Players and CA closer to signing MoU as talks continue

Australian batsmen David Warner (L) and Aaron Finch (R) touch gloves during the fourth one-day international cricket match between India and Australia at the Manuka Oval in Canberra on January 20, 2016. AFP PHOTO / Mark GRAHAM -- IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE / AFP / MARK GRAHAM (Photo credit should read MARK GRAHAM/AFP/Getty Images)

Two days of extensive talks have broken down barriers of rhetoric and transparency between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers Association, but the signing of a new MoU remains elusive.

As more than 230 of the nation’s professional cricketers enter a third week of unemployment, the two parties are set to resume negotiations on Monday after a week in which they were at least able to communicate their positions, needs and options for flexibility to each other.

CA’s long-time chief executive James Sutherland and his ACA counterpart Alistair Nicholson have been central to discussions following their lengthy one-on-one meeting on Tuesday. Their presence has brought a more pragmatic tone to talks that had previously been far less flexible and cordial.

Rather than ending a two-decade era of revenue sharing agreements between CA and the players, discussions are believed to have reverted to issues of cricket’s rising cost base and the players’ willingness to reduce their revenue percentage and narrow its definition to suit their shared interests with the board.

At the same time, CA’s desire for strategic investments – such as expanding their digital arm and building grassroots facilities – without ceding a portion of their cost to the players has also been tackled. The players are believed to be open to excluding such areas from their revenue percentage, provided CA can outline what they are and for how long they must be exempt.

Another discussion now unfolding is the financial relationship between CA and the ACA. After the board expressed a desire to cease direct funding of the association, the ACA set up a commercial arm called the Cricketers Brand to sell rights to the players’ intellectual property. It now appears likely that most of these rights will revert to CA for a fee that will in turn help fund the ACA but be much more closely linked to IP rights rather than simply being a catch-all grant.

While the improved dialogue marks a turning point in the pay war, time is short for the two parties to come to a formal agreement given all the time wasted in a public slanging match. The game’s current and prospective commercial partners, in particular, are impatient for a resolution to end the standoff.

Apart from Sutherland’s increased involvement, the back channel work of the player manager and ACA executive member Neil Maxwell has also been significant. As a former New South Wales seam bowler in the 1990s, Maxwell has been able to draw on relationships with the likes of his former teammates Mark Taylor and Kevin Roberts to help promote greater understanding between the parties.

One of the key areas where this was required was how much the ACA was prepared to move away from the model used in the 2012 MoU, which gave the players 24.5-27% of Australian Cricket Revenue depending on the performance of the national team.

In the words of Australia’s captain Steven Smith: “Through the ACA we are willing to make important changes to modernise the existing model for the good of the game. We are and have always been willing to make those changes. Changes for how the model can be adapted for the even greater benefit of grass roots cricket, which is after all where we all started.”

Nicholson and Sutherland, meanwhile, have been able to bring their financial expertise to the table.

“The increased involvement of CA CEO James Sutherland has been pleasing,” Nicholson said. “A better understanding has been established on both parties’ positions.”