International cricket is staying at the SCG – but it comes at a price for the public, as Don Boredwalk explains.

Yes, Kerry Packer, son James and the family-controlled Nine television network will be very relieved. Test and One Day International cricket will remain at its traditional Sydney home of the Sydney Cricket ground for five years from the end of next year.

There will be no need to ruin the summer of tens of thousands of people in the richest media market in the country by broadcasting cricket from Telstra Stadium for only a couple of hours a day in the 2005-2006 season and beyond. No need to slash advertising rates and feel the pain financially.

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In fact the move to Telstra would have cut summer profits for Nine and PBL, given that the cricket is the single greatest source of profits in January because of the drop off in advertising elsewhere.

And it is the packed out days at the New Year Sydney Test and the two or three one day international games in Sydney that allow Nine to make more money than it should from cricket at a time when advertising is in the post Christmas doldrums.

Playing the one day games at Telstra for example would have made for a difficult decision to Nine. At an 82,000 people capacity it is harder to sell out (only the NRL grand final and the rugby union internationals against England and New Zealand fill that ground) than the smaller SCG.

Filling the SCG is easier. That means profitable all day telecasts of the international cricket in Sydney for all games (something that has become a habit in recent years). No campaigns by the Murdoch press if it couldn’t happen.

A peaceful, profitable summer looms. Ahhhh!

So from the Packers’ point of view, and those of most cricket lovers, the right deal has been struck. Test and one day cricket will be retained at the Sydney Cricket ground for five years. All is right in the world. The infidels from Telstra stadium at Homebush (the old Olympic Stadium) have been outbid, trumped and repelled.

All cricket fans can rest easy, and rejoice.

Cricket lovers of Sydney unite, rise and praise the Packers, and whoever managed to convince the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust to boost its offer to Cricket NSW to a range of $60 to $70 million, as suggested in this story in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald.

And this is how Crikey explained the difficulties the bidding war for Sydney’s international cricket posed for the Packers, the Nine Network and PBL last month:

But a few niggles remain. Yes the bid from Telstra Stadium was crass, opportunistic and had no sense of history, which in the end seems to have told against it in the tight, blokey world in Sydney where business and cricket coincide. Whatever is left of the Sydney business establishment can be found in the private boxes and in the plush areas of the Members at the SCG. Check out the announcement from the SCG Trust here. Pretty straight.

But some questions arise. With the annual payment from the Trust to Cricket NSW to rise to almost three times the $5.5 million it now pays, who will pay in the end?

Members? Don’t think so, they are too influential and can remove members of the trust by whiteanting them. The NSW Government? No word, but watch this space. Trust chairman, Rodney Cavalier was a former NSW ALP State Government Minister. He remains well-connected with the Carr Government. You have to be to become chairman of the SCG Trust, one of the prime pieces of patronage in Sydney.

A former chairman was Pat Hills, a former Lord Mayor of Sydney, former ALP heavyweight and deputy premier in the Wran days and a heavy hitter.

So who are the trustees and how well-connected are they? Take a look at this.

John Cloney is the head of the Australia’s biggest general insurer, QBE. (IAG is bigger locally but QBE is bigger overseas).Tony Shepherd is a former Transfield boss who was involved in infrastructure in Sydney (Lane Cove Tunnel) and the Connect East group that won the Scoresby freeway contract in Melbourne. Go here for some background.

Catherine Harris is involved in the Harris family’s fruit and vegetable retailing group in Sydney. Geoff Lawson is a former test cricketer, NSW coach and director of the NRMA who doesn’t like crass commercialism as he opposed its demutualisation. (Harris and Lawson were both on the Council of the University of NSW.)

Rod McGeoch is a Liberal and well connected in Sydney legal, sporting and property circles. He kicked off Sydney’s bid for the 2o00 Olympics, and his wife, Deeta Colvin, is a senior executive at Kerry Packer’s ACP magazines business.

Barrister John McCarthy is a close friend of NSW Premier Bob Carr and appeared for him at a recent contempt hearing at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption. Kerry Chikarovski is a former leader of the NSW Liberal Opposition, Michael Cleary is a former sportsman and NSW Labor Minister, and Alan Jones, is, well, Alan Jones and of course close to the Packers, PBL and Nine, the big commercial beneficiaries of the deal.

Graham Pash is a Sydney businessman and well-known racehorse owner and administrator, being a board member of the Sydney Turf Club. Ken Catchpole is a former Rugby international, while Colin Love is a Sydney lawyer and big wheel in the Australian and NSW Rugby Leagues.

This is as close as you can get to Sydney Inc, that combination of sport (horses, both rugby codes and cricket) and business.

Telstra Stadium is moaning about losing and has written (as the good Roy Masters story says) to the NSW Auditor General to try and find out if there is any government subsidy. But at the moment it’s a moan. They have no evidence to lay before the Auditor General.

So the only obvious group that will meet the cost are cricket goers, while sponsors and suppliers, such as Foster’s (CUB), Coca Cola Amatal and Aussie Home Loans remain ripe peaches to be plucked by the Trust in its search for funds across the SCG, Moore Park and The Sydney Football Stadium.

Besides both codes of rugby and the cricket and soccer, an added attraction for those suppliers and sponsors is the fact that the Swans are based at the SCG, although more and more big games are being played at Telstra.

If I had to have a bet then I’d punt on Telstra making the Swans and the AFL such an offer than the team leaves the SCG and heads for Homebush. Telstra Stadium needs revenue, desperately.

The NRL will pay more, along with the supporters of teams such as Easts, Souths and St George who use the Aussie Stadium (the old Sydney Football Stadium) as their home ground.

Prices for international cricket games, especially one dayers, are already verging on the extortionate. Now that the game is staying at the SCG (subject to any lurks and perks not disclosed), watching it on the TV on the Kerry Packer Nine Network, will loom as more of an option, even with the expansion of the ground in the next few years from 44,000 seats to 55,000.

That, along with the higher contract, will have to be paid for. It’s an unfortunate outcome but the public of Sydney who go to Moore Park for Cricket, AFL, Rugby League, Union and Soccer had better prepare themselves to be fleeced at the turnstiles and plucked in the food and drink areas to pay for tradition to be maintained.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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