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Big Bash League 2015-16: Multi-million-dollar franchises. Now's the time to privatise, argues players' chief

Cricket Australia should revisit the concept of privatising the Big Bash League and use the cash windfall to invest in the future of the "main game" - Test and first-class cricket.

That is the view of Australian players' chief Greg Dyer, who shares the opinion expressed by international players' union boss Tony Irish this week that the ICC must act urgently to halt the loss of international players to Twenty20 tournaments.

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CA explored a private ownership model before the competition was set up in its present guise in 2011, with the eight franchises valued at $50 million each and various suitors in India said to be prepared to pay $26m for a 49 per cent stake. Later, a consortium involving Sydney-based businessman Darshak Mehta was willing to stump up $5m for a 49 per cent share in the Sydney Sixers but learnt that was well short of the asking price. 

Despite the potential riches, CA on Tuesday reaffirmed its intention not to go down that path, having abandoned privatisation plans five years ago and stuck with a model of franchises being owned by the states. Dyer, the president of the Australian Cricketers' Association, is adamant they should reconsider their position, arguing now is the time to strike. 

Michael Lumb of the Sixers celebrates catching Glenn Maxwell of the Stars on Sunday. The Sixers lost that game and will ...
Time to cash in: There has been a call to privatise Big Bash teams. Photo: Getty Images

"You effectively swap future revenues for a current capital inflow and you pick your moment when the value of that particular asset is at its maximum," Dyer said on Tuesday.

"And arguably, in light of this very, very successful Big Bash League summer series, the value to an external investor is as high as its ever likely to be. It's certainly worth a lot more now than it was five years ago just given the success in terms of audience numbers and television viewing and the like.

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"I would encourage either a complete privatisation or a partial privatisation of the franchises. What it does, it potentially throws off a massive amount of capital ... I say that number can be invested back into the primary sport of cricket.

"You use it to develop the women's game, you use it to further develop the men's game from the grassroots up and you use a substantial portion of it to solidify Test and Sheffield Shield cricket, which is what your primary purpose should be.

"It would deliver a massive capital inflow to cricket, which could be used to support the main game. Big Bash and T20 will either be the death or saving of Test cricket and the longer forms."

Dyer said a private ownership model would have to include strict franchise relationships to avoid the kind of issues that emerged in the IPL with its corruption scandal in 2013. Unlike the 10-year licences offered initially by CA, he said prospective owners should be offered permanency and transferability.

The BBL is televised live into India on Star Sports, but it does not feature any Indian players.

CA's opposition to the proposal of the players' chief is multi-faceted. It flirted heavily with the idea of selling off teams when a delegation comprised of Cricket NSW chairman Harry Harinath, Cricket Victoria chair Geoff Tamblyn, CA commercial chief Mike McKenna and then strategy guru Andrew Jones met with prospective buyers in Mumbai and Delhi in 2011. 

Joining them were reps from Credit Suisse, who had been given the rights to sell minority stakes in the teams.

There were states who were keen to cash in, particularly given the embryonic state of the BBL and the scepticism about its long-term viability, but CA baulked at the idea for various reasons. Principally, it did not want to engage in a revenue-sharing model with owners, as happens in the Indian Premier League, where franchises receive a sizeable ongoing piece of television rights and sponsorship income.

It also foresaw other major problems and were wary of franchises effectively becoming offshoots of IPL teams rather than engaging in local development as the likes of the Sixers and Sydney Thunder are required to do.  

"You can imagine having privatised teams and those owners, whether they have 49 per cent or more, want to take profit from that," McKenna said on Tuesday. 

"That is money that could otherwise be going back into cricket. There is a risk it could put at risk our not-for-profit status and one of the key factors that helps us run the Big Bash and international cricket side by side is the programming.

"You can imagine if you had wealthy owners with a stake in a competition who had different views, how that might compromise what you're doing to help protect international cricket.

"We definitely had people who were interested in buying and we had some [state] associations who were very keen to look at the value. But when we talked to people who were interested in buying it was pretty clear their strategic objectives in investing in the league were at odds with ours.

"Why would you compromise that when you don't need the money to build the game? We're already generating that money."

Jones, now Cricket NSW chief executive, was on Tuesday more emphatic about the flaws in CA's short-lived venture towards privatisation.

"It was the single worst idea I have come across in my time in Australian cricket," Jones said.

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