Gavel / Taking another bash at national fame

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AS momentum grows for a Canberra bid for a Big Bash cricket licence, those involved in the process should be armed with knowing what’s worked in the past and what’s failed in terms of ACT teams vying to be part of national leagues.

Tim Gavel.

The A League for Canberra bid offers the most recent evidence of the pitfalls. It became apparent that the Football Federation Australia and those pushing for an A League licence in the ACT were on a different trajectory. In the end, despite Canberra registering the only bid for an expansion team, the FFA parachuted the Western Sydney Wanderers into the A League ahead of the ACT.

Part of the problem was the heavy reliance on start-up funding from the ACT government. Around half the $5 million to launch the team had to come from the government. There was a public campaign with potential members pledging their support, but in the end the FFA decided that it wasn’t sustainable in the long term.

The Canberra Cavalry launched a grassroots campaign aimed at demonstrating to those putting the Australian Baseball League together that there was support for a team in the ACT.

With the Australian-based league backed by the American Major League the financial commitment wasn’t as great as the A League but there was still a need to demonstrate endorsement from the community.

The baseball campaign had the slogan “Let’s do it, Canberra” and operated on the concept that if it could secure $20 pledges from 5000 people it would be enough to lock in a place in the league. It  reached that number and is now one of the leading teams in Australian baseball.

It wouldn’t have happened if there hadn’t been backing from the governing body from the outset.

The Raiders and the Brumbies faced similar hurdles as they sought places in the NSW Rugby League, as it was known then, and the Super 12 respectively. They, too, had to overcome perceptions to convince others from outside the ACT that there was patronage for teams in Canberra.

The Raiders made its first grand final six years after being admitted and won the first of its three premierships two years later, while the Brumbies remain the most successful Australian team in Super Rugby history with two titles. Both teams had to ensure there was both grassroots and corporate backing.

If the Big Bash bid is to go ahead it must first need an assurance there is no pre-determined outcome and that Cricket Australia is open to including a Canberra team in any proposed league expansion.

The bid team will also need to secure pledges of public support to guarantee patronage in Canberra. Backing will come from the ACT cricket community, but to succeed there needs to be an assurance that people outside “hard core” cricketing circles will come to games.

In terms of playing talent, a potential team in Canberra would draw from existing players and players who left the ACT to participate at a higher level. Like the Brumbies when they started, there would need to be experienced players from elsewhere.

The bid would also need to ensure that there was equal support for a women’s Big Bash team. Canberra’s encouragement for women’s sporting teams should provide the bid with an advantage that no other city can rival.

Government backing appears to be vital in any bid but the sustainability of the team can’t be reliant on the public purse. From experience, this would send warning bells to Cricket Australia that there isn’t enough corporate assistance.

However, I’m sure there would be financial support from corporates in Canberra and major funding might come from outside the ACT. India is an obvious source given the fanatical approach to cricket on the subcontinent, but also because of India’s desire for closer business relations with Australia. In those circumstances what better city to showcase an Indian business than the nation’s capital?

The Raiders and the Brumbies have overseas companies as their major sponsors. The Chinese multinational Huawei backs the Raiders, while the Brumbies have the Israeli-registered online trading company Plus500 as their major sponsors.

Over the past couple of years I have been sceptical of any bid for a Big Bash team in Canberra, but the calibre of those currently talking about putting a proposal together has given me confidence that when Cricket Australia decides to expand, the ACT will be in a great position to secure a licence.

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Tim Gavel
Journalist and ABC sports broadcaster

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