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What’s This Whole Franchise Thing?

THE new Zimbabwe Cricket domestic structure which saw the creation of five franchises to run first-class cricket in the country has been a source of debate in the local cricket fraternity.

The development has been met with a diversity of opinion that has created more questions than answers, quite as one would expect given the recent divided history of cricket in Zimbabwe.

What has come out of the debate is that clarification is needed to clear the air as the average cricket fan seems clueless as to what this whole franchise thing is all about, and how it is going to work for the greater good of cricket in this country.

Through different discussions with people inside and outside the local cricket circles, I have taken note of deep mistrust over the project. “What are these guys up to this time around?” is the question you constantly come across.

Whose idea is it and where does it originate? What is the motive behind it and who is driving it?
What is a franchise in the sports sense? Let’s just look at a few examples.

In South Africa, a franchise is the commercial arm of a provincial association which is responsible for running the province’s first-class team, which is considered the first stage of professional cricket before a player breaks into the national side. The province still runs lower level cricket such as clubs and schools, and a provincial team.

The franchise system was adopted in 2004/05, to create a strong tier of teams that would create a higher standard of competition at the top level and thus improve the standard of domestic cricket in South Africa.
It was seen as a way of bridging the gap between domestic and international competition, should a cricketer be called up to the Proteas.

So what happens is that the bigger provincial unions merge with a smaller, neighbouring one to create a franchise. For example, Free State Cricket Board joined with Griqualand West to form the Eagles, known as Gestetner Diamond Eagles because they are sponsored by the IT company.

The bigger province runs the franchise from its head office.
Now, this is what ZC are trying to do here. Harare Metropolitan Province, who are merged with Mashonaland Central, can form, say, Munyaradzi Enterprises Northerns, or something like that. Munyaradzi Enterprises, as the official sponsor, runs the franchise as a business venture by contracting players, paying staff and other costs while retaining naming rights.

Their home games will then be played at the aptly named Munyaradzi Enterprises Harare Sports Club — the headquarters of the franchise — or even take the game to the people by playing some at a revamped Munyaradzi Enterprises Bindura Country Club.

This is obviously a very good idea, on paper at least. ZC said they introduced the franchise system to decentralise the administration of cricket in the country by creating independent administrative bodies, and also as a way of commercialising the game throughout the country.

But people I’ve spoken to doubt the spirit driving the project, and I do sympathise with their views.
The idea might be good, but let’s examine the will in the context of history.

I have been reluctant to judge this project before it even takes off, but it becomes very difficult to just ignore it when some obviously very sensible people point out that the same  that is all of a sudden keen to decentralise the game is the same administration that centralised power in the first place by disbanding old provincial associations which were very influential, powerful and resourceful at their peak and contained administrators with impeccable cricket credentials.

Is this all being done to appease the ICC, which recommended these changes after its task force visited the country? Is there an ulterior motive?

How independent are the franchises going to be when their CEOs are all appointees of the national association and whose credentials in cricket terms continue to be questioned since their identities were made public?

Who do they report to and at what level can they make crucial decisions without consultation or approval from the central body?

To be really self-governing, the franchises require financial independence by attracting lucrative sponsorship from businesses, so they can go about their activities without interference from anyone.

It works in South Africa where sponsors fall over each other to bankroll sports because of the massive market which gives them a fair return of mileage.

Does Munyaradzi Enterprises have that kind of money in Zimbabwe to sponsor the Northerns? It may not be practical in Zimbabwe. Let’s just hope that the creators of this structure do have something in the bag to execute this idea that’s otherwise good on paper.


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