Dear Mr Price,
I write on behalf of The Full Toss, a blog for followers of English cricket and supporters of the England national sides (of whom your brand is official sponsor).
We would like to draw your attention to the parlous state of relations between the England and Wales Cricket Board and the English cricketing public.
Among supporters, there is a widespread feeling of disillusionment, disenfranchisement, frustration, and anger.
A great many feel that for some years – but particularly since February 2014 – the board has treated us with a remarkably arrogant degree of contempt and disdain.
We assert that the ECB, and specifically chairman Giles Clarke, regard the public merely as an indentured cash-cow, whose sole role is obediently to buy tickets and TV subscriptions, with no right of reply.
They haven’t the slightest interest in listening to what we have to say, answering our questions, or taking our views into consideration.
This is a very great pity, because without fans there is no cricket. We pay the bills. We absorb the sponsors’ messages. We provide the meaning and context. But we are taken for granted.
As a blog, we certainly don’t claim to represent every England follower. But I would encourage you to read the hundreds of reader comments on our posts during the last couple of weeks (which you can access via our home page), and even beyond.
You might also like to read the comments on another blog, How Did We Lose In Adelaide, many of whose readers often share our concerns.
To shed further light on the public mood, you could digest the discussion boards ‘below the line’ on the Guardian and Telegraph cricket pages; replies to the ECB Twitter handle (@ecb_cricket); and even comments on the ECB’s own Facebook page.
I for one have never known a climate like this in thirty years watching cricket. We have run this blog since 2009, but only in the last few months have people told us – in significant numbers – that they now find it impossible to support the England team. Some even want England to lose, such is their sense of hurt and alienation.
And it may not be a coincidence that the 2014 summer saw some of the poorest test attendances in recent memory. Only 4,784 spectators, for example, watched the fourth day of the Ageas Bowl test against India.
Why are people upset? Here are some common remonstrances.
- The ECB have still not satisfactorily explained why they sacked Kevin Pietersen, the highest run-scorer in English history, despite the confidentiality agreement expiring as long ago as 1st October.
- The existing statements on this matter by England managing director Paul Downton are directly contradicted by other evidence in the public domain, suggesting that he has misled the public, perhaps deliberately.
- The Pietersen affair, and his book, have raised a large number of disturbing questions about the conduct of the ECB. These include allegations of bullying, mismanagement of illness and injury, inequal treatment of employees, and breaches of confidence. In response, the ECB have yet made no statement, or made any representative available for interview.
- These matters also cast doubt on the Board’s basic management competence and their ability to run a successful international sports team. They conducted no review into the catastrophic 5-0 Ashes series defeat last winter.
- Instead of speaking openly to their supporter base, the ECB prefer to communicate by means of unattributed leaks, often in the form of gossip and innuendo disseminated via journalists.
- The ECB regard the general public as “outside cricket”, the insulting term used in their press release of 9th February this year. Their use of this phrase – intended to decry supporters’ criticism of their conduct – was met with widespread outrage, but they have never apologised or attempted to clarify their meaning.
- The ECB are pricing people out of cricket and remodelling the sport as a pastime exclusively for the rich. Ticket prices for international fixtures continue to escalate beyond affordable levels for families on modest incomes. Seats for the 2015 Ashes are typically priced from £60 to £90.
- There has been no domestic or international English cricket on live free-to-air television since September 2005. Only those able to afford Sky Sports subscriptions can watch cricket. We are raising generations of children who have never seen an England match. Consequently, cricket’s future demographic is fast being eroded, to our peril. The ECB have fiercely, and successfully, resisted efforts to re-list marquee fixtures for terrestrial broadcast.
- Concerns persist over the ‘Big Three’ re-structuring of the ICC, which was vigorously advocated by the ECB despite fears for the future integrity and health of the global game.
So how, you may ask, is any of this the business of Waitrose?
We bear your company no malice and we recognise the value to English cricket of sponsorship revenue, in your case a reported £3 million a year.
But you have something we don’t. You have Giles Clarke’s ear.
He has no interest in supporters and will never pay the slightest attention to anything we say. A couple of months ago The Full Toss approached him for an interview and were told the ECB will only engage with the public through their own channels – the Facebook page and Twelfth Man club.
Sponsors are a different matter, though. Clarke and his board will do anything to keep their paymasters happy. For Waitrose, they will despatch the coach and captain to a cookery lesson, or send Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Katherine Brunt around your shopping aisles for an advert.
If you tell Clarke that something’s wrong with English cricket, he will listen. If you tell him that the cricketing public is dismayed, affronted, and disaffected, he might just do something about it.
We entreat you to have this conversation with him. We will be eternally grateful.
Please tell him what we have to say. Please explain why we are angry. Please ask him to listen to us.
You are our only hope.
Maxie Allen, on behalf of The Full Toss
Update: the letter has now been sent to Mark Price’s office, including a link to this post. Many thanks for all your contributions so far. If you’ve yet to add your thoughts, but agree with the above sentiments and would like to pass on your own message to Waitrose, please add your comments below.