"A lot of interest from Indian investors" - BBL urged to become privatized 

BBL - Melbourne Stars vs Sydney Thunder
BBL - Melbourne Stars vs Sydney Thunder
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Casey McCarthy

News Corp mastheads reported this week that there would be immediate interest from key Indian Premier League (IPL) owners if the Big Bash League (BBL) is privatized by Cricket Australia (CA).

At its core, the league's privatization could save the ailing competition by ensuring resources of $500,000 to $700,000 to recruit international stars. This would ultimately enhance its product and economic strength.

The Rajasthan Royals already have a stake in T20 leagues in the Caribbean, South Africa, and the UAE. One of their advisory board members, Ravneet Gill, told News Corp newspapers that a privatized BBL would also generate immediate interest from Indian investors.

“I hope they can take a leaf out of what’s happened with the IPL, because the fundamental truth of it is Australia is such a massive cricketing superpower and there is no reason why the Big Bash should not be up there (as a top league).
“It just needs a bit of rejuvenation. I think the BBL needs a shot in the arm and needs to be reignited and my sense is privatization could be the catalyst. If it went down that path … I think there would be a lot of interest from Indian investors.”

Privatization an attractive solution for the BBL

Unlike the IPL, which is based on a model of privately-owned franchises, the BBL is completely under the ownership of Cricket Australia (CA).

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It was immensely popular at its inception in 2011 and peaked when it became the 7th-most attended sports league in the world by way of average crowds in 2015-2017.

But its appeal, both domestically and internationally, has significantly waned since. The league now sits at an important crossroads, with new domestic leagues popping up, an ongoing player unavailability issue, and a new TV deal in the works.

A solution to all its pitfalls is seemingly to attract a suite of high-profile players, both financially viable and achievable by privatizing the league - like the IPL.

BBL - Heat vs Strikers
BBL - Heat vs Strikers

A quick glance at the leading run-getters and wicket-takers in IPL 2022 and you see the names of the leading international players.

Jos Buttler, KL Rahul, Quinton de Kock, Hardik Pandya, Yuzvendra Chahal, Wanindu Hasaranga de Silva, Kagiso Rabada, Kuldeep Yadav, and Josh Hazlewood are all superstars of the international game.

Admittedly, the IPL is afforded a window in the International Cricket Council's (ICC) Future Tours Programme (FTP), but many players still skip national duty to play in it.

This allows for the league's broadcast value to skyrocket. The IPL is now the second-most lucrative sporting competition in the world behind the NFL, having signed an eye-watering $6.2 billion (approx.) media deal last week.

Having international star players in the BBL - enabled by privatization - would rekindle the league into a product broadcasters want. Host broadcasters Channel 7 and Fox Cricket are already frustrated with the current state of affairs, as per News Corp media.

While the Australian broadcast deal would only return a fraction of the IPL's, it would ensure the game can protect its assets and inject funds into developing grassroots. After all, the broadcasters pay the bills.

Some of the biggest financial players in world sport could line up to get involved if Cricket Australia was to privatise the Big Bash League.

Private investment is set to be a key feature in the new South African and UAE domestic leagues, which are both slated to take place in January and go head-to-head with the BBL.

Both leagues are in their absolute infancy, but have already embraced a key pillar of the IPL, with the BBL urged to follow suit in order to compete. The addition of these leagues has further crowded the T20 market and their privatized status would likely see players gravitate there instead of Australia.

Co-ownership is also a possibility, with former Australian fast bowler Brett Lee imploring the BBL to find ways to see high-profile players come to Australia.

Lee told The Courier-Mail (via Times of India):

“You could have co-ownership and Cricket Australia could retain 51% and still control things, but with that extra funding, I think you could get some really high profile stars to come out.
"I am talking about the Virat Kohlis. Imagine Kohli playing for the Sixers and the crowds you would get. I am really impressed with the Big Bash. They have done a great job. But to reach the next level that is what you would have to do."

Is cricket becoming Americanized?

The privatization of the BBL has not yet been approved by CA as it is seemingly a last resort for the board. It also goes against the grain of Australian sporting culture.

Former Channel Ten executive David Barham, who was integral to the BBL's birth in 2011, said the league should have alternate objectives. He spoke to News Corp and was quoted in the same report as saying:

“I don’t think it’s a very good idea because you lose control. If you are running it properly you shouldn’t need to privatize. Privatization to me seems to be for someone who has run out of ideas and can’t get the money in.
“The BBL is a sport that was designed to encourage youth and families to get involved with the game.”
The Final: Scorchers vs Sixers
The Final: Scorchers vs Sixers

Ultimately, cricket is likely heading down the same path as many US sports, such as basketball and baseball, where the domestic leagues could be so lucrative that it wouldn't rely on money generated from international fixtures.

For years, national boards could argue that the aspiration to wear national colors would be the most rewarding career-path for a cricketer. However, more financially viable - for players and administrators alike - T20 leagues are pushing international fixtures to the brink.

Australia will be playing home ODIs in August this year. Cricket at that time of the year is almost unheard of. Is that the path we want Australian cricket to head into?

Edited by Akshay Saraswat
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