T20 Or Bust? The ECB’s New Radical Plan To Shake-Up County Cricket

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Details are slowly emerging of an ECB plan to double the TV revenue it currently receives from Sky. At first I assumed this might come via a bidding war between Sky and BT Sport when the current deal elapses in 2019. But I was wrong.

The actual plan is a completely separate initiative that wouldn’t even involve the England team. Indeed, income generated from the plan would be ring-fenced, and according to Nick Hoult in The Telegraph, not a single penny will be invested in the national side.

So what exactly is this bold new initiative? Drumroll … sharp intake of breath …

I’m either excited, or bloody concerned, to tell you that it’s a shiny new radical T20 tournament expected to start as early as 2018. It involves – you guessed it – brand new franchises and will be played in a single block at the height of summer. These ‘teams’ will be populated via a player auction (like the IPL) and bought players will be contracted to the individual franchises.

The surprising news is that this initiative wouldn’t replace the current NatWest Blast competition (which seems to be doing quite well) but actually run alongside it. Although this is somewhat reassuring for the counties, I guess they’ll worry that the new competition will eventually eclipse the current one.

This new plan obviously sounds quite sexy – and I’m not talking about the proliferation of scantily clad dancers that will inevitably do a little jig whenever the ball whistles to the boundary. Not only will there be plenty of razzmatazz and all that jazz, but some games might even be held at Wembley or the Olympic Stadium, where the locals will doubtless be pleased to see some real entertainment after enduring West Ham’s home games. Ahem.

Although I have some concerns about this new plan, the really good news is that the ECB want one game per week shown live on terrestrial television. Halle-bloody-lujah! Although Sky’s current deal allows Murdoch’s crew to monopolise live cricket in the UK, entirely new competitions are exempt. Therefore the ECB can flog the rights to the new competition separately to whomever they want – hence the expected windfall.

Obviously it will be a challenge to get this past the counties – the ECB need 12 of the 18 counties and 26 of the 39 recreational boards to accept this new vision – but the ECB is apparently doing its best to reassure them that this new competition will be in everyone’s interests. Although the participants won’t be ‘county’ sides, the counties will become shareholders in the new initiative; therefore they stand to gain financially too (at least that’s how it will be sold I imagine).

This is quite an interesting way of solving the turkeys voting for Christmas dilemma. Because the NatWest Blast (the counties lifeblood), will still be played as a separate competition on Friday nights, the counties might see the new competition as a way of making extra revenue on top of what they already have. Time will tell I guess.

Now, inevitably, we get to the downside. Although this plan is radical and bold – everything many of us want the ECB to be – and it should enable English cricket to catch up with the IPL and the Big Bash, certain aspects are very worrying:

According to Nick Hoult’s article, the ECB devised this plan partly because they fear a substantial drop in revenue from Test cricket. That’s right folks, the broader context to all this is the continued demise of test cricket. Of particular concern are rumours about a second ILP season in September each year- as if weeks and weeks of somewhat repetitive IPL action in April and May weren’t enough already. One might ask whether there’ll be room in the calendar for anything other than T20 cricket in ten year’s time?

This state of affairs frustrates me immensely. Rather than doing more to market and promote test cricket more effectively – I had hoped that the ICC’s plans to introduce two divisions might resuscitate the longer and best form of the game – the moneymen continue to focus on exploiting T20’s popularity. It’s a real shame because I think people forget what an excellent product proper, competitive, test cricket is. Can you imagine if the Royal and Ancient decided to prioritise crazy golf over The Masters?

I don’t really blame the ECB for all this – they’ve seen how well the IPL and Big Bash are doing and want their slice of the action – but it’s all a bit depressing isn’t it. One can only hope that a balance between each form of the game is preserved and that proper international cricket remains the true pinnacle of the sport.

I have to say that I have my doubts though. If one looks at international football, more and more people seem to care about their respective premier league sides than the national team. I’d hate it if cricket fans in this country suddenly cared more about The Manchester Maniacs or the Nottingham Nobodies (or however these franchises are randomly christened) than the England test side. After all, like football clubs these franchises will be packed full of foreign stars literally playing for the highest bidder.

James Morgan

32 Comments

  1. Fred Boycott on

    Can’t see how the County Championship can come out of this well. Two T20 Competitions in the same season is crazy.
    T20 should stay as it is currently. A side show for the pissheads.

  2. I don’t think test cricket is in that much trouble in England: grounds are usually pretty full if the opposition is likely to be competitive. I suspect the more likely victim is the ODI game. However, this is not the case everywhere. Crowds in West Indies, UAE (for Pakistan), South Africa and even India are depressingly low for test cricket. I have to say that it is tough to justify watching 5 days of test cricket in the current era, and I suspect many people follow the games on TV or the internet.

    As an aside, is the R&A actually responsible for the Masters? I thought the Augusta Golf and Country Club kept a tight hold.

    • James Morgan on

      Yes you’re right James re: The Masters. It wasn’t a perfect comparison. I was just making a point. The R&A control the rights to The Open and the rules of the game on the European Tour. I should have said ‘The Open’ rather than The Masters.

  3. The highest quality competition is critical to any sport. However fan demand levels will be tested and most will vote with feet & wallet.

    Two competitions can only survive so long.

    Any Terrestrial TV coverage is welcome.

  4. I wish they would just show a bit of faith in the existing competition, its already an excellent standard and increasingly popular and well attended, despite the best efforts of the ECB and mainstream media to ignore it, marginalise it and denigrate it as “mediocre”.

  5. Well…..it should certainly bring some new issues for the authorities to confront. I look forward to the discussions with Billy Bob Lardbutt, the Florida peanut butter king (and mountain) who wants to add the baseball franchise for the London Lardies to his existing one in the States, the Jacksonville Junkies. And taking up James mention of Wembley and West Ham, it should be interesting to see the reaction to the Gold and Sullivan proposals to name their franchise the Dagenham Dildos and have naked dancing girls. Let’s not pretend that T20 is real cricket.

    • Oh dear, I’ll have to tell every junior team in the country that the only format of cricket they have ever played is not “real cricket”.

      • You have inadvertently identified a root cause of England’s problem finding batsmen with patience and spin bowlers. Juniors are brought up thinking it is all short form cricket and about power rather than technique. The problem has been exacerbated by the ‘Elf & Safety’ fanatics insisting on compulsory helmets – which has meant too many youngsters unable to play conventional shots, including the hook, to short balls because they do not master the necessary footwork (knowing they can be hit without damage).

        I am sure I sound like an old fart, but I was used to playing 4 hour games (circa 40 overs a side in those days) from under 12 level – and I learned to play short bowling properly because at school we had the England Schools opening bowler (and his Warwickshire Colts partner) bowling at us on a composition wicket…..and no helmets. We also had decent spinners because the length of school games gave them an opportunity. I do not advocate masochism (I habitually wear an armguard to bat) but some risk does help learning.

        • If you think T20 cricket at U13 level involves power rather than technique, and short pitched bowling being hooked recklessly, I suggest you leave the house and go and watch a game. The ball rarely bounces above knee height and the only time scoring rate exceeds 4 runs an over is if a young bowler has a melt down of wides and no-balls. Most kids can play a decent defensive shot and then one other nurdle that they use to pick up a single.

          This is the problem with cricket: people waxing lyrical on blogsites who have had no knowledge of how the game is actually played out there at the clubs and schools.

          • Actually I have coached the colts at my club who range from u8 to u14. I agree (especially with the young ones) that balls are low and slow – but that does not prevent them thinking they have to try to hit them hard, even when they lack the power to do it. The best listen to what you tell them, but too many take their lead from watching TV. By the time they get into the u13/u14 level they come up against the odd bowler in league games who can generate some pace, and they are too often lost. When they transition to senior 3rds it usually takes them 1-2 seasons to adjust, simply because they then find that all the talk about footwork we work on as coaches is needed against even slowish senior bowlers. And, in case you are wondering if my club is the exception and poor at colts level, we often beat clubs whose seniors are ranked well above us.

            • “that does not prevent them thinking they have to try to hit them hard”

              Hitting the ball hard is a fundamental part of batting whether in test cricket or T20. Have you never seen a test cricketer hit a boundary?

              “too many take their lead from watching TV”
              What do they watch on tv, exactly? There was no cricket on last time I checked.

              • Perhaps you come from a different area, but in those where I play (Surrey) and played (Warwicks) club cricket, the membership (especially the colts) have a largely middle class background with Sky TV. You may also be unaware of the easy availability of internet streams of live coverage (not always strictly legal). Kids use these all the time.

                There is a difference between prioritising hard hitting (a fault) and hitting hard with correct technique. It is the former that too many kids seek to emulate when they see professionals doing it in T20.

                I am guessing we will never agree on T20. But if it is to be applauded and if it is right that it be the main form of junior cricket there is a simple question. Why do the likes of Buttler, Morgan and even Hales – players focused on white ball for much of their careers – find it so difficult to make the move to red ball cricket. Answer; because the skill sets are different.

              • Yes, but the skill sets required in junior T20 are far closer to the skill sets of test cricket than the skill sets in the Blast.
                I understand that non-cricketers may be confused by the similarity of nomenclature and hence not understand this.

              • Madaboutcricket on

                Absolute tripe fella. Colts are being actively discarded if they show technique or a mindset that isn’t ‘thrash set the ball’.

                Simple fact is, skill sets are lower than ever, participation is lower than ever, numbers watching is decreasing and 2020/odi thrash-a-thon will destroy the game.

                Amateur games that are win lose are pretty Boring as soon as one side smashes 270+

        • 270? 100 is normally a match-winning score in U13s cricket. The team that get their heads down and properly grafts their way through 20 overs usually wins the game. 20 overs on a green seamer with a small ball, poor light, and a 20 yard deck is a hell of a long time to survive at U13s level.

          You wanna watch some proper cricket my son. U13s is like proper test cricket. All forward defences and slip catches.

          Even at adult level, 20 over cricket is rarely about slogging. I’m a terrible slogger and yet I still manage to score at a decent rate simply through playing classical cricket shots and running hard. Really though, 20 over cricket is a bowler’s game, especially spin bowlers.

  6. If there is one problem with this (and I think there’s a lot more than one), it’s that it’s the ECB are doing it. They have not, in perhaps the entire history of English cricket, ever done something which convinced me they were capable of either good business decisions or a capable marketing campaign.
    Take the weekly ‘free’ game mentioned in this proposal. In the pre-2005 era cricket was on free TV over the whole Summer, and on one of only four or five free channels at the time. Introducing new, young people to cricket was therefore something that happened organically, and with no help from the ECB. It sounds like there would be perhaps four or five games shown on Freeview, a platform with sixty or so channels for younger people to choose from including six kids channels. Even if a child did choose to watch it from their multitude of choices, would twelve hours of live coverage a year really cause any kids to become lifelong cricket fans?
    It’s drawing children into the game that I consider English cricket’s greatest need, and the ECB’s greatest failure. If you look at England’s cricketers, they all seem to come from overseas, public schools or have parents who played cricket. It seems to be the same way generally speaking with younger cricket fans. Rather than try to reverse this trend, the ECB just tries to squeeze as much money as it can from its ageing fanbase. They’ve relied on BBC Radio 4 and newspapers to report and promote the game. They’ve been sponsored by banks, insurance companies, Specsavers and Waitrose. They have, for most of the last ten years, done everything they can to block internet streams, highlight clips and the like.
    So with all that in mind, what will this proposal achieve? A competition which is 90% behind a pay wall, probably sponsored by HSBC or something similar, and promoted by an ECB-led marketing campaign? Nothing more than getting a little extra money from its existing fanbase, which is all the ECB seems good at.

  7. Even though this doesn’t interest me much, I would be pleased to see any kind of cricket on terrestrial TV. It can only help to reawaken lapsed interest and provide for a more general awareness. It’s also good that a means has been found to circumnavigate the Sky monopoly. It might be overly cynical of me but I’m sure they have it in mind to phase out the Natwest Blast if the franchises are successful. It could possibly be the ODI’s that are in for the chop but something will have to go.

    The biggest problem with it being played in a block, is going to be the weather. All it needs is a summer like this one for the entire event to be a damp squib. Another thing is that so many people are away during the school holidays. I can’t see myself ever finding an affiliation to the LondonLoopies or suchlike but maybe that’s just me.

    We have to hope that test cricket will survive. I don’t know what it will take because I can’t see much local interest or money being generated by the teams in division 2. They will need to be supported in a big way.

  8. Surely it should be scheduled for the school summer term, rather than the school holidays when all the kids are abroad? Or is the idea that they’re trying to ensure that kids don’t get to attend?

    Even our local youth cricket board are switched on enough to realise that scheduling games for the summer holidays is a waste of time because all of the kids are away camping in France or similar. Are the ECB equally well informed? It appears not.

    • This is a good point. If the ECB was looking to mainly target kids watching on TV, they’d schedule T20 games starting at 4pm and 7pm during term time. Having games during the school holidays helps kids watch in the ground, but not on TV.
      Not that this is really an issue, as I would assume less than 20% of kids live in houses with Sky Sports and/or BT Sports and so won’t see it anyway.

      • Being responsible for organising junior trips to T20 games, I can tell you that the only feasible day for live games are Sunday afternoons, during the school term. Any other time is a complete write-off. During the week all the volunteers are at work, and on Saturdays they have league matches. During the holidays there are no kids around to take anyway!

        If they reduce the number of venues the games are played on, that will vastly reduce the proportion of the population able to get to see live games anyway.

        Football is popular because it is played in every town in the country all year round. Its incredibly easy to follow, no matter where you live or what time of year it is.

        Imagine if you told the FA that the best way to make the game more accessible to spectators would be to scrap every single professional football match except for a single month of games between just 8 teams at a small number of locations. They’d think you were insane, and you would be.

  9. If anyone is watching the current Sky game it offers some interesting possibilities for future England players. I am sure Livingstone will get the headlines but I am finding Critchley, the 19 year old Derby leggie more interesting. Livingstone looks like another Hales/Buttler/Morgan – not so sure about the technique but a good eye and an obvious future in white ball. But Critchley, although getting hit, looks like he already has the variety and temperament for red ball. He is getting real in drift which is a good sign. He could be worth watching in the next 2-3 years.

  10. Thanks for posting James. At a time when the whole Summer domestic schedule here continues to be an absolute dog’s breakfast, my heart sinks and my gut gurgles at this type of proposal.

    With my ex corporate marketeers hat on, I think there is a fundamental problem with City based franchises; namely one of association; i.e. who will actually be interested?

    In the other nations, there has rarely, if ever been strong attachments to the First-Class sides. There may be an element of what goes on here with a much wider interest than the actual attendances but I have never seen any evidence of that.

    Also, because their domestic schedules have been based on leagues in all 3 formats with smaller numbers than our 18 counties, they haven’t had the fixture scheduling problems which have become a standard feature of our higgledy-piggledy season where you are never quite sure which phase of the season you are in and at times, you may be in all 3.

    In other words, fans have flocked to watch the new incarnations of their T20 tournaments because they filled a need / gap.

    As you have pointed out above, to slide into a City based tournament just because the IPL and the Big Bash have done it is really doing it for exactly that reason; that the IPL and the Big Bash have done it.

    Well so what? Back to association, who is going to watch it?

    As someone who grew up at Lord’s watching Middlesex, why would I want to watch a side made up of Middlesex and Surrey players or, if the supposed auction will rule, a team made up of all sorts?

    Now living in Oldham, who is expecting Lancashire and Yorkshire fans to somehow become one and care a jot for some / any Northern based City team? If you have to split Leeds and Manchester, well call them Yorkshire and Lancashire.

    Yes, they may do that with England but for over a century, we have been used to affiliating with a meaningful entity; our nation.

    A City team with lots of stars being paid a fortune to bash 6’s – why should I care?

    Will this event be yet another attempt to either appeal to kids (think of the merchandising?) or adults peripheral to the sport who may not know one end of a sticky wicket from another?

    If this is to grow the game, well what have the ECB done with all the thousands of fans who started flooding into our grounds for T20 from 2003?

    I agree with you in that the should do a better job of establishing a schedule which is easier to understand and for the media and the commercial world to sponsor and help promote.

    Why the need to bring in mercenaries when the domestic product is so good? When I last went over to Headingley, the Roses T20 was a tremendous match and ended in a tie with both sides scoring 180.

    My previous 2 matches at Old Trafford both had 360 runs scored in each of them.

    Why is there a need for more / different events when this type of fantastic sport / entertainment is on offer?

    It’s bad enough that on many media outlets, people seem to talk about Test cricket, 50 overs cricket and T20 as if there are 3 type of the game not 4. What about the County Championship, I find myself asking? The ECB need to get a grip and start promoting the Championship, an event with a huge following, even if the actual attendances aren’t that great.

    James, I don’t want to cannibalise your blog is any way, so please remove this link if it breaks the rules but I thought you (and maybe others?) might like to see my post last year on the mess which our schedule has become and how our domestic game is now played out like a sort of domestic parallel universe, a situation which is even more frustrating as it is avoidable, let alone the fact that cricket has almost given in to football and has to fight for any coverage scraps since the move to Sky who by all accounts seem to do a pretty good job, it’s just they are doing it for a small number of people relative to the potential;

    http://www.goalsandwickets.co.uk/cricket/cricket-editorial/crickets-confusing-parallel-universe-how-fixture-scheduling-and-media-coverage-are-shaping-our-domestic-county-game-in-the-current-sporting-marketplace/

  11. “It’s a real shame because I think people forget what an excellent product proper, competitive, test cricket is.”

    Yes, but we don’t have cricket administrators with the faintest intention of delivering any such thing. What we have are administrators who want guaranteed home victories for their teams to justify themselves and their expense. Therefore, Test cricket has become a forum where a financially-doped Big Three can beat up small teams in matches that resemble Christians versus the lions more than a contest. India and Australia haven’t lost a home Test since 2012 and England only lost a series because the ECB reappointed Peter Moores. If financial doping isn’t enough, there’s also increasingly blatant pitch-doctoring and lack of any proper acclimatisation to make sure.

    WI are a basket case. I watched the recent Test against India and it was embarrassing. Pakistan, SL and SA (there have been some excellent articles on Cricinfo recently about the profound trouble their cricket is in) all look to be heading in the same direction. The Big Three have been telling them what they want by offering those cricketers ten times the rewards for playing in their franchises than they can get from Test cricket – and they’ve got the message. Why try to be the new Sangakkara when you can be the new Andre Russell?

    Test cricket has become La Liga where a handful of megabucks’ teams win week in and week out. That’s what Srini-Giles-Wally wanted and they’ve got it. It’s what happens when big business takes over sport. Business wants a guaranteed return on its investment. It’s fundamentally at odds with the element of unpredictably that is at the root of sport’s appeal.

  12. “It’s a real shame because I think people forget what an excellent product proper, competitive, test cricket is”

    Which itself is in danger of overkill, The amount of test matches around the world is much higher than it was 20 years ago.
    Currently we have the WI v India being played in front of virtually no-one. Sri Lanka v Australia being played in the rainy season in front of virtually no-one and about to kick off in August (yes August) is South Africa v New Zealand in (I bet) front of virtually no one.
    The administrators are doing the their best to kill test cricket.
    Should any side play more than 10 in a year? England (if Bangladesh goes ahead) will play 17 this year.

    Sorry to digress 🙂

    As for T20 in this country. We should have gone down the 2 division route years ago. Let a premier league organically grow. We haven’t and we’ve constantly messed about with it suggesting that no one really knows what do with it.
    Let’s be honest if we were starting from scratch we wouldn’t have 18 teams and I guess that’s where the TV companies are coming from.
    If the counties won’t cut themselves someone will do it for them.

    • James Morgan on

      Thanks for posting Mark. You make a lot of good points and I certainly have no problem with you posting a link to your own blog 🙂 I’ll visit myself soon.

  13. Madaboutcricket on

    2020 is destroying crickets skills. Sure it’s good for kids initially and piss heads just out for a few beers but it’s not serious cricket. As someone said above, it’s just hitting and lacking technique.

    Test cricket will die, it’s inevitable because the standards are very low due to most test players being white ball in technique, both with bat and ball

  14. It’s not fair to compare cricket to football. International football consists of a few qualifiers, friendlies and a big tournament every two years, whereas competitive international cricket is constantly being played and club cricket is not important – until t20 came along.

    As I Kent fan without Sky I’m not bothered about the ECB’s English IPL as I won’t have a team to support and will not be able to watch it. Also I’d rather they launched their new “franchise” T20 knock off tournament as I’m fed up reading about plans for it!

    p.s.I’m enjoying the Caribbean T20 which is on Dave on free to air tv.

  15. pktroll (@pktroll) on

    I just don’t now think that a new competition will work. For many of the bigger counties, the current competition is doing just fine. It is no surprise that the likes of Surrey want nothing to do with it as they are getting huge crowds. Sure it doesn’t work for every county, but some of these counties aren’t in the larger conurbations. As for a load of people who like the more ‘social’ side of the t20 experience. That won’t change be it t20 blast or EPL.

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