Kevin Roberts ‘stumbled’ explaining Cricket Australia’s financial battle – Malcolm Speed

Malcolm Speed, the former Cricket Australia chief executive, believes the incumbent Kevin Roberts has “stumbled” in trying to explain how the game’s finances have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and also stressed that any chief executive must work to build respect rather than popularity.

CA is now attempting to deal with state associations and the Australian Cricketers Association over contingencies for a significant loss of revenue next summer, while at the same time facing a raft of discontent among staff who were largely stood down on 20% of their usual pay at the end of last week, while executives and a handful of others remained on 80% pay.

Roberts forecast to staff late last week that these issues would calm down after he had fronted the media to explain his decisions – endorsed by the CA board and its chairman Earl Eddings – but has since seen further leaks. Monday also brought the prospect that CA’s broadcast partner Seven West Media, owned by the billionaire Kerry Stokes, would look into the finer detail of its rights contract to seek reductions to its share of a six-year, A$1.18 billion rights deal alongside Fox Sports.

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There is frustration within the game that much of this storm has been self-inflicted by the manner in which Roberts and CA put out the message that the governing body would be broke by August if it didn’t make deep cuts to its current budgets. This effectively created a cascade of uncertainty among players, states and commercial and broadcast partners while angering many staff with the way the financial pain was distributed – falling far more heavily on mid and lower tier staff than Roberts and his highly paid executive team, while saving only A$3 million.

In addition to Seven and Fox other commercial partners, both current and prospective, have been preparing to potentially renegotiate their own deals with CA, which had already entered the off-season on the lookout for a fresh suite of sponsors. Many of the messages about the game’s apparent financial crisis and the potential impacts on next summer are now essentially being noted for use in talks over what current or future contracts should be worth.

Speed, who served as chief executive of CA between 1997 and 2001 before he moved to the equivalent role at the ICC and was replaced by James Sutherland, said that in his mind Roberts had more explaining to do. He highlighted how the organisation was still perceived to have lost enormous amounts of money on the stock market when in fact it has seen an initial investment of A$22 million in 2012 rise to around A$45 million earlier this year before slipping back to A$36 million due to the coronavirus shock – all theoretical when nothing has been cashed out.

“I think that’s been messy,” Speed told SEN Radio. “I saw an article saying cricket has lost millions of dollars on the stock market. Well, before it lost millions on the stock market it made millions of dollars on the stock market and its lost part of its profits, but it hasn’t lost anything yet because it hasn’t sold. That was an issue. I don’t think cricket’s financial issues have been explained very well, they’re quite complicated, and I think Kevin Roberts has stumbled through that and tried to clarify the issue, but it’s very difficult to follow.

“It largely revolves around whether India can come to Australia in the latter part of the year, so October, November, December, and whether the World T20 tournament that’s scheduled to be played in Australia in October and November can go ahead. Increasingly as we move through this covid-19 situation, that seems increasingly unlikely that’s going to be able to happen.

“There’s been lots of surprise, there seemed to be surprise from staff at CA that they were stood down, so they didn’t see that one coming. So I think there’s still some explaining to be done there. I’d be very surprised if Kevin lost his job as a result of this, but then again I’ve been surprised by a couple of the other things that have happened.”

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In a subsequent round of interviews, Roberts has attempted to explain that CA’s cash reserves of around A$100 million in March were expected to go down to A$40 million by August and then jump back up to A$100 million and more once the next instalment from Seven and Fox Sports was paid, but now lack certainty about that August payment due to concerns about whether the India tour will go ahead. He has also stated that CA averages between A$35 million and A$40 million in cash going out to states, players and community cricket each month of the year. He has promised that both the states and the ACA will get the information they require.

“Fair to say I think all of us want to feel informed when we’re making decisions, don’t we, in any aspect of life,” Roberts told ABC Radio. “So it’s really reasonable that our state and territory associations and the players’ association would be seeking as much information as possible. We’re committed to full transparency and ongoing updates, and were now getting ourselves in a position where we’ve got all of that together in a more coherent way, given the fast-moving nature of it.”

Looking at CA’s relationship with its state association owners and the ACA, which has represented the players in maintaining a fixed percentage share of the game’s revenue since reaching an initial agreement during Speed’s time as chief executive, he said that it was imperative to command respect rather than seek popularity, adding that the next two or three weeks may tell the tale for Roberts. Australian sport has already witnessed the forced exits of Todd Greenberg (NRL) and Raelene Castle (Rugby Australia) as CEOs in recent days.

“[The players and the states] are interesting stakeholders there. It comes back a bit about the role of the CEO in a major sport,” Speed said. “The chief executive’s not there as a cheerleader, he’s not there to be the inspirational leader of the sport, it’s a fairly methodical, logical not emotional process to keep the sport on track, and the piece of advice I give to budding chief executives is if you get the job, whatever you do, don’t try to be popular.

“You’re going to have to make unpopular decisions, just try to achieve a level of respect, rather than a level of popularity. It’s a logical, intellectual exercise of running a very complex business in difficult times at the moment, so I’ll watch with interest what happens with cricket, because it’s a very important part of our sporting landscape. I think the next two or three weeks will be crucial.”

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