Greg Baum has a point, but he just goes about making it the wrong way, which is not new for a columnist who, for all intents and purposes, is employed to be sensationalist, for his broadsheet needs this class of diatribe to one-up the senseless drivel that normally emanates from the tabloids. At the heart of the matter: would cricket fans remain fans if their 'marquee' players played for more than one club / franchise / state in search of greater riches?
Admittedly, these are all foreign waters for cricket. A sport that took 20 years to become truly professional (and then only in some countries) is undergoing the most radical restructure it could ever have imagined. Love it or loathe it, but this uncertainty will permeate the air for many years to come. For this, we have only one Lalit Modi to thank.
Prem Panicker tees off on Baum, but IMHO, they both miss the point. It's not the "money-grubbing", per se, that will eject current and future stars from the deep recesses of fans' hearts. It is the divided allegiances they exhibit that will force fans to cringe and, maybe in the most extreme circumstances, disown. Baum, money's got nothing to do with it, mate.
There is no greater example for cricket than football. Football may have 100 times cricket's global reach, but just like cricket it is spread across a number of countries, each with its own culture, history and financial agenda. What is the single most significant characteristic that binds a football fan to their favourite team? The history. The triumphs. The lows. The sense of belonging. The brand.
I am a Manchester United fan. I was a United fan before Cantonna, I remained so after he left. Ditto Beckham. Ditto Schmeichel. Ditto Ronaldo. The point is my allegiance is to the team, not the player. I enjoy the player's skills and the glory he bring to the team while he graces my hallowed turf. I chastise his greed and lack of loyalty when he leaves, but I remain true to my team through thick and thin. It's Marketing 101 folks: it's all about the brand.
International club football is structured such that a player cannot play for multiple clubs simultaneously. It is so because of the integrated nature of the various competitions. An EPL team could theoretically play any club from another national competition in any given year. Hence, the need for a monopoly over players' services to guard against injury, promote team unity and, ultimately, earn a return on the investment.
Cricket is only different in that it doesn't have this integrated approach to global 'domestic' tournaments, yet. The Champions League is a first step to implementing a football-style global structure. However, cricket cannot implement this structure while there exist territorial and financial struggles between franchises and state associations / county clubs / provinces. Below each national board, there can only be one top dog for every pre-defined piece of the cricketing landscape, and guess who they will be? Yup, Lalit Modi's franchisees.
The current cricket structure of disparate domestic competitions allows the Symonds, Flintoffs and Orams of the world to embark on freelance careers. We, the fans, don't mind. We really don't care how many runs Symmo makes for the Cape Cobras in the South African Pro20. Why don't we care? Because, we are not exposed to domestic competitions outside our respective countries. A clear case of out of sight, out of mind.
However, tournaments like the Champions League will change this to some extent. As a Mumbai Indians fan, I'd rather only see JP Duminy play for T20 cricket for my team and not his native Cape Cobras. Hey, I'm possessive about my cricketers, but as a fan I'm allowed to be.
The only way I will get to see this happen is when the franchise owners start realising that their franchise's brand value, merchandising potential and other revenue streams are compromised when 'their' players appear for 'rival' teams. This light bulb is bound to have been lit in the franchise owner's minds after this inaugural Champions League, if indeed it was becalmed up until now. I am convinced that we will soon see an increase in players' salaries as the issue exclusivity of services comes to the fore. In short, from the next round of IPL and other contract negotiations players in the league of Symonds, Flintoff, Bravo, Dhoni and co will paid more in return for offering their skills exclusively to the one franchise. It happens in every other sport, it will happen soon in cricket - mark my words.
From a fan's perspective, this is great news. Fans do not begrudge their sporting stars more money if they can show a modicum of loyalty for a few years and, hopefully, win matches through their brilliance. The franchise owners will be happy for all the extra revenue that isn't flushed down the toilet. So, who loses? You guessed it, the state associations, for who's existence Lalit Modi and his cronies will struggle to find a reason. **Cue Modi's evil laughter**
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