Record prices for cricketers at first female-led auction
“Sold for R1.6 million to Pretoria Capitals,” auctioneer Ariella Kuper declared at the SA20 Auction in Johannesburg on Wednesday, 27 September. A round of applause followed as Kuper had just sold 20-year-old cricketer Matthew Boast for about nine times his base price of R175 000.
Kuper, the first woman to conduct the auction of South Africa’s premier Twenty20 franchise cricket tournament since its inception last year, went on to get the Joburg Super Kings to splash out the same amount for 26-year-old Dayyaan Galiem, with the same base price of R175 000. Boast and Galiem were the most expensive buys of the 250 local and international players to go under Kuper’s hammer at the Wanderers Club.
The auction was shown live on SuperSport and representatives from the six SA20 franchises, including the Joburg Super Kings Captain Faf du Plessis and Pretoria Capitals’ assistant coach, Jacques Kallis, were in attendance.
“It was amazing,” Kuper says. “First, we’re starting a new era for Cricket South Africa [CSA]. We’re also giving an opportunity to franchises to scout new talent and get innovative. Third, we’re trying to create new household names. Having Boast and Galiem both sell at R1.6 million having started at R175 000 is incredible.”
Kuper says the auction was well received. Proteas legend Jonty Rhodes, part of the Durban Super Giants coaching staff, said, “It was good to see the focus was on the auction and not the auctioneer. You did an excellent job.”
Participants from various franchises also expressed their enjoyment of the auction, praising Kuper for being articulate, setting a consistent pace, and not dragging it.
CSA’s decision to appoint a woman auctioneer was in line with its efforts to be more inclusive, Kuper says. “It was opportune, knowing that there was a female auctioneer in South Africa who had international exposure, who was familiar with the foreign participants coming from my ship auctions, and who had an ability to understand that you’re doing a prolonged business transaction in the form of an auction. That’s certainly the experience I have from doing oil tank and big ship auctions.”
SA20 Commissioner Graeme Smith approached Kuper, saying they had read about her in an article in the Financial Mail which stated that she could do fast and slow auctions.
Smith was also aware of Kuper’s other work. Her Solution Strategists company auctions commercial vessels, oil tankers, break bulk carriers, and fishing vessels. “I auction them around the world, and am probably the only person who handles such vessels in South Africa and Namibia,” Kuper says. “In the past 22 months, I’ve done $85 million [R1.6 billion] worth of sales. On the other side of my business, I do a lot of philanthropy, including charity auctions for Woolworths and Francois Pienaar’s Make a Difference leadership organisation. I’ve raised probably close to R130 million in the past 10 years.”
Kuper says the SA20 auction was “completely different to any auctions I’ve done. The bidders had spent the past few months analysing the players, so they knew who they wanted. Whereas in, for example, a ship auction, the participants all want that same ship, there’s only one ship on auction, and you’re going for the maximum price. With SA20, the franchises have a fixed purse.
“The six franchises are all effectively owned by the Indian Premier League [IPL] franchises. They each had to complete their squad for season two of the SA20, which kicks off on 10 January 2024. They had anywhere ranging between one to five slots for which they could choose African and international players. They also had to pick one rookie, a first for CSA, meaning that after we had done the auction of the five specialised skill sets – batter, wicketkeeper, all-rounder, fast bowler, and spin bowler – we went to the express round where if there were any slots still open, they could select from 267 additional players who had registered. Once their 17 was complete, they were obligated to select a rookie.”
Smith told Kuper that CSA decided to follow the same steps as the IPL by conducting an auction, and had used British auctioneer Richard Madley last year.
She was excited, not nervous, even with the almost four-hour auction being televised. “On Saturday night, I did an auction in front of 700 people of which I did not know a single person,” she says. “I did FIFA 2010 in front of international participants, so I guess I have the same approach. Maybe it’s because I love what I do, and I’ve been doing it since 2008.”
Having been an international steel trader for 10 years, “I was looking for a new industry to get into and in 2007, I saw that there were no women in the auction industry in South Africa,” Kuper says. “I got into Aucor, the oldest auction company in South Africa at the time. I also organised a black-tie event in 2007. We had a cap by Michael Schumacher to auction, and the auctioneer didn’t arrive, so I auctioned it. I started volunteering for charity auctions to practice my skill. Then, in 2010, for FIFA, I did a high-profile auction with international bidders and broke a million rand, setting a record in South Africa.”
However, Kuper, who has survived cancer three times in the past decade and even auctioned an oil tanker for $26.4 million while on chemotherapy, says she has now been exposed to a whole new sport following the SA20 auction. “I’m more familiar with rugby, given the 16 years I’ve worked with Francois Pienaar for his organisation, so the cricket auction was certainly a learning curve for me.”