Australian cricket’s pay war has escalated, with players set to establish their own image rights company allowing them to sign with rival sponsors and even join entrepreneurial competitions.
With no sign of movement in discussions with Cricket Australia ahead of a June 30 deadline for a new memorandum of understanding, the Australian Cricketers Association on Wednesday unveiled plans to form a new business, The Cricketers Brand.
This business would house the marketing and media rights of players that currently are owned by CA. Under the plan, almost all of Australia’s international male and female players have already agreed to sign over their name, voice, signature, trademarks, images, likeness and even “performance” to the new company run through the ACA by former first-class cricketer, Tim Cruickshank. The company would also run player interviews, appearances and promotions.
This move comes as players prepare to safeguard their earnings if they are locked out and not paid by CA should a new memorandum of understanding, or at least a heads of agreement on the major issues, not be reached by July 1.
ACA chief Alistair Nicholson denied it was a power play by the players fighting to retain the revenue-sharing model that has been in place since 1997. CA wants to largely disband this, prompting suggestions this summer’s Ashes series could be in doubt.
“It’s actually around getting some stability around post-June 30, if that’s what happens. We actually see it as a necessity and a constructive way of trying to stop some of that uncertainty,” Nicholson said.
“It is important for the broadcasters, sponsors and then, obviously, Cricket Australia.”
Nicholson said the company format would be an “interim” position, with image rights returning entirely to CA should that be brokered in a new MOU. However, he said the company was likely to continue after a new agreement but its structure would be different. He said there were similar models used in US sports.
What that means in the short term is that rival sponsors to CA’s official partners and even rival broadcasters to Channel Nine could partner with players until a MOU is secured.
Should the fight drag on, cricketers, for instance, would have the opportunity of even playing in an Australian-based Twenty20 tournament from July – should there be financial backing. Players may have to seek a “no objection” certificate from CA but if they are locked out and not paid by CA, that could be a moot point.
“We have, obviously, asked to mediate [with CA]. We have got the top players in the world coming out of contract, so we are getting inquiries from broadcasters and sponsors around what happens. So we thought it important we say there is a vehicle here if you want to come and speak to the ACA around accessing players,” he said.
“That is something we have spoken to them about. Again, it’s around trying to get some certainty around what is happening at the moment.”
Players, who remain hopeful CA will agree to mediation, can still broker sponsorship deals directly with their agents.
A CA spokesman said on Tuesday the governing body remained ready to negotiate, having submitted plans for Australia’s top male players to earn several million dollars a year and for international female stars to immediately earn $200,000 a year. State-based players would still earn more than $200,000 a year but be paid from a set pool.
“Cricket Australia remains ready and willing to begin negotiations and remains confident that an agreement can be reached once they begin. The only reason that these talks have not begun is because the ACA is insisting that certain pre-conditions be met. That goes against the basic principle of good-faith negotiations, and could not be used in any mediation,” a CA spokesman said.
“Cricket Australia has placed a ground-breaking offer before the ACA, which will mean cricket is able to offer women the opportunity to have a fully professional sporting career at both international and domestic levels, while the men will continue to be among the country’s best-paid sportsmen. It retains the revenue-share model but provides greater flexibility for Cricket Australia to invest in our grassroots, particularly junior cricket.
“CA has repeatedly explained to the ACA that there is no digital revenue, and their auditors have access to CA’s books on a regular basis.”
CA signed over its digital rights to Channel Nine under the last broadcast rights deal, and claims players have enjoyed a cut of this.
While the players insist they will not budge on ensuring all cricketers enjoy the set-percentage model, Nicholson says there is room for negotiation.
“What is important is the flexibility we have offered underneath that, in regard to talking about downside and upside, and then also a mechanism that if Cricket Australia or the game want to invest in new businesses to grow the game, where that sits. That is similar to what happens in a NFL-type model,” he said.
“The players are not necessarily saying revenue-share and nothing else – it’s this revenue-sharing model with flexibility underneath.”
CA has also threatened to pull its multimillion-dollar funding of the ACA, an issue which will be debated – should negotiations open.
“The position from CA up until now is that they don’t believe that funding should continue. So now it’s important if that doesn’t continue, then we have structures in place which we can fund ourselves,” Nicholson said.