Cricket privatisation seen as good in principle

The Canterbury Cricket Association welcomes a move to third-party investment, suggesting it will benefit all aspects of the domestic game, including the grass-roots level.

They do not, however, have a deep-pocketed money man waiting in the wings to buy into the association.

They did when the idea was first mooted more than three seasons ago, but the anonymous Christchurch businessman with links overseas has now lost interest.

The introduction of third-party investment into domestic cricket is one of 17 of recommendations by a working party made to New Zealand Cricket.

The working party was designed to come up with ways to breath life into the slowly dying domestic game.

It makes no money, barely rates a flicker on the public-interest levels and is not producing international-ready cricketers.

And while third-party investment is only one of 17 recommendations, it has already been agreed upon by the six major associations (MAs), the New Zealand Cricket Players' Association (NZCPA) and New Zealand Cricket.

The rules need to be established and that is being done at the moment, though the goal is for MAs wanting to sell off part of their business being able to do so by the start of next summer.

A common fear is that wealthy investors will come in, take over the associations' Twenty20 sides - the most likely part to make money - and forget the rest.

Canterbury Cricket chief executive Lee Germon, who was part of the working party, said that "definitely" would not be the case. A number of potential conflicts had been identified and Germon said rules would be established to ensure the safety of cricket at all levels.

He also suggested partial privatisation could help grassroots cricket.

Germon said if the right people were involved, people with strong business contacts and the ability to bring in more money and turn the association into more of a money-making venture, that money would help all levels of cricket.

The MAs will only be allowed to sell up to 49 per cent of their business and the investors and the amount paid need to be approved by New Zealand Cricket.

"So currently we get to spend 100 per cent of our profits," Germon said. "But 51 per cent of a good profit could well be a lot better than 100 per cent of not very much."

The interested party Canterbury Cricket had previously lined up is understood to have had 11 investors ready to front up with $25,000 each.

And that sort of multiple-investor setup could be more attractive than one person or business stumping up a big chunk of money.

But money was not the main goal behind the privatisation, he said.

Both Germon and NZCPA boss Heath Mills said the improvement of the domestic game across all three formats was the crucial factor.

"We've been pretty keen on the structure of the domestic game being reviewed for quite a while now," Mills said.

"Principally, that stems from the fact domestic cricket is currently viewed as a development programme for the Black Caps, so all the decisions regarding it play second fiddle to the international game."

Mills said by tweaking the structure, and possibly putting it under a different entity, it would be able to grow much better as a product.

That, too, if it were done correctly, could help player development .

"The better our domestic competition is, the better the players coming out of it will be," he said.

"We're really excited by the fact that New Zealand Cricket is reviewing the structure because we've been operating under the same governance structure for 100 years."

Mills said privatisation made sense and the current model was abnormal.

"Around the world, 90 per cent of professional sport is privately owned and run, and is pretty successful.

"New Zealand Cricket wouldn't be doing their job if they didn't offer this as an option."

With the current model not working, there is also a "what have we got to lose?" attitude from parties keen on the move.

Germon said Canterbury was keen to test the waters with third-party investment, and had been for some time.

Until the rules were all in place, however, they would not be hunting potential investors.

Former Canterbury and New Zealand player Chris Harris was pleased to hear the CCA was open to change, and he supported anything that helped the domestic game.

Harris who, with 251 matches for Canterbury across all three formats, is the association's most capped player, said the move "made perfect sense".

"Domestic cricket hasn't had the support for a while now, and anything that can be done to change that is a good thing. I'm glad they're being pro-active, but I also think it's good only 49 per cent can be sold."

Fairfax Media