. 2 in the ICC ODI rankings, No. 3 in Test rankings and No. 7 in T20. The aura that once defined its style is on the wane and a 2-1 defeat in the Test series against India, and an early exit from this year's Champions Trophy reaffirms the hypothesis.

The MoU row between CA officials and the players has only worsened the situation and dented the goodwill of the country's cricket board. The players' contracts expire in over a weeks' time, and if an agreement isn't reached soon, some of world's top cricketers could be left searching for a new job.

James Sutherland, the CEO of Cricket Australia, wrote, "CA is not contemplating alternative contracting arrangements to pay players beyond June 30 if their contracts have expired. In the absence of the ACA negotiating a new MoU, players with contracts expiring in 2016-17 will not have contracts for 2017-18." This added fuel to an already raging fire.

Last year, the ACA had rejected CA's initial proposal, which claimed that the prevailing MoU had "served its purpose" and a change was necessary to ameliorate the "contemporary needs of the game in 2017 and beyond."

While rubbishing the ACA's stand, Sutherland, who has been at the receiving end of the association's ire, wrote, "I understand that some (players) have been made to feel that accepting the relatively minor but necessary changes to the existing pay model, while being paid more, would somehow be 'letting the side down. This is nonsense."

Pretty on face value

CA's new pay proposal, though, looks enterprising, at least going by its face value. According to CA, this new model will increase total player payments up to $419m – 35% more than the $311m being offered now.

A record "$227m revenue will be shared with domestic players compared to $154m in the current MoU," and a 42% pay increase for the Big Bash League (BBL) players in the next MoU. This, despite CA declaring that the BBL had lost $33m in its first five years.

Former Australian cricketer Simon Katich, appalled as he was by this claim, was quoted as saying, "The claims that CA has managed to lose money on the biggest success story in world cricket must be independently investigated."

"Record crowds, record ratings, record sponsorships and merchandising sales each and every year, yet CA are claiming a loss. It defies logic and good business sense," he added.

Former Australian cricketer Simon Katich has asked for investigation into Cricket Australia's claim of losing money from the first five seasons of Big Bash League.   -  K. Bhagya Prakash

 

The purported loss of revenue also raises eyebrows, especially if one takes into account the cash flow into CA's coffers immediately after the BCCI scrapped the Champions League Twenty20 competition two years ago. Media reports indicated at "a collective compensatory figure of $300m" to India, Australia and South Africa by broadcasters Star Sports, for exiting the league.

Whether the players really deserve a share of the revenue from the sponsorship deals is open to deliberation, the details hidden in the labyrinth of numbers make the situation indiscernible.

ACA's win-win formula

Meanwhile, the ACA, in its response to CA's Remuneration and Benefits Proposal, has accused the latter of failing to "allocate with transparency or certainty the independently forecasted $2.6 billion which is expected by the ACA to enter cricket over the next five years."

It adds: "The CA proposal is not revenue sharing. As such CA are ending the 20-year successful partnership between players and administrators."

Instead, the ACA proposes what it calls an 'ACA win-win solution'. The model prioritises investment in grassroots cricket, channeling 22.5% of the revenues into its promotion while allocating a set share of 22.5% of the revenue to both domestic and international players and their programmes.

The rest 55% will remain with CA to facilitate "cricket administration over and above player payments and protected grassroots investment."

The distribution comes on the back of Sutherland's assertion that "Grassroots cricket (in Australia) needs up to $30 million immediately and much more in the long run if the game is not to wither in Australia."

For long now, the cricket board has premised its new model on holistic development of the game all over Australia, with Sutherland claiming that the ACA "seeks to inappropriately expand its role as a players' representative body into that of a de facto administrator."

The Cricketers' Brand

In the meantime, the ACA is also rolling out its new venture – ‘The Cricketers’ Brand (TCB),’ a business for managing and commercialising Australia’s male and female cricketers’ intellectual property (IP) rights.

"Under the current model, the Player Payment Pool (PPP) receives 20 cents in the dollar. The PPP doesn’t just fund player payments, it also funds various programmes, player terms and conditions and the ACA itself," ACA spokesman told Sportstar.

While presenting its MoU last year, CA had outlined that a share of the PPP ($4.1 million) is used to fund the ACA, on top of a further $4.3 million – paid directly by CA to the ACA over a period of five years. If these negotiations were to fall sideways, the ACA could suddenly find itself without a benefactor. Last year, the Board went to the extent of questioning the "appropriateness of CA directly funding the ACA."

Tim Cruikshank, General Manager, TCB, confirmed, "The ACA has been funded partly by CA during the current MoU which provides protection to CA partners by restricting the ACA in the commercial space. This provides a certain level of protection to CA partners."

ACA to bankroll itself

"CA has made it clear they will no longer fund the ACA moving forward which exposes their partners' exclusivity in Australian Cricket. TCB then provides an opportunity for players to receive a fair share in revenue streams generated off the back of their IP use, but also helps the ACA build a self-sufficient funding model," Cruikshank added.

The players' IP includes marketing and media rights such as use of a players’ name, voice, signature, trade mark, image, likeness or performance and player interviews etc. However, most Australian cricketers, both international and domestic, are managed by agents who act as mediators for a slew of deals that the players sign during their playing days. But the introduction of a collective agent in the form of TCB could draw a wedge between the player and the manager.

Neil Maxwell, who works with some of the top Australian cricketers such as Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, disagreed. “Players are still aligned with their respective management teams. The ACA will only act on behalf of the collective and drive any commercial arrangements in respect to a group of players.

"It opens the door for brands that might want five, six or 10 Australian cricketers to appear in a campaign to be sourced through one entity, the ACA,” he explained.

Although there have been no discussions (between CA and the agents) on player IP, Maxwell clarified, "The ACA spoke to us (agents) prior to announcing anything. The players signed over their individual rights to them so that they could represent the players (as a collective)."

Recently, the ACA had come out with a startling revelation that "Australian cricketers have thus far been allocated approximately 0% of the digital media revenue received by Cricket Australia (publicly reported to be worth approximately $40m over five years)."

Cruikshank said: "The players have previously signed over a lot of their rights as part of their playing contracts. This did not include digital rights during the current MoU. As the digital space continues to grow so quickly, the TCB will make sure the players are remunerated for their IP use in this area."

The revenue generated by CA from 2011-2017 is $2 billion, and while $40m in digital earnings may only be 2% of the overall windfall, the TCB presents itself as a fail-safe option for the players. And Cruikshank said as much, "The main purpose is for the players to receive a fair share in the revenue streams they influence so substantially. A sponsorship deal loses a lot of value without the intellectual property of the players.

"It presents a great opportunity for these partners to work closely with the players to help the game grow whilst also receiving a strong return on their investment."

With the fate of the CA-ACA wrangle still hanging in the balance, The Cricketers' Brand initiative must bring relief to the players, as a rigid commercial framework for their image rights has been a long time in the waiting.

What can we expect?

Both parties have refused to budge so far, and with Australia's Sports Minister, Greg Hunt, agreeing to mediate only "if it got to a last-minute situation", the end to this spiralling disagreement seems anything but close.

Australia, in its halcyon days, was well known for steamrolling its opposition – the great machismo in the style being a highlight of its unbridled success. As the ACA and CA combat to get the better of each other, it is the belligerence, inherent in the DNA of Australian cricket, that both parties need to work around for the overall good of the sport.

Clearly, the battle lines are drawn.