The majority — if not all — of the Big Bash League teams have been unable to secure sponsors for Cricket Australia’s hyped Twenty20 competition beginning next month.
While many teams did not return calls, or refused to comment, Cricket Australia and Perth BBL team the Scorchers told Crikey that teams had yet to secure sponsors. “The individual teams have not advised [Cricket Australia] of any sponsors,” said Peter Young, general manager of public affairs at Cricket Australia.
But Amy Mitchelson, sponsorship executive at the Western Australian Cricket Association, was more direct: “We don’t have any sponsors and to my understanding neither does anyone else in the league.”
Cricket Australia refutes that a lack of sponsorship dollars is representative of public interest in the revised game and that the season will continue. Although sponsorship revenue is important, it is not a key driver for the competition, Young said.
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Like other competitions, Cricket Australia said it will use its accumulated revenue to fund the league, including payment of player wages. However, the Big Bash League information pack says Cricket Australia may cover base-level player payments for the first two seasons.
Without sufficient sponsorship it remains to be seen what kind of financial contribution the BBL will have on Cricket Australia. Cricket Australia said sponsors were always wary of investing in new competitions, especially in an unstable financial marketplace.
Significant financial investment would be needed if Cricket Australia was to compete with its Indian counterpart, the Indian Premier League. Last year the Indian Times reported that IPL players were the second highest paid with an average of $3.84 million per player. The large amount of wages could easily be attributed to the IPL’s ability to attract high-profile players.
High-profile players are also privileged to personal contracts with their own sponsors. These sponsors often play a role in attracting players to leagues and clubs, and without sponsor interest, some of Australia’s more popular players could be seen playing abroad rather than in the BBL.
But the lack of a free-to-air broadcaster is also hurting, according to marketing academic Andrew Hughes. With limited pay TV audiences in Australia (the competition will be broadcast on Fox Sports) corporates could sit out the first season to see how popular the game is.
“Sponsors are now looking for free-to-air coverage,” said Hughes, from the School of Management, Marketing and International Business at Australian National University. “They want to see the format settle down for a bit. You don’t want to sponsor a team that in three years from now will go under.”
With just a month before the season starts Cricket Australia remains hopeful that teams will still be able to secure sponsors. Peter Young says Twenty20 has a strong Gen X and Gen Y following. Hughes agrees the competition needs to be targeting these audiences.
“Twenty20 … attracts that market because it’s more casual, more relaxed and more fun and [it] needs a brand that wants to connect with that marketplace,” Hughes said.
Andrew McShea, marketing manager of Brisbane team the Heat, says sponsors will be announced in the coming weeks. The Adelaide Scorchers responded with a similar line. “We are currently in negotiations and expect to make an announcement in the next two weeks,” said project manager Nick Takos.
General manager of the Hobart Hurricanes Michael Roberts told Crikey they have attained a secondary sponsor but like other teams are yet to acquire a major sponsor. A representative of the Sydney Thunder would not comment on sponsorship negotiations.
The remaining teams — Melbourne Stars, Melbourne Renegades, and the Sydney 6ers — did not return emails or calls for comment.
Hughes says the Big Bash League must attract high-profile players to survive and that Cricket Australia should publicly declare how long it will prop up the league to secure sponsor confidence.
Young told Crikey the Big Bash League is self-sustainable, but Roberts said it was unclear to them how long Cricket Australia would prop up the league without major team sponsors.
With next year being an Olympic year, it means sponsorship money will be even harder to come by as sponsors heavily invest in television rights and access to athletes, rather than two-month competitions such as the BBL, said Hughes.
Shane Warne signed with the Melbourne Stars yesterday, while the Sydney 6ers team includes fast bowler Brett Lee.