SA mourns loss of Champions League

Happy days: The Cobras celebrate winning the 2014 Ram Slam T20 Challenge. But the winners of this competition will now have less to celebrate. (Petri Oeschger/Gallo)

Happy days: The Cobras celebrate winning the 2014 Ram Slam T20 Challenge. But the winners of this competition will now have less to celebrate. (Petri Oeschger/Gallo)

Having survived almost two years of financial body blows with a combination of prudent planning and good fortune, Cricket South Africa (CSA) is facing yet another potential crisis with the dissolution of the Champions League T20 involving the country’s top two franchises.

Three Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises as well as the top two Australian teams were also involved, and representatives from Sri Lanka, the West Indies and New Zealand made up a 12-strong line-up designed to comprise a global “super league” of domestic teams.

It was a well-intentioned concept that worked in theory but has been a financial white elephant since its inception six years ago. India’s Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI) is the majority stakeholder with 50%, and Cricket Australia (30%) and Cricket South Africa (20%) are the junior partners.

Last year South Africa’s Ram Slam T20 finalists received a whopping $500 000 participation fee, half of which went directly to the players and half to the administration. At today’s exchange rate, it amounted to more than half the annual running costs of the franchise.
Simply put, the tournament has been every bit the “game changer” for half a dozen years that it was headlined as when it started.

CSA has also benefitted from a predetermined yearly dividend, guaranteed by the broadcaster no matter what the success or failure of the event.

Interest in the tournament can only be measured in commercial returns and the problems began at the very outset when Star TV, desperate for television rights after losing out to Sony for the IPL, bid an astronomical $900-million for a 10-year deal. The likelihood of making a profit was minimal but, even with the involvement of three IPL teams, it has been a financial disaster.

That disaster now translates to South Africa’s domestic teams, which quickly became more reliant on income from the tournament than any of the others.

Major concern
Many players over the past six years have had their lives fundamentally changed by bonus income from the Champions League, but it was always as much about the platform it presented as the cash. “The loss of income is a major concern for the domestic game at both national and franchise level,” said the South African Cricket Association’s chief executive, Tony Irish, “but it’s the shop window the tournament provided for non-international players that will be missed just as much.

“A player like Davy Jacobs, for example, who enjoyed a great tournament for the Warriors when they reached the Champions League and subsequently earned himself an IPL contract with the Mumbai Indians and ended up opening the batting with Sachin Tendulkar. It was a dream opportunity for him and he took it. It will be extremely sad if those chances are no longer available,” Irish said.

The two-week “window” in the global calendar still exists, theoretically, and there is much discussion about how best to fill it before it closes. The favourite suggestion, inevitably, involves the apparently insatiable Indian market.

A “second tier” IPL has been mooted, an opportunity for new Indian regions to bid for a franchise below the hundreds of millions of dollars required to buy a full IPL team but with the opportunity to expand and participate in the IPL through a promotion/relegation system.

All India’s marquee cricketers are already contracted, as are the majority of the rest of the world’s big names, but some entrepreneurs believe there is enough talent and market attraction remaining to fill the void.

South Africa and England would be more able to fill the gap than most other countries given the time of year – September – when their domestic seasons would be starting and finishing.

CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat and president Chris Nenzani have been invited to attend the IPL final next week, after which they will discuss the end of the Champions League – and the future. On the face of it, they have little to offer, apart from playing resources.

“We have more top-class players available than anyone else, even England, which does not allow most of its cricketers to participate in the IPL,” one franchise administrator said this week. “Hopefully our delegation in India next week will be able to put our case forward and work something out, which means we stay involved.

“It is a tough time for all of us. Naturally we have budgeted for the Champions League revenue and it will be difficult to get by without it. For the players, the prospect of reaching the Ram Slam final and playing in the Champions League has been a big part of their season. It will be painful for all of us if that is just taken away with nothing to replace it.”

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