Alex Carey of the Adelaide Strikers is run out during the Big Bash League (Image: AAP/David Mariuz)

When it comes to dud sporting administrators, there’s certainly lush pastures in Australia.

But spare a special thought for those at Cricket Australia, who are to strategic missteps what Manet was to impressionism.

Let’s start with CA’s long-running pay dispute with its own players. That took years to eventually resolve, it united players against administrators and cost an Australia A tour to South Africa. The bitterness has not been forgotten.

And yet the guy who led the CA side, Kevin Roberts, was rewarded with a promotion. He has been Cricket Australia’s CEO since October 2018, taking over from the long-serving James Sutherland.

But the pay dispute was merely an entrée to CA’s largest faux paus.

Back in April 2018, the organisation, then led by chairman David Peever and CEO Sutherland, proudly signed a $1.2 billion broadcast deal with Foxtel and Seven.

As Crikey predicted at the time, the deal was DOA:

The CA deal means one of two things will happen: either cricket lovers will be poorer (and Foxtel happier, if it is able to increase subs and reduce churn), or fans will simply stop watching the sport.

Or more likely a combination of the two, given Foxtel isn’t exactly growing at the moment given you can both get Netflix and Stan for a quarter of the cost each month.

We expected to be proved right, but boy, it happened quick.

The one thing that Cricket Australia (accidentally) did exceptionally was the creation of the national Big Bash tournament.

Expected to be a failure by most, it ended up being a surprise success. A significant chunk of the credit was owed to Network 10, which showed every Big Bash game in prime-time with a strong commentary team, allowing for a nationwide audience in an otherwise dead television period.

In 2016, a game between the two Melbourne sides drew an incredible 80,000 spectators. Two years ago, a follow-up match at Etihad Stadium drew a stadium record for cricket of 44,000.

But we can certainly trust Cricket Australia to pull defeat from the jaws of any sort of victory.

In every sense, 2019-20 has been a complete disaster for domestic cricket. Big Bash attendances have almost halved. 2017-18, Brisbane and Melbourne Stars averaged more than 30,000 spectators.

This year, Brisbane has averaged 18,000 while the Stars less than 10,000 (partly due to the bizarre decision to play matches on the Gold Coast). Hobart’s crowds were down around 75% while the popular Sydney Sixers have seen crowds dwindle by approximately 25%.

The semifinal last week was played to a virtually desolate MCG with a mere 13,000 fans bothering to attend. Cricketing great Shane Warne labelled the event “embarrassing”.

So what caused the calamity?

First, CA extended the season to 10 weeks (largely to cover up that there was virtually no international cricket after the Sydney test in early January). This was far too long and spectators simply lost interest.

Second, stripping the rights from Ten meant that only some matches were on broadcast TV (Seven), while the rest were on Foxtel/Kayo. This reduced the water-cooler effect, with only a small fraction of households having access to matches.

Third, there has been a virtual drought in international stars. Previously, some of the world’s biggest names like Kevin Pietersen, Herschelle Gibbs, Chris Gayle and Lasith Malinga played; this year, virtually no international player of any popularity played.

Not only have crowds slumped but, even more concerning, Foxtel, which is largely underwriting the competition, saw a drop in Kayo subscriptions between November and February.

Not only did News Corp pay $100 million annually but it actually burned even more cash because people stopped paying for subscriptions.

It’s a remarkable achievement in incompetence to trash what had become an incredibly popular competition.

The buffoons at Cricket Australia stand in complete contrast to superstar administrator Craig Tiley of Tennis Australia, who just wrapped up another incredible successful Australian Open which saw 780,000 spectators attend, smashing 2019’s record. 

The real tragedy is that, despite it all, Australians still want to love cricket.

Adam Schwab is a company director, angel investor and author of the best-selling book, Pigs at the Trough: Lessons from Australia’s Decade of Corporate Greed.

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