Cricket Wellington supports NZC's bold initiative

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 08/04/2014

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A piece of James Franklin and Michael Pollard might one day be yours - for the right price.

Cricket Wellington (CW) strongly supports a discussion document, tabled by New Zealand Cricket (NZC), which could lead to the franchising of the Firebirds and this country's five other major association sides.

CW chief executive Peter Clinton does not want to see domestic cricket's stocks fall any further and would happily sell a 49 per cent stake in his flagship team to appropriate private investors.

Plenty needs to happen for NZC's proposal to become a reality, but CW won't sit on their hands in the meantime.

"Would anyone be interested [in investing]? Depending on how you pitch it and what it looks like and who you go to, I'd like to think there'd be some interest," Clinton said.

"But I'd rather go out there and ask that question than sit here and not ask it at all."

It would certainly take special investors to get involved with a product that, as it stands, makes no money and might not at any time in the future.

Ron Brierley has been a silent CW benefactor for some time, while Clinton mentioned Gareth Morgan as another individual who has supported sporting franchises in Wellington.

"You need someone who wants to see Wellington sport do well, is a cricket fan, is in there for the long term and is prepared to not just contribute financially, but in terms of advice and networks," Clinton said.

"If you do those things, that would increase interest in the game and get fans along to the game and give them a really fantastic experience, then we've got a real recipe for success there."

Clinton believes in the strength of the product and the notion that it's well followed, if not well attended. But without outside investment and expertise, he fears domestic cricket will be watched by fewer and fewer people and continue to have to be fully funded by NZC.

"The discussion paper would have the Firebirds as they are, across all [three] formats, but the idea would be for them to be a fully professional sports team which has its own governance and manages its own internal budget and looks after itself and its strategic objectives," he said.

That kind of model exists to some extent now.

The Firebirds' finances are separate from those of CW and its amateur arm, even if it all comes out of the same pot.

So when you take money from NZC and allocate it to captain Franklin and company, you do it at the expense of the kids playing school cricket on Happy Valley No 1.

A stand alone franchise, bankrolled by private owners and NZC, would enable CW to do away with what Clinton called "internal conflicts" about who gets what.

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The unresolved issue is what major associations could offer investors in return, given Twenty20 cricket is basically the only format that garners television coverage and that's piecemeal anyway.

"Broadcasting rights, for most sports clubs and teams around the world, that's the majority of their income and the most attractive property they have.

"So we've got to be very clear about what exactly a major association might own and what's available to sell," said Clinton.

"But if we take it back to something as simple as gate receipts, if we had more resources to market and profile the domestic game could we actually increase our gate receipts markedly?

If we were able to do that, then we'd obviously be able to get a dividend or we'd be able to funnel that return back into the professional game again and slowly build it up."

- The Dominion Post

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