Canberra entrepreneur Mark McConnell launches Cricket ACT Big Bash League bid

A Canberra consortium launching a bold bid to secure a Big Bash licence hopes Cricket ACT’s new $6 million facility will be the trump card they need to join the booming competition.

Fairfax Media can reveal millionaire Canberra businessman Mark McConnell has recruited an astute list of men and women to form an advisory group to build a case for Big Bash inclusion.

McConnell will be joined by Kate Corkery, Carrie Graf, Ayesha Razzaq, Todd Wills and Cade Brown, with the group likely to present its case to Cricket Australia next year to have a men’s and women’s team based in the capital.

Cricket Australia is yet to detail its expansion plans, but the competition is the most popular domestic competition and is growing at a rapid rate.

The Canberra group is confident it can secure major corporate and government investment to have the city showcased in a competition which boasts an average broadcast audience of 1.1 million people.

It costs between $6-7 million to run a Big Bash team and Canberra’s appetite for Twenty20 cricket is already simmering with tickets almost sold out for a clash between the Sydney Thunder and Melbourne Renegades at Manuka Oval on January 24.

McConnell is a Cricket ACT director and has taken the reins in launching the behind-the-scenes bid to ensure Canberra has a solid business case when Cricket Australia is ready to expand in the coming years.

The bid will be based around a one-club model with a men’s and women’s team to be based at a state-of-the-art facility at Phillip.

Cricket ACT is putting the finishing touches on a $6.2 million its new hub, with the venue to include 13 outdoor and four indoor practice nets.

“We’re being as proactive as we can … we don’t want to be left behind,” McConnell told Fairfax Media.

“Nor do we want to be the minnow when Cricket Australia decides to expand. We’re going to do this because we think there’s a genuine opportunity to be a successful franchise.

“Having the investment and infrastructure at Phillip is fantastic and that underpins having our own team here.”

The group is developing its bid around seven pillars – economic impact, community benefits, a strong financial model, strategic partnerships, membership and fans, facilities and people.

They hope to tap into the 14,000-strong cricket community in Canberra and part of their plan will be detailing a wider catchment area of 1 million people in the surrounding regions.

McConnell, the director and co-founder of Canberra’s largest ASX company and a multi-millionare, is confident the capital will back the vision and the benefits will flow to the city’s businesses.

It is hoped a Big Bash team will give the Canberra economy a summer injection when most usually spend their time at the south coast during the holiday period.

“As a parochial Canberran, I think it’s a great thing for the city and it would be good for quite a number of stakeholders at a traditionally quiet time of year in Canberra,” McConnell said.

“That will benefit hotels and restaurants. The key elements are already here. Cricket ACT already exists, we’ve got excellent facilities and Manuka Oval is a superb boutique ground.

“It’s not just for Canberra, it’s for the whole region.”

The group will develop its plans over the summer and submit a formal bid to Cricket Australia next year.

Cricket Australia added eight matches to the Big Bash schedule this season, including the Thunder shifting a game to Canberra, with the competition running from early December to February.

However, the game’s governing body has delayed a decision on when or if it will add to its eight teams.

Canberra, Geelong and the Gold Coast loom as the front-runners when Cricket Australia pulls the trigger on expansion.

But Canberra’s bid has a solid women’s foundation via the ACT Meteors playing in the Women’s National Cricket League and the centre of excellence and Manuka Oval are an early advantage over rival bids.

Manuka is already an international venue and has an established pitch perfectly suited for Twenty20 action, while the centre of excellence will be a hub for the team and its administration.

Canberra Capitals coaching great Graf, who was inducted into the Basketball Australia hall of fame on Friday, will sit on the advisory group alongside Canberra business leaders.

Corkery is the executive officer of YMCA Canberra corporate services and has a litigation background at ASADA, while Razzaq is the general manager of retail at ActewAGL and teh ACT corporate business women of the year.

Wills is the managing partner of Canberra Ernst and Young and Brown is a Cricket ACT legend, as well as a partner at Callida Consulting and president of Lifeline Canberra.

McConnell has built his business empire and been based in Canberra for the past 17 years, including serving on the GWS Giants Foundation board and working with several charities.

“It wasn’t just about creating a group of profiled individuals, but making sure we had the right blend and mix of skills,” McConnell said.

“To put a robust bid forward, you really need to have strong representation of finance, accounting, strategy … we’ve gone out to people who we know are passionate about what this concept could do for Canberra.”

Cricket ACT hopes attracting a bumper crowd to two women’s Ashes games at Manuka Oval on November 19 and 21, as well as a Big Bash sell out, will show Cricket Australia the capital is serious about securing its own team.

WOMEN’S ASHES

November 19 and 21: Australia v England at Manuka Oval. Tickets available on Ticketek.

BIG BASH IN CANBERRA

January 24: Sydney Thunder v Melbourne Renegades men’s and women’s at Manuka Oval.