How the West was Lost – Why did the WACA Really Lose its Crown ?

Due to the squeeze created by the 2015 World Cup, Australian fans face an unusually sparse fare of Test cricket in 2014/15 with just four Tests against the visiting Indians finding their way onto the crowded cricketing schedule.

The unfortunate upshot was that one of the nation’s traditional Test venues would miss out on the honour and financial benefit of hosting a match for the first time since the WACA’s debut in the 1970/71 season.

After considering submissions from the QLD, WA and SA state cricket associations, CA announced on Wednesday that the WACA would be the unlucky venue to miss out, a decision likely to cost the association between $3m and $5m according to its chief executive Christina Matthews.

It is also a decision likely to cost CA’s broadcast partner Channel Nine anywhere between $4.8m and $7.5m in lost prime-time advertising revenue[i], but true to their earlier boast, the needs of the broadcaster proved not to have sway over CA scheduling decisions.

CA’s decision is rooted in a desire to safeguard the best interests and health of the game along with some very sound commercial reasons, however they are not necessarily the ones that you might think.

In most quarters the decision has been presented as a simple financial one involving issues of attendances and ground capacity, but the facts suggest that the primary reasons lie elsewhere.

As a starting point let’s examine attendance and capacity data, excluding Ashes Tests, since the 2007/08 season as captured in the table below:

Adelaide Oval

Gabba

WACA

Total attendance[ii]

373,489

218,440

189,202[iii]

Days used[iv]

23

18

14

Attendance p/day

16,239

12,135

13,514

Capacity

36,000

42,000

22,000

% of capacity

45.11%

28.89%

61.43%

What this data clearly shows is that, outside of the Ashes, none of the venues comes close to filling its capacity. History suggests that this would still be the case against the Indians in 2014/15 and as such I don’t believe that capacity carries real significance in the decision-making process.

Surprisingly the table also shows that the Gabba is the worst attended of the venues over this period, despite Australia’s enviable 25 year unbeaten Test record at the venue. Even last year versus South Africa in a battle for the number one ranking, the average daily attendances were 15,393 at the WACA; 14,661 at Adelaide; and 12,522 at the Gabba.[v]

Given the strength of its attendances and South Australian state government’s $535m investment in its redevelopment, it should be fairly obvious that the Adelaide Oval ranked highest of the venues under consideration and that the decision became a shoot out between the Gabba and the WACA.

If the decision was really just all about attendances and capacity, Perth might have emerged as a narrow victor, but there were also other factors at work.

Peter Lalor was one of the few journalists or commentators to suggest at the time the World Cup draw was announced that the WACA would be the venue to miss out, and today in The Australian newspaper, he revealed that QLD Cricket has experienced significant financial problems and had recently been forced to renegotiate terms to repay a rental debt it owed to the Gabba stadium.

Losing a Test is a significant financial hit to any state association due to the loss of gate receipts, but for QLD Cricket it would be even more calamitous for two reasons. The first is that unlike the WACA, they lease the Gabba and would likely have to pay compensation for failing to provide an expected fixture, and more importantly, they could not be compensated by additional ODI and T20I matches as the Gabba falls within the security lockdown zone created due to Brisbane’s hosting of the G20 summit.

This is the real driving force behind CA’s decision and on balance, taking all factors into account, they have made a call that is in the overall best interests of the game in a difficult set of circumstances, and they should be congratulated for it – albeit that their explanation requires further elaboration.

At the same time there is an intriguing subtext behind all of this.

As cricket in Australia becomes increasingly corporatised the present drama could provide a glimpse into a future where CA adopt a similar approach to the ECB’s and have pre-qualified venues apply based on a range of criteria for the right to host international matches.

In an era where drop-in pitches have allowed greater diversity in use for traditional cricket venues, they also enable other venues, such as Stadium Australia in Sydney and Patterson’s Stadium in Perth, the opportunity to leverage their superior facilities or capacity to wrest games away from traditional venues.

In particular this is a concern for the WACA, especially with regards to capacity and media facilities, and perhaps it will provide a much-needed catalyst towards commencing work on a long-discussed and mooted redevelopment of the ground.

However, there is also a message for the good people of Brisbane. You have a great ground with great facilities that provides an excellent starting point for the summer of cricket but these natural advantages might mean little if you don’t start getting to the Tests in greater numbers outside Ashes years.

I may be wrong but I sense at least some of you can foresee the possibility of such a future – in any event don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Until next time….that is stumps.

 

 

 


[i] Based on prime time rate of $25,000 per 30 sec slot as per Channel Nine rate card. Calculations based on 38 slots per last session (conservative) and 12 min p/hour advertising component (aggressive). All analysis based on a session of 2.5 hours duration.

[ii] Attendance figures sourced from state annual reports, Cricinfo and Aus Stadiums. Last day figures excluded where minimal play.

[iii] Figures do not include day 4 of Aus vs SA in 2012 and no attendance figures for Aus vs Ind 2008 as no figures available through any sources

[iv] Exclude days rained out (Aus vs SA at Gabba in 2012), and last days where minimal play involved

[v] Refer to previous notes for exclusions and limitations

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How do you Like Them Crab Apples? CSA’s Catch-22 With the BCCI

From the moment in July that CSA dared to defy the protests and solicitations of the BCCI by appointing the former CEO of the ICC, Haroon Lorgat, to their vacant CEO post you sensed this moment would come, an artfully executed act of revenge against a Board that refused to kowtow to their unreasonable interference, and a man who had famously clashed with them on several issues including the Future Tours Programme, DRS, and the Wolfe Report into governance.

In July CSA announced a tour by India comprising of 2 T20 internationals, 7 one-day internationals and 3 Tests commencing on 21 November and finishing on 19 January, providing a financial bonanza for CSA and a much anticipated contest for their fans.

Sadly this mouth-watering contest appears set to be greatly curtailed with media reports emerging from the recent BCCI Working Committee suggesting that the BCCI will now present CSA with a much slimmer proposed itinerary of 2 Tests, 3 one-day internationals and just 2 Tests in a move that will cost CSA approximately $14.7m USD according to respected South African commentator Neil Manthorp.

Cricinfo reported an (always) unnamed BCCI official as saying:

“Our priority is to look after the interests of our players and the Board … And such a long tour wasn’t viable from either perspective. We need to space out tours so that cricketers get much needed breaks between them”.

Seemingly nothing wrong with that right? Well, as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words and it is in their actions that the BCCI reveals its malevolent thirst for revenge.

Following their recent meeting the BCCI Working Committee confirmed a tour of New Zealand starting on 19 January comprising 5 one-day internationals and 2 Tests, while also offering a new and unexpected invitation to the West Indies to tour in November for what has now been confirmed as a series of 3 one-day internationals and 2 Tests, a tour that can only commence after the ODI series against Australia concludes on 2 November.

So I ask you dear reader, are such actions consistent with the comments of the unnamed BCCI official noted above in ensuring adequate rest periods for the players or is it more consistent with the actions of a group of individuals wishing to financially damage the interests of CSA and perhaps embarrass its newly appointed CEO?

Artfully the BCCI, who have stated that they had never agreed to the itinerary announced by CSA, find themselves in a position where they are unfortunately forced to offer an inferior counter-proposal to ensure that the tour goes ahead at all.

It is an act of bastardry artful in its elegance and execution, strangely reminiscent of a scene from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 where Orr tells Yossarian:

“I did it to protect my good reputation in case anyone ever caught me walking around with crab apples in my cheeks. With rubber balls in my hand I could deny there were crab apples in my cheeks. Every time someone asked me why I was walking around with crab apples in my cheeks, I’d just open my hands and show them it was rubber balls I was walking around with not crab apples, and that they were in my hands, not my cheeks.”

Well how do you like them crab apples Hoorat?

After all, as Heller goes on to note his fabulous critique of bureaucratic operation and reasoning:

“Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing”.

And the sad fact of the matter is that CSA can, and will, do very little in response to such a terrible and pernicious slight and the significant financial impact it will have on them as they are caught in a real life catch-22.

Perhaps they could refuse permission for their players to participate in the IPL, however the importance of this income to their players, plus the fact that they receive 10% of the player’s salaries as a participation bounty, makes it unlikely they would adopt such an act of principle.

Equally, it is almost unimaginable that, as some have postulated, they would withdraw their teams from participating in the Champions League tournament. After all CSA presently own 20% of the enterprise which, as reported in India Today, netted them $2.3m USD in profits in 2011 along with a share (together with CA) of $7.4m USD in participation fees.

Both areas provide significant and recurring income to CSA and perhaps, as a not so subtle reminder of this fact, reports are now strategically filtering through from those unnamed BCCI sources of rumours that the BCCI are considering terminating CSA’s ownership stake in the Champions League.

So how do you like them crab apples Hoorat?

Choose to withdraw permission for your teams and players to participate in the IPL and Champions League and you lose even more financially both over the short and longer term, or cancel the tour as a matter of principle and turn a financial disappointment into a disaster, with all possible suitable replacements already committed during this period.

It truly is a real life catch-22 isn’t it? Perhaps as Heller notes in his novel:

“…’it’s better to die on ones feet than live on one’s knees’, Nately retorted with triumphant and lofty conviction. ‘I guess you’ve heard that saying before’. ‘Yes, I certainly have’ mused the treacherous old man, smiling again. ‘But I’m afraid you have it backward. It is better to live on one’s feet than die on one’s knees. That is the way the saying goes’. ‘Are you sure?’ Nately asked with sober confusion. ‘It seems to make more sense my way’. ‘No, it makes more sense my way. Ask your friends.’

And so we ask the ICC and full-member Boards that very question – just don’t hold your breath waiting for a response.

After all, as Chaplain Tappmann came to realise:

“… in a moment of divine intuition, the handy technique of protective rationalisation, and he was exhilarated by his discovery. It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honour, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character”.

Until next time, that is stumps.