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Beware the public backlash if player boycott leads to Ashes cancellation

Australia's two best batsmen are out of action for the foreseeable.(AFP PHOTO / GREG WOOD)
Roar Rookie
3rd August, 2017
3

It is amazing the amount of column inches and airtime that has been spent on the dispute between the Cricket Australia (CA) and the Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA). Tours cancelled with others in doubt, including the Ashes.

The players strike has received more attention than any other modern day workplace dispute. Now, around five weeks since the Australia A tour of South Africa was cancelled, we are starting to read confusing media reports about a resolution between CA and the ACA.

The ABC suggested that the agreement was close. The ACA and CA said those reports were premature.

In fact, CA’s frustration with the process has led them to suggest that it would refer the long-running dispute to arbitration. A decision that would increase the pressure on the ACA and certainly make some of the players more angry.

The players strike has been quite a shock for Australians.

We have generally watched these kind of labour disputes between sports stars and the national sporting organisation occur in the United States. Player lockouts and strikes have seen the whole season lost in the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball.

Like in America, the dispute between CA and ACA is all about money.

CA does not believe that the current fixed revenue-sharing model shared with players is relevant in the modern day era where broadcasters have been bidding up TV broadcasting and internet rights. In fact, the expansion of the game to include Twenty20 has created additional revenue sources for CA and state bodies.

CA has also argued that changing the revenue-sharing model would free up resources to grow the game at the grassroots level. It would allow the CA to better compete against the popular football codes.

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On the other hand, the ACA wants to maintain the fixed revenue-sharing model. Why? With TV networks paying more for broadcasting rights and ticket prices increase, players will see a corresponding increase in the value of their CA contracts.

The nation’s leading cricketers have done very well out of this revenue-model sharing model over the last 20 years. Our best cricketers, like Steve Smith and Dave Warner, are now earning in excess of $1 million on their CA contracts alone.

There are not many AFL players or other sports stars playing sport in Australia that are earning over a million dollars a year.

Unless an agreement is reached soon between the relevant parties on a new collective bargaining agreement the tour of Bangladesh will not go ahead and the Ashes will be at serious risk.

Unfortunately, while a lot of time has been dedicated to the issue, there has been little recognition about the impact the dispute has had on fans.

Apart from the diehard cricket tragic, the majority of fans do not care about the Australia A tour of South Africa being cancelled or even the tour of Bangladesh.

But an Ashes tour is different. With no AFL or NRL on the screens over summers, fans will be expecting to watch cricket. And watch the Ashes.

So the players and the CA should be aware of the public backlash if this labour dispute is not resolved shortly.

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Fans are the mugs that every season cough up the hundreds of dollars in match tickets, merchandise and over-priced products that the players try to sell through their sponsorship agreements. They are doing this even though household budgets are tight.

Cancel the Ashes series and watch any public sympathy quickly diminish for the players. In fact, if most cricket fans are like myself, they are getting frustrated with the greedy attitude of the players.

Where this dispute differs from me and you, is each of these workers (a.k.a cricketers) already earn between $190,000 and over $1 million. It also only affects around 290 elite cricketers or 0.02 per cent of all the people playing cricket in this country.

It is only CA contract of cricketers that is in dispute. Players have other sources of income.

These elite cricketers supplement their CA contract income with other income sources by playing in other competitions such as the Indian Premier League or English County Cricket.

And then there are the endorsements. The value of some of these endorsements could be greater than the median income of the average Australian.

Cricketers have seen their incomes increase significantly over the last five years. Their luxury lifestyles are splashed across the pages of gossip magazines and tabloids.

While these cricketers are arguing about a significant increase in their salaries, the rest of Australia is doing it tough.

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The average punter has not seen a pay rise in the last three years or those lucky to receive one have only obtained an annual two per cent pay rise. The average Australian wages have struggled to keep up with the rate of inflation.

Spare a thought for those workers that have also seen their wages fall when the Fair Work Commission cut penalty rates.

While the Australian public expect that their wages to remain flat for the foreseeable future they are being whacked with huge cost of living increases. Electricity and gas prices are up almost 20 per cent this year. Everything seems to be more expensive.

Only today, the Household Income and Labour Dynamics survey found that the typical Australian family takes home less income today than it did in 2009.

But it is not only workers that are struggling amid soft wages growth. It is also the big end of town.

Some of the CEOs of Australia’s largest companies are seeing smaller wage packets. Recent research by Egan Associates found that 25 new chief executives appointed to top 200 companies over the past 18 months received an average 25 per cent pay cut from their predecessors.

Even Commonwealth politicians have received a two per cent pay rise this year.

The normal Australian is bemused as to why our elite cricketers would not be satisfied with any increase in their income. I doubt that they will be restricted to a two per cent pay rise.

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It is not if CA is out there drumming the beat to lower the salaries of our elite cricketers. It just wants to change the model for determining their incomes.

The players are expected to rake in upwards of $450 million over the next five years. An average of $310,000 each year for every player.

What the ACA or the players will not say is how much they received as a collective under the previous agreement.

The drawn out dispute even saw the ACA put forward a peace plan that would allow for up to $30 million to flow to grassroots providing certain conditions are met. Surely our cricketers are not doing it too tough if they can give up $30 million just like that!

David Warner, Australia’s vice captain, has been quick to take to social media, and particularly twitter, to share his views on the bitter pay dispute. It is far from a balanced view of course.

Warner knows using social media will invoke a public reaction and get the public on the cricketers side. His tweet about players redirecting $30 million to grassroots sport and cricketers seeking a fair share of CA’s total revenue received 57 comments, retweeted 114 times and was liked 1,376 times.

The players claim that they want to get on and play cricket. They can do that by stopping this ridiculous argument about money and end this current impasse.

The public accepts that players should expect to receive a fair share of the revenue that CA receives given that it is their talents that are on display. Exciting and entertaining cricket gets the public through the turnstiles.

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But they cannot continue to push for wage rises that are are of touch with community expectations.

It is the ultimately the Australian public that pays the salaries of the sporting elite. With household budgets being crimped, the public may well be priced out of watching live sport or buying pay TV subscriptions.

It is not only cricketers are having trouble concluding their collective bargaining arrangement. Australian rugby players seem to be having similar problems. There may well be a race to the bottom among Australia’s sporting elite seeking wages demands that are well above what the average Australian can hope for.

Elitism is far from being dead in this country.

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