Dear Colin Graves and Tom Harrison,
Despite what you might think, we wish you all the best in your new jobs. As supporters, we want English cricket to flourish, the England teams to be successful, and the English crickosphere to be a happy and harmonious place for everyone – players, supporters, media and management.
Colin, as sole nominee for the next ECB chair, and Tom, as newly appointed ECB chief executive – you are the two people best placed to achieve these aims. There is a lot of work for you to do.
You’ve inherited a dreadful mess. But to be fair, Colin, as you’ve been ECB vice-chairman since March 2013, you must take some responsibility for this.
The grave problems with English cricket are little to do with the immediate form of the senior men’s team. Supporters understand that form fluctuates. The real issues go much deeper. They are twofold, and both are the fault of the ECB.
First, your organisation’s arrogant conduct and selfish attitudes have offended and alienated a huge swathe of English cricket’s fanbase. The result is widespread disaffection and loss of appetite for the England team. We find it very hard to care about a side run by people who clearly care so little about us. Some long-standing supporters have gone as far as actively wanting England to lose – an unprecedented phenomenon.
Second, the ECB’s commercial policies – which appear to reflect an elitist ethos – have systemically narrowed the demographic of English cricket, by pricing lower-income families out of television access or spectator attendance. The simple consequence is fewer people watching or playing the game, a trend which will only increase as time passes.
Tom – Colin has commissioned you to research and develop a strategy for the future of English cricket. We want to help you get it right. So here are our recommendations for what needs to be done.
1. Apologise and explain
You will never heal the schism in our game until you admit the ECB got it wrong. You need to publicly concede that the organisation has done three things.
(a) taken supporters for granted and treated us with disdain and disregard.
(b) not been honest with supporters about true states of affairs.
(c) not recognised supporters’ integral role, both as customers and stakeholders in English cricket.
In the last few days, Colin, you’ve said some promising things on this front.
I want to leave a legacy for English cricket in that we have improved it, made it more accessible, and more user-friendly, giving the customer better value so they look forward to coming to watch or play cricket
By October or November I want them to come up with a strategy of how we can improve English cricket from a playing point of view, from a spectators’ point of view, a broadcasters’ point of view and sit down and talk to everybody.
We have got to do something and not just do it the old fashioned way of looking at what the ECB wants. Cricket still has a place in the hearts of the public but we have to work hard so everybody likes to watch it and play it.
But in practical terms, how are you going to woo back the public? If you’re serious in your intentions, your only starting point is to resolve the “outside cricket” slur of 9th February 2014.
You put your name to that statement, Colin, and if you can’t see the damage it’s caused, you’re in the wrong job.
The good news is you can make amends. Tell us what the ECB actually meant by that remark, and then apologise unreservedly. I’m sorry, but you have no choice. It’s the only way we can move on.
2. Order a full investigation into the dismissal of Kevin Pietersen and its subsequent handling
The Pietersen affair will never go away until you do this. The wound is still septic, but you have the antibiotics.
We’re still angry because the ECB have never come clean. On the few occasions Paul Downton’s said anything, it’s been with great reluctance and even then he’s come up with nothing better than quarter-baked semi-excuses which were quickly proved invalid. The ECB either thought we were stupid enough to believe this rubbish, or didn’t care what we thought in the first place.
Even more offensive was how the ECB hid from the public behind a confidentiality agreement but simultaneously drip-fed malicious gossip to favoured journalists.
Colin – could you look me in the eye and say there was no cover-up? We know the ECB lied to us. Why should we buy tickets from liars or support their cricket teams?
To lay this fiasco to rest, there must be full disclosure.
You need to establish a precise timeline of events from the beginning of the 2013 Melbourne Ashes test to the decision to fire Pietersen, including Downton’s specific rationale, the input from Andy Flower, all written documentation about the process, and the decision to institute a gagging clause.
Then you have to investigate the many discrepancies between ECB statements (including Downton’s interviews) and the other evidence in the public domain, including testimony from players and coaches, such as Ashley Giles’s comments on 15th January 2014.
Finally you need to examine the ECB’s briefing culture (of which more below). Who leaked the ‘due diligence’ dossier? And how did so many ‘dressing room’ stories about Pietersen emerge, despite the ECB’s assertion that “what happens in the dressing room or team meetings should remain in that environment and not be distributed to people not connected with the team”. Who disclosed false stories about Pietersen – 100th cap presents, traducement of James Taylor and Michael Carberry – and what corrective action was taken?
When all this is done, you need to publish every word, in the public domain, and then hold a press conference at which you, Giles Clarke and Paul Downton will take questions.
Sounds like a giant pain in the arse? It depends how much you want to get supporters back on board. The effort involved is no greater than anything you’d do for a sponsor or the BCCI. And the rewards will be ample.
3. Get test cricket back on free-to-air television.
I know you want this too, Colin, so I won’t rehearse the arguments, save to say this. What’s the point earning money from Sky if only a handful of people are watching the cricket?
The question is, how much do you want it? Colin, you told the Telegraph:
Everybody is right and it would be nice to have some cricket on terrestrial television but the problem we have got is terrestrial television does not want cricket, it certainly does not want Test cricket. I would love to get cricket on terrestrial television in one format or another but at the same time I want to work with Sky. They have been fantastic for cricket. We have to get best of all worlds but if you have terrestrial broadcasters that don’t want cricket then what can you do?
If terrestrial television really doesn’t want cricket, then why are Sky prepared to pay so much for the rights? It doesn’t add up. Are they bidding against themselves? Are you being totally honest? And even if you are, then how much effort have you made to sell the game to the BBC or Channel 4? And even if neither channel wants seven tests a year of ball-by-ball coverage, what about spreading coverage across networks in a split deal? Or set up your own ECB channel on Freeview, whereby you could broadcast the coverage yourself and keep the entire revenue from adverts and sponsorship.
It would help if the ECB dropped their opposition to the ‘listing’ of the Ashes for FTA. Far from striving to get cricket back on free TV, your organisation has lobbied government furiously to prevent it.
My guess is the ECB are wary of pushing the FTA issue for fear of upsetting Sky. If so, that’s an embarrassment. Could you imagine the Premier League or RFU being cowed into silence and inaction?
This is the single most important issue facing English cricket. And when you leave office, the one on which you will be judged.
4. Democratise and increase participation
Colin, you’ve already told Cricinfo:
I want to bring life into the game. I am a cricket nut and I don’t want to see the sport wither. I want to make it vibrant. We have a fantastic opportunity to reclaim cricket as the national summer sport. I want to be judged on many things and one of them is whether we can grow the participation figures
We have to get cricket back in schools. We have to get local clubs going into schools and increasing participation. The days when governments or schools built cricket facilities are gone forever. So we have to provide the facilities for schools to use. If that means using cricket clubs during the week when they’re not needed, then let’s do it.
I think we’re already on the same page on this one. We welcome what you say and can only endorse it. But here are a few suggestions.
The ECB currently outsource youth outreach work to Chance To Shine, and grant them only £1.5 million a year. As children’s participation is so important to you, why not do what the ECB did with women’s cricket? In other words, bring it under the ECB umbrella, put a director-level ECB executive in charge of it, and substantially increase the budget?
What about clubs? Giles Clarke has long said the Sky money helps fund the grass-roots but been very vague about how, or how much. The suspicion is the funds provided are fairly small and directed mainly to elite clubs who are already within the ECB framework. If so, there is no engagement with recreational players outside the system – including Asian leagues and village teams. You need to put that right, not only by increasing the grants budget but proactively making it available to independent community clubs of all descriptions.
The biggest challenge facing non-league recreational cricket is facilities. Try hiring a ground or nets in any major urban area. To address this, you should use the ECB’s clout and resources to create a national database for venue hire. You could also provide funds and political pressure to convert fields, sports pitches and brownfield sites to cricket use. At the end of the day, people can only play cricket if they have a ground to play on.
5. Make tickets cheaper
2015 Ashes tickets start at around £60. The majority are priced between £75 and £90, and thousands of Lord’s tickets cost more than £100. These prices are simply far too expensive for people on modest incomes, especially families. The swathes of empty seats at test matches last year tell their own story. While Ashes series may still sell out, at most grounds, the attendees will only be the wealthy. The result is a progressive narrowing of cricket’s demographic. It’s become a sport only for the rich.
You must do everything in your power to reduce ticket prices for international fixtures. You should endeavour to persuade the counties and MCC of their moral responsibility to the wider interests of the game. And you should radically overhaul the Major Match Awards system, and charge counties less to stage tests, ODIs and T20s. The ECB demands hefty sums to host these matches, sums which are directly passed on to spectators.
At present, test tickets are occasionally distributed free to local schools, on quiet days. This should be done more extensively and more often. Tens of thousands of seats for county fixtures could also be given away free to under-eighteens.
6. Give supporters a say
The ECB Board currently includes representation for women’s and recreational cricket, the MCC, the minor counties, and the first-class counties. There is no representation whatsoever for English cricket’s largest and most important stakeholder – the members of the public who follow the game.
We propose the addition to the Board of two supporters’ representatives, elected by an independent body, who will have full voting rights.
Meanwhile, Tom – you have been “charged with the responsibility to develop a strategy for the future of the game. This will be presented to the Board in late 2015, following a wide consultation process across the game”. As part of this consultation, you must speak to supporters, spectators, and followers.
7. No more briefings or leaks.
In future, if the ECB has something to say, you need to say it in public, to our faces. The practice of slyly briefing journalists off-the-record – to influence the agenda through unattributed comments or innuendo – must cease forthwith. If reporters are entitled to hear something, then so is everyone else. To leak is to patronise and insult your public.
And so those are our set of seven recommendations. We sincerely hope you take them on board, and understand where we’re coming from. We also invite you to read the comments from our readers below.
We wish you the very best of luck.
Please add your comments and further thoughts below. We will send this letter, and a link to the post, to the ECB later this week. Many thanks.