Cricket South Africa President Chris Nenzani speaks at the inaugural player draft of the T20 Global League
Cricket South Africa (CSA) turned down a USD 70 million offer from a private businessman to own and run a 20-over league in the country. In March this year, six months after the cancellation of the inaugural GLT20, Hiren Bhanu, owner of Pretoria Mavericks, offered CSA USD 70 million for over 11 years for the rights to host a competition in the country. CSA rejected Bhanu’s offer and, in June, signed an signed an equity deal with broadcaster SuperSport, for a similar tournament, the details of which have yet to be ironed out.
In a letter seen by ESPNcricinfo, dated June 19, 2018, CSA’s then acting CEO Thabang Moroe informed Bhanu the board had rejected his proposal. “The CSA Board and its Members’ Council has considered your proposal to privatise the league for a definite period in exchange for a guaranteed fee to CSA. Much as all the proposals that were received were compelling and well-presented, including yours, unfortunately they were not favorably considered.”
Asked specifically why the board had rejected Bhanu’s proposal, a CSA spokesperson said: “CSA has, in writing, thanked all prospective buyers for their interest in the league and have also communicated their decision in selecting the SuperSport equity model.”
For Bhanu, the situation resembles a “monopoly,” as SuperSport already owns the rights to all cricket played in South Africa – domestic and international – and initially refused to pay the broadcast fees CSA wanted for the GLT20, which led to the tournament being scuppered. Moreover, Bhanu believed he was offering CSA a lifeline by offering to handle the entire logistics of a league, and he was led to believe – in messages seen by ESPNcricinfo – they would be interested in his offer.
On May 4, an independent director on the CSA board sent Bhanu a message saying, “I am lobbying Louis [von Zeuner, another independent director] and Chris [Nenzani, board president] regarding your proposal. So far it looks good on the phone.” Ten days later, the same board member sent Bhanu another message to say his proposal was about to be discussed (on May 20) and that Bhanu could “say TY (thank you) to me later.”
The proposal was sent to the board by CSA’s financial head Naasei Appiah and then turned down. When Bhanu learnt of CSA’s deal with SuperSport, he questioned the board member, who replied. “What can I do?” In the same conversation, Bhanu told the board member the existing GLT20 owners were planning an injunction and considered CSA’s actions unfair.
In the weeks after CSA’s announcement, three franchises – the Durban Qalanders, Nelson Mandela Bay Stars and Bloem City Blazers – all released statements demanding to be reinstated as owners in any T20 competition CSA held. They all indicated they would take legal action against CSA if they were not kept on.
Bhanu is considering the same, but also wants to charge CSA for costs he puts at between USD 400,000 and USD 500,000. Those include flights for a trip to India for Moroe and Appiah in November last year that Bhanu paid for because apparently CSA’s travel agent was unable to book flights while his was. The visit was to try and convince the BCCI to allow Indian players to participate in the South African league. Bhanu said the BCCI were willing to consider that, if the tournament was played in August. CSA insists they have refunded Bhanu for the flights, but he told ESPNcricinfo he has not received any monies.
CSA have not clarified whether they will continue to engage with private owners but ESPNcricinfo understands they have requested a meeting with the existing owners in early August. Bhanu has indicated he will not attend the meeting.
Bhanu was brought on as owner of the Pretoria franchise after it emerged that Osman Osman, the man who was unveiled as the original owner at the launch last June and the only South African to own a franchise, did not have the USD 50 million required to own a franchise for 10 years. Bhanu was approached to take over the Pretoria franchise by former board head Haroon Lorgat and Venu Nair, who was working for Ortus, the company CSA initially engaged to run the GLT20. Osman was kept on as a minority shareholder and has his own grievances with CSA, relating to how they repaid his deposit.