City-Based T20: A Needless Gamble

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You’ve got to hand it to Tom Harrison. He wears a suit really nicely. And he can really talk the talk. He’s got a PhD in business speak and drops marketing buzzwords into TV interviews with consummate ease.

Harrison’s no old fart. Will Carling would probably like him. He’s every inch the modern executive and he scrubs up pretty well too. He’s just the sort of man you could see with a beautiful lady on each arm at Ascot.

Because of this, a layman might think he’s the ideal man to grab cricket by the balls and drag it into the modern era. He sounds intelligent and he’s managed to position himself as English cricket’s dynamic reformer. And so he must. After all, domestic cricket’s future pretty much rests in his hands.

But there’s just one problem. What if Harrison is all mouth and no trousers? What if he’s got this one horribly wrong? At the end of the day, Tom Harrison could prove to be just another idiot.

With that in mind, let’s look at the positives and negatives of his T20 crusade to save English cricket.

The Positives

There’s a chance that city-based franchises will capture the imagination of the general public – that’s people who currently have no interest in cricket – and boost the sport’s profile. This will ultimately lead to larger revenues that can be ploughed back into the grass roots.

What’s more, Harrison has indicated that some franchise matches will be shown on terrestrial television. This is most welcome indeed. Showing cricket on free-to-air television is by far the best way to raise the sport’s profile and thus improve participation levels – far better than any grass roots schemes the ECB has created.

Finally, by introducing a high-profile and all-disco-dancing T20 competition in Blighty, our best white ball specialists might be less inclined to bugger off to the IPL every year. This will keep them within the ECB’s orbit whilst simultaneously poking India in the eye (if you think this is a positive).

The Problems

Nobody knows whether the British public will give two hoots about this new competition. After all, if you’re not interested in football, why would you care if Liverpool, Everton and Tranmere started playing in a new competition under the joint identity ‘The Merseyside Melodramas’? Either you’re interested in football or you’re not. A new completion isn’t going to make much difference.

What’s more, Harrison’s commitment to terrestrial television sounds lukewarm at best.

In an ideal world, I’d like to maximise revenue and reach … I would love to have as much cricket as we could on free to air. But we’re a pay-TV business. We’re underwritten by pay TV. Right now, there aren’t too many alternatives to that, so we have to be smart about how we package and work with our commercial partners to make sure we get that balance right between reach and revenue.

Unfortunately the ECB only wants to show 8 of the 36 scheduled games on terrestrial TV. That’s better than nothing but it’s hardly a game-changer.

This development also leaves me somewhat confused because Colin Graves has always told us that terrestrial TV doesn’t want cricket. Yet now we hear that the BBC might be interested in showing some cricket after all. Well I never.

The other potential problem is that this new city-based competition will cannibalise 50 over cricket, the NatWest Blast (which is actually very popular) and also test cricket. Harrison, of course, has assured us that this won’t happen:

We’ve done an awful lot of work in understanding our county championship audience, our Blast audience, our 50-over audience. What this is designed to do is complement that with a whole new audience that we’re currently not talking to. This is a fantastic opportunity for us to create something that appeals to an entirely new audience and grows cricket’s overall audience.

Eh? Are we supposed to believe that cricket’s 50 over and first class audiences are completely separate? And who or what, exactly, is this whole new untapped audience?

I don’t know about you but I’ve always thought that the UK consists of a single populace – some of whom are interested in sports and some who aren’t. Harrison talks about tapping into a new audience as if there’s a distinct group of people buried five hundred feet below the Earth’s surface – a bit like natural gas – and all he needs to do is build a pipe to reach them.

The truth (I suspect) is that there’s no mythical demographic or low hanging fruit just waiting to be plucked. Just about everyone in the UK knows what cricket is. The problem is that they just don’t give a damn. All Harrison’s really talking about is marketing cricket more aggressively to people who have thus far refused to listen. In which case, why doesn’t he just dress up existing cricket and market it more aggressively? Why do we need a controversial city-based tournament with no heritage to achieve this?

Harrison would do well to learn a few lessons from football. Although I appreciate that football and cricket are different entities, Harrison completely ignores the appeal of history to sports fans:

Why does he think that Manchester United are so popular around the world? It’s because (to a significant extent) the club has such a rich heritage. The club’s a brand that has developed over decades – people have an emotional attachment to the team and it offers a compelling story. Harrison seems to think he can create similarly magnetic cricket brands within a couple of years. I’m afraid it just doesn’t work that way.

As someone who works in advertising and marketing I often judge my creative work according to the “so what?” test. It works like this. Every time we come up with an idea to market a product, we reflect on the selling proposition. In other words, is the offering (as we’ve expressed it) compelling enough not to be ignored? Is it enticing enough or exciting enough to grab someone’s attention or will people just think “so what?” and move on.

I hate to say it, but if I was an ordinary member of the public who had no interest in cricket, and I heard there was a new team up the motorway called ‘The Nottinghamshire Nightmares’ (or something similarly contrived) what would my immediate response be? The words ‘so’ and ‘what’ would probably feature quite prominently.

At the end of the day, I fear that most British people are probably either too smart or too jaundiced to find something as contrived as city-based cricket teams, developed purely by marketing men with the sole aim of making money, particularly appealing. Did you know that the TV companies are going to have a big say in where the new eight teams will play and what they might be called? The word ‘artificial’ just doesn’t cut it.

The Negatives

If you thought I was being negative in the problems section then I think you’d better brace yourself. This is where we’re going to discuss the indisputable drawbacks of Harrison’s T20 vision.

For starters, it has been revealed that the new competition will make a seven figure loss in its first year. That’s right folks, the competition that’s supposed to make millions of pounds and save cricket is actually going to lose millions to begin with. This makes it a gargantuan gamble.

Harrison is basically asking us to take a huge leap of faith. What if things don’t turn around (for all the reasons I’ve mentioned above) and the competition falls on its face? Can cricket afford to lose that much money? The ECB might claim that city T20 will “future-proof” cricket but the reality could easily be the opposite.

I also find it extraordinary that Harrison can argue that city T20 cricket will boost test cricket. How can it? There’s no evidence whatsoever that T20 is a gateway drug. Why does he assume that kids who fall in love with the short form will automatically become enamoured with the long form too? They’re basically completely different games.

The truth is that there’s already far too much cricket (both domestically and worldwide) at the moment. The last thing English cricket – or world cricket in general – needs is another shiny new T20 tournament causing even more fixture congestion.

What’s more, when the IPL started a few years back, observers worried that it would be a distraction from real international cricket; they worried that players would retire somewhat prematurely from test cricket to cash in on the T20 gravy train.

These worries have become something of a reality (especially if you look at the West Indies). And now Tom Harrison wants yet another of these big T20 tournaments, when we already have the IPL and Big Bash, in order to preserve test cricket? It simply doesn’t add up.

The final point I’ll make is that the ECB have surrendered the moral high ground in order to push Harrison’s vision through. The chief executive might claim that he has a mandate for change – as if this process has been democratic and transparent all along – but the reality is very different.

Those who have followed this saga know only too well that many counties have been bullied into this. One county official even used the word ‘coerced’. The ECB are pushing this through by threatening to withhold £6.5 million (received over a five year period) from any county that dissents and tries to block the reforms.

Consequently Tom Harrison has a mandate in the same way that a school bully has a mandate to snatch the nerdy kid’s milk.

Conclusion

I don’t doubt that cricket needs to act if it wants to stay relevant – at least I agree with Harrison on this – but is the radical and extremely polarising implementation of a city-based competition really the best way to do it? Personally I think the negatives and dangers far outweigh the potential rewards.

The crux of the matter is this: Harrison thinks cricket can only survive if it becomes sexier. And he thinks that a city-based competition is the only way to generate this sex appeal. But why? It sounds like a false assumption to me.

Making something sexy is all about presentation. It’s about marketing; therefore the invention of a new competition with new teams probably isn’t necessary and probably isn’t going to make much difference. After all, these teams will still be playing the same sport.

Ask yourself this: would Formula One be any more popular if it dropped the term ‘Grand Prix’, called it something else instead, and then renamed the teams? At the end of the day it’s still cars speeding round a track.

Surely it would be far easier and less risky to rebrand existing competitions (and our existing county teams) and then market them more aggressively? Companies successfully rebrand all the time. And they don’t cannibalise their products, alienate existing customers, and go into debt, whilst doing so.

The only explanation I can think of is that Harrison believes county cricket’s brand is so toxic, and so beyond help, that starting something fresh is the only option. But if that’s the case, why have attendances at the NatWest Blast gone up every year recently? I sense that county cricket isn’t anywhere near as doomed as the ECB think.

Consequently I’m worried. I really am. The above analysis is making me doubt the motives for this new city competition. Does the ECB really want this new tournament to save cricket, or do they want it purely because they’ve seen the success of big T20 tournaments in India and Australia and they’re jealous?

And is Tom Harrison really thinking objectively? As someone with a background in media with direct experience of the IPL, is he implementing these changes because he thinks they’re in the best interests of English cricket or is he subconsciously pursuing a personal ambition?

I’m not suggesting for a second that Harrison is deliberately sabotaging English cricket, but people in general do have a habit of pursuing strategies that suit their own agenda, and then post-rationalising them in a way that convinces everyone (including themselves) they’re doing things for the greater good. We see it in politics all the time.

Basically I just really hope that Tom Harrison is as smart as he is well dressed. Because if he’s not then English cricket is in massive trouble. As Grand Moff Tarkin once said aboard the Death Star: “we’re taking an awful risk Vadar, this had better work”.

James Morgan

71 Comments

  1. So the English Test stars and whomever is touring that summer can’t play, and the Indians won’t be allowed to play.

    Who does Harrison think is actually box-office enough to make this bugger’s muddle work?

  2. In an interview Tom Harrison gave to The Times recently he stated that the new competition was as much about the declining interest in Test Match cricket in India and therefore the ECB’s ability to sell TV coverage there as it was about anything in this country. A way of replacing TV revenues.

    This doesn’t explain why a new competition was needed rather than an adapted Blast, but among the likely suspects are the TMG wanting a bigger share of the revenues to come their way and the ECB staff and their consultants who have their careers to make.

    In a better world the ECB would be concentrating on making the 2019 WC a success, time to spend the proceeds when done rather than in advance which is how it seems with what they have just done.

    • James Morgan on

      I agree.

      Putting the World Cup on terrestrial television, for example, would do a hell of a lot more for cricket than inventing a new city-based domestic T20 tournament.

  3. They really think so poorly of the public that they think they can Business speak about how great this will be for Cricket. It’s just not going to work. IPL works because there’s a billion indians and they are all fanatical about cricket. In Australia it is perfectly set up for a city franchise system being as there are the right amount of high populace areas miles from each other.

    We have a t20 tournament where attendances are RISING. Does anyone remember 4 or 5 years ago they tried putting the tournament in a small window and it was a total disaster with poor attendance and weather all but wiping out half of the fixtures. 3 home games a week, who the hell is going to attend all of them?

    Then there is the problem with the identity of the franchises, how we should all be expected to support them, and how contrived they will be to maximise commercial potential for exploiting existing rivalries. There will have to be a Manchester vs Leeds match, but outside of either city who will be interested in supporting them? And the thing is, the grounds that do sell out existing fixtures already, they will not get a sniff of a franchise.

    Ultimately I think their aim is to make this a success and ditch the old t20 competition to ease the ridiculous fixture congestion, they won’t care that all that will mean is fewer people get to see live cricket as they will not travel to see cities over their county.

    • James Morgan on

      Agreed. Normal practice is to fix things that are broken. The ECB is trying to boost domestic T20 when they already have a pretty decent tournament that the public seem to like.

    • Madaboutcricket on

      Umm, they can business speak their way around the public.. I don’t see the ecb falling any time soon and the sacking of kp didn’t bring about change either…

  4. If you look at test match crowds in India, they’ve diminished hugely in recent years, so I’m not sure that aspect of Harrison’s theory holds water. The biggest casualty of this new idea, though, looks to be the 50 over tournament. To quote Harrison (on Cricinfo): “The 50-over tournament will be where county members can see young players coming through. It will give young players a chance to showcase their abilities earlier in their career than they would otherwise get. There’s reason to be very cheerful about the 50-over tournament.” in other words, it will be the cricketing equivalent of the League cup, with youth teams playing.

    This isn’t going to work unless:
    1 They have the big stars playing; and
    2 People get to see them (enough free to air games to allow the narrative to develop).

    • James Morgan on

      Exactly. And how exactly is all this supposed to help the England 50 over side? We keep hearing that ODI cricket and winning World Cups is now just as important to Andrew Strauss as test match success and The Ashes, but apparently that can all go to hell too. The only thing that seems to matter is new T20 city franchise competition which nobody knows will succeed.

      • “Oh. Is this supposed to improve English cricket? Why did no one tell me”. Tom Harrison*

        *This quote may be made up!

        • The ECB’s spokesman on earth, the unlamented Mike Selvey, was flogging the argument that T20 was adequate preparation for 50-over cricket before the Guardian let him go (ODIs are extended T20s these days etc etc).

          People usually seem to think of this from a batsman’s viewpoint. I’d have thought the difference for a bowler between a 4 over spell (made up of 1 or 2 overs at a time) and a 10 over spell (made up of possibly 6 or 7 overs at a time) must be enormous (both physically and mentally).

          Also, while they seem hypnotised by the 80k crowd who attended the Melbourne BBL derby, they never seem to mention the near 90k who attended the WC Final just two years ago.

        • Giles Falconer on

          Haven’t we heard that winning doesn’t matter providing we play ‘attacking’ cricket? (I may have got that slightly wrong, but that was certainly the gist of it!)

    • rewind 18 months and it was crucial the 40 over league be updated to 50 overs in order to make England competitive on the world stage after the humiliating world cup. Now the 50 over tournament is being relegated to a training program, the 50 over side is currently playing well so obviously that’s all fixed and we can change it all again

      I have to laugh about giving young players opportunities to showcase their ability, when this tournament is literally about getting as many big names in to take the place of as many young county players as possible. Why would we want our young players playing in high pressure knockout/semi final matches when we can have them knocking it about against other rookies in a meaningless 50 over tournament?

      • James Morgan on

        The deeper people dig the greater the holes they discover. The whole plan is riddled with contradictions.

      • Like his comments on the NWB continuing, it’s shameless and arrant nonsense. They can’t even be bothered to think up a decent cover story. Keep it going for another 5 or so years, then close it down.

  5. The proposals seem to leave a large number of cricket fans without easy access to matches – East coast, Wales & neighbouring counties, Devon, Cornwall, Scotland (in fact, anywhere North of Yorkshire), Northern Ireland. If the ECB wants people to attend matches, they have to be within reasonable travelling time and distance. “It is hoped” that some matches will be on free-to-view TV – sounds like the old “gentlemen’s agreement” about test matches.

    Turn up for 4 hours, slog a 50 off 5 overs (or fewer), bowl 4 overs (taking 2 or 3 for 30), go home with some serious wedge. Purely from a player’s perspective, what’s not to like?

  6. James

    I read this blog all the time, but very rarely comment. I am a very keen cricket follower, and have two sons (12 and 5) who are interested in cricket.

    I hope you don’t mind if I put forward a different perspective, even though I’ll likely be howled down by most of the people on here.

    “There’s a chance that city-based franchises will capture the imagination of the general public – that’s people who currently have no interest in cricket – and boost the sport’s profile…

    Are we supposed to believe that cricket’s 50 over and first class audiences are completely separate?…

    The truth (I suspect) is that there’s no mythical demographic or low hanging fruit just waiting to be plucked. Just about everyone in the UK knows what cricket is. The problem is that they just don’t give a damn. All Harrison’s really talking about is marketing cricket more aggressively to people who have thus far refused to listen.”

    Well, from three points of view:

    – I follow England religiously, but in county supporting terms am only very loosely affiliated to a combination of Surrey and Essex. I never see the county championship or 50 over tournament. I watch some county T20 stuff when I happen to be in and it’s on, but I never go out of my way to watch it on TV and prob go to 1 match a season. I don’t really know the context of any given T20 Blast game – I am usually aware of the quarter finals, and quite like to watch the finals day.

    Therefore, even though I have been a cricket fan for nearly 30 years, I have scope to support a “new” team if it captures my imagination – which a consolidation of some of the best county players (not fussed about the England squad – see enough of them) plus top overseas players could well do. There are some superb players across the county circuit – exciting youngsters coming through, older players who have either passed through or never really made the England squad, good players in their prime who for whatever reason aren’t in favour with England.

    – My 12yo actively supports Surrey, but he also goes out of his way to watch BBL and (to some extent) the IPL. There is no doubt that he would take to an additional English competition which include more names he recognises from the county games or old England squads, rather than just the odd overseas English player. Him and his mates chatter through the winter and the season about IPL/BBL, but pretty much never about county championship and rarely about Blast.

    – My 5yo is a blank canvas and will form allegiances based on what he sees and what people around him are watching – that’s just life – so could easily prefer a new “franchise” to an old county.

    So there you go, one cricket-mad family with lots of scope (regardless of whether cricket is FTA – which I very much hope it will be) to be interested in the new competition.

    Yes there’s a risk that it will fail, but there is also a chance that it will be great – and I’m not upset that that chance is being pursued.

    • James Morgan on

      Hi Rich. Thanks for offering a different perspective. I for one certainly won’t shout you down 🙂 after all I certainly don’t have a monopoly on the truth. I’m just a fan like everyone else.

      I’d just like to ask, however, whether the IPL / Big Bash are sexier than county cricket because they’re marketed far better? In fact, county cricket really isn’t marketed at all … and that’s why (in my opinion) it seems old hat (even though NatWest Blast audiences have gone up a lot).

      Could the ECB not try to engage with younger audiences by trying to sex up our existing teams and our existing competitions? Why is a city sexier than a county? That’s what I don’t understand. I fully appreciate the need for an all out marketing assault but why do we need to take such a big risk, and cannibalise other forms of the game, to do this?

      • I agree – there is basically no marketing which (combined with no FTA) makes it hard to discover and follow teams. I really don’t understand why there can’t be some free-to-air coverage of county games which Sky don’t take up.

        I think the issues with the current competitions are:

        – too many games – however many games Sky televise (if you have Sky), it is almost impossible to follow a county properly unless you go to the ground, which unfortunately not all of us have the time to do! Being able to televise every single game in a short tournament changes that.

        – too much player turnover within teams during a season – it used to be great when counties had top overseas players for the whole season, but that rarely happens now. Therefore you need games in a bloc so that, for example, Chris Gayle can play for Somerset for the whole tournament. Most franchise teams have a fixed squad of players for the whole tournament. Also, I feel really sorry for county players who get their team to the final, only to have the England players swan back in on finals day.

        – too difficult to put context around games – again, goes on for so long that things just drift somewhat. My 12yo knows “Big Bash is on for the next few weeks” so looks out for it in that period of time – the Blast goes on for 2(?) months. Having games every Friday is great for attendance at the grounds (no burnout from too many matches, after work fun) but again bad if you can’t go to the ground.

        I really am not sure that this will cannibalise other forms of the game. I think there are people like me and my boys who don’t really engage with county cricket as a spectator at present, but who might watch a short, focused tournament – if it’s good quality cricket – where they can relate to the squad and watch every game during that their chosen team plays.

        Do you think that could be done within county cricket – eg by having a two-tier T20 Blast, in a short window, with a sort of “red button” viewing option so you could commit to watching a team each time that they play?

        If it was me, I would try to structure the new competition to make it as TV-friendly as possible, preferably entirely FTA – and make the Blast as live-spectator-friendly as possible.

        • James Morgan on

          I understand what you’re saying and it’s an interesting perspective. A perfect solution probably doesn’t exist. By the way, the last time they tried to put the Blast in one block in mid-summer it didn’t work. The Friday night thing does seems to work. I agree with you that having two divisions in domestic T20 is worth trying.

        • It is not difficult to imagine tickets for say London North v South selling well, but for it to be a success all eight teams need to attract interest and be competitive.

          No great surprise if there is some variable bounce when it starts; if/when for those that go less well promoting ‘wildcard teams’ from the t20 Blast would be one way to go, a county or two against ECB teams would add spice.

        • “Too many games” is the most bizarre reason I have ever heard. You think 16 games is too MANY? What the fuck do you make of the premier league with 38 games, or the NBA, with 81 games, or the most popular sports league in the world, the MLB, with 162 games?

          The NWB must have less games per team than almost any sports league in the entire world! and you still think its too many? That’s the most bonkers thing I’ve ever heard.

          16 games is about 20 games too few!

          • football games do not go on for 4 days and the strains on the bowler in particular is significantly different. Players can play 30 games if need be, but the standard would be so far below the highest level it would be utterly pointless

            • football games do not go on for 4 days

              Neither do T20s. We’re talking about T20s. No idea what you’re talking about.

      • I thoroughly dislike the IPL – its a cross between WWE and masters tennis. The standard is so poor, that either the players are incompetent or all the players are competing to try and throw the match before the other team does. Most people I know who play cricket agree – its not feasible that professional cricketers can bowl that many full tosses and drop that many simple catches in a game.

        The BBL is better. However, the thing I find interesting about the Big Bash is the almost complete absence of “big stars”. Most of the players are what the UK press would disparagingly refer to as “journeymen cricketers”. It appears to be popular because the players tend to stay loyal to their local clubs. The standard seems almost identical to the NWB.

        The increased popularity compared to the NWB is down to a) the good weather b) the bigger stadia (obviously) and the good tv coverage.

        The idea that the BBL has more “recognisable names” than the NWB is just bizarre, if not to say flat-out-wrong. The names in the BBL are only familiar to people who regularly watch the BBL. If you watch the BBL and not the NWB, then obviously you are going to recognise more names from the BBL, because its a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  7. This will be the beginning of the end for ‘real cricket’. The new competition will run at the same time as first class games. Therefore 90+ players will be unavailable for 4 day county games. In the long run it will effect test cricket, as batsman only used to slogging for 20 overs, will not be able to bat 4 sessions to save a test. Bowlers in defensive mode won’t be able to bowl a team out on day 5.
    Why not show the 2 Lord’s tests on Free To Air TV, a domestic T20 game every Friday, plus finals day, and the 50 overs semis & final.
    Allowing more people to watch, better sponsorship deals & advertising?
    Without the needless​ ill thought out revamp.
    Don’t have any faith in Harrison & Strauss.

    • James Morgan on

      As I wrote the other day, the ECB will consider absolutely everything (no matter how hare-brained) to revive cricket apart from the most obvious thing: putting cricket back on terrestrial TV.

    • Madaboutcricket on

      Beginning for the end?? The 2020 effect on tests is already a few years old!!

      Rare to see batters able to technically or mentally save tests… we just hear the cliche of ‘brand of cricket’ or ‘happy to fail with exciting cricket’ to justify why they can’t

      Hell, Aussies again have proved that they can’t back up test batting in the 3rd test again in the 4 th and succumb to ‘big show’ hitting

      • So you don’t think playing an extra T20 competition, reducing the players available for championship Cricket will effect first class cricket, and long term England’s test team???

        • Madaboutcricket on

          Re-read.. I was saying that it’s not the beginning of the end.. theta already started if you look stupid the quality and techniques / mentalities in the game now.

          • I think you should ”re-read’, the term ‘real cricket’ refers to 4 day county Cricket. Which this season​ sees a reduction from 16 to 14 games per team. With the city based competition a further reduction in games could happen. Add to that the loss of county players to the new competition, going forward 4 & 5 day cricket cricket will struggle. I think we agree on that?

            • Agree with you there Bertie. Could be the start of tough times for first-class county cricket, which will eventually effect England’s test team.

  8. My take on this…

    If you already have an interest in T20 and go to watch (say) Birmingham Bears (aka Warwickshire) play in the NatWest Blast, the chances are you are not going to have the time, inclination or money also to support whatever city-based Birmingham T20 franchise team is created out of thin air. So you will be making a choice and many fans will remain loyal to their existing county-based teams. A few may be seduced by the prospect of watching the big-name international stars who may (or may not) find time in their already packed Global T20 schedules to join an English franchise team for a few weeks, but the net result will not be much of an increase in total attendances across the two available T20 competitions – at least not from existing cricket fans.

    So who does Tom Harrison think is going to watch the new competition – either at the grounds or on TV? In this interview http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/cricket/39412237 he very deliberately invokes words such as “diverse” and “multi-cultural” (as well as “younger”) when talking of the “audience” the new T20 competition is apparently intended to appeal to. I suspect that in part he’s targeting stereotypically cricket-mad South Asian populations concentrated in urban areas, and this is one reason why the tournament is city-based. This is an audience who may be watching the IPL or PSL on satellite TV but who are not perceived as necessarily having a strong affinity with the existing English county teams. I’m not saying that this is an entirely accurate characterisation; just that it might be informing the ECB’s thinking as regards the new competition.

    I don’t have a problem at all with any of that so far as it goes. It’s right to try to bring new fans into the domestic cricket tent. The problem is that the tent they’re actually being invited into is a completely new and separate tent and not the one that existing domestic cricket fans already occupy. Whose interests does that serve?

    Well not the counties, that’s for sure. It’s all very well to say that different formats and tournaments can be marketed to separate audiences to grow their appeal. However the reality is that city-based T20 will have a bucket load of cash thrown at it, might be on FTA, but will certainly be promoted up to the hilt as new, dynamic and reflecting a diverse, modern urban Britain. This may or may not work and is (as many commentators, including James, are saying) at best a gamble.

    In contrast, county cricket in all its forms will receive little or no additional promotion or exposure, will experience an existential threat due it’s funding model (the annual ECB bribe will be too little to make much difference to the most indebted counties), will be perceived by the general public – for lack of any effort at a counter-narrative from the ECB – as quaint, lacking in diversity, perhaps elitist, and representing the past – an antiquated structure with few star players (who aren’t on international duty) and a boring, long-form championship that no one cares about and teams named after funny old place names on the map that contemporary Britons aren’t supposed to have any particular allegiance to anymore. In other words (bar the NatWest Blast) exactly how it is now.

    But this is all about strategy, narrative and marketing (or lack thereof). It didn’t have to be this way. A properly worked out strategy for the future of the game in England and Wales wouldn’t have created the possibility of this split opening up. The doom that probably lurks just around the corner for many First Class counties is the direct result of the ECB’s past decisions: ending FTA coverage, taking a sack load of Sky cash and maintaining that the game’s diminished profile with the general public post-2005 is just fine and dandy, driving counties towards bankruptcy by failing to address… the game’s diminished profile post-2005, by making those with Test grounds bid millions for the “privilege” of staging an international game and ruinously indebted by forcing them to meet the costs of hugely expensive infrastructure projects, and – yes – by failing over several decades to grasp the nettle and properly restructure the county game until it’s now probably too late. The ECB gives the appearance of accepting its (planned?) obsolescence and of only wanting to push it to the margins where its decline can be mismanaged until it withers – while they get on with making money elsewhere.

    If the madness persists, what will be the long-term result and how might the game look in 20 years’ time? A certain amount will of course depend on Global developments, but First Class cricket is generally in decline and things could follow a broadly similar course elsewhere (arguably some places like the Windies are already further down the same path). My guess is that the current format distinctions between First Class, List A and T20 will have been quietly massaged out of existence by then. All will be thrill-a-minute hit ‘n’ giggle of one kind or another. The team that represents England in the three match series, two-day Ashes “Tests” of 2037 will be drawn partly from Birmingham Braves, Manchester Majestics, North London Lords (or whatever the hell the franchise teams are called) but primarily from the few globe-trotting, England qualified, hired gun superstars who number among the game’s elite players of no fixed territory or allegiance. A team the whole country can get behind, then.

    Can’t wait for this brave new world, can you?

  9. You know what? I was sceptical about whether 20-20 would be a success and I was just plain wrong, so I’m going to give this a chance, even though I despise Harrison and his ilk. I just have a feeling there might be something in “London vs Manchester”, or whatever, and that over time it could evolve into a “tighter” format than the current cumbersome one involving 18 counties, and simply supersede it.

    As ever, the more of it that’s on FTA, the better its chances. Disappointing they’re not able to get it going by 2019, too.

    • There might be something in London vs Manchester, but probably not if you live somewhere like Bridgend or Newcastle.

      I agree that the county structure (especially as regards the County Championship) as it stands is not completely fit for purpose and needs an overhaul, but be careful what you wish for if you think replacing it completely wouldn’t have a wider impact.

      • What I wish for isn’t on the table I’m afraid – lazy days watching Test or County Cricket quaffing warm bitter and consuming an absurdly over-sized picnic, with a sprinkling of 50 and 20-over games on top.

        Your comment gave me another idea though, namely that any English Region vs Wales or Scotland would have a nice (or not so nice) edge to it.

        • Wales doesn’t have a separate national team (they’re part of the overarching England & Wales structure) and only one First Class county (so you’d effectively be playing Glamorgan). As for the Scots, as an ICC Associate Member they might be insulted to be regarded as a “region” and I’m sure would rather have the chance to play bilateral matches against England.
          We did just have the North vs South games, but since the ECB staged them in the UAE it’s rather difficult to know how much of an audience there would be for that kind of set-up.

    • How much is there in ‘London vs Manchester’ if, for example, Steve Finn is playing for Manchester and Liam Livingstone is playing for London?

      • The success of the Premier League suggests most people don’t really care about who’s representing their “tribe”. I’ve never understood it, either…!

        • At least football fans don’t have their players playing for their ‘true’ home team in other competitions to rub their noses in it!

          Football did what it did by a less risky root than what cricket’s proposing. Football took existing brands and hollowed them out from the inside. Today’s clubs have zero to do with the club that existed in the past – but they’ve kept the brand names and transferred some of the brand loyalty. The day when one of these clubs relocates (like Oakland Raiders moving to Las Vegas) can’t be far off.

  10. James and others have raised many good points against the new t20 tournament. I agree with most of them. However, the biggest problem for me is not simply the existence of the new tournament, but rather the impact it is going to have on the rest of the domestic cricket season—especially first class cricket.

    As I understand it, the 8-team t20 tournament will be played in a five-and-a-half week block in July and early-mid August, with the 50-over cup going on in the background. The existing, 18-county t20 blast will be played in a similar block starting in late May and going all the way through June. Playing the two t20 tournaments in back-to-back blocks means, as far as I can make out, that there will be no first class cricket played for at least 10 consecutive weeks at the height of the English summer.

    The County Championship will be pushed to April–May and late August–September, and may well suffer a further reduction in the number of matches played. This compromises the integrity of the championship, and is hardly a recipe for developing the players England needs to succeed in international test matches.

    If this new t20 championship has to happen, I would suggest one of the following two options:

    (1) Play the 8-team t20 in its July-August block. Play the 50-over cup at the same time, using out-grounds where necessary. Though the rest of the season, play the 18-county t20 blast in its existing “appointment to view” slot on Friday nights, and play the County Championship (back in its two divisions of nine, two-up-two-down format) from Sunday–Wednesday at the same time.

    (2) Play the 8-team t20 tournament in its July–August block. Play the 18-county t20 blast at the same, using out-grounds where necessary. For the rest of the season, play 50-over games on Sundays (perhaps consider reverting to 40 overs), and play the County Championship Tuesday–Friday at the same time.

    My personal preference would be option 2, but I think either would work well. The ECB would get their new, flagship tournament—and, who knows, it *might* actually work. You would avoid completely ruining the County Championship. And you would give counties the limited overs, “appointment to view” fixtures that help bring in the crowds. Perhaps most importantly, you would have a domestic schedule that made sense to fans and was relatively easy to follow.

    The big remaining concern would be the lesser status of whatever tournament was played alongside the new 8-team t20. I’m not sure there’s a way around that. At the same time, I’ve been to a few minor league baseball games in the United States, and they can be a lot of fun. Small grounds, strong local support bases, and regular food-and-drink specials add up to a decent night (or afternoon) out. In short, being a secondary competition isn’t necessarily the end of the world. I think it would work better if the two t20 tournaments were played at the same time—perhaps the profile of the “Super League” would encourage people to pay a visit to their local county ground—but, at this point, I think I’ve rambled on for long enough.

    Long-story-short, playing two t20 competitions in back-to-back blocks will completely destroy the domestic cricket season for most existing fans, and will do the England test team no favours either. There has to be a better way.

    • The impact won’t just be on the domestic schedule – Simon Hughes has already tweeted that he expects there will be less Test cricket in August.

  11. The core of the problem with Harrison’s plan is that it rests on a set of unproven assumptions about crowds, revenue, cannibalisation, tv income and just about any other numbers in his spreadsheet. And this is where I diverge from the general opinion here in thinking this is all a cunning plan (a la Baldrick) on the part of Harrison.

    I spent the first half of my career in marketing before it was discovered that I could do difficult sums without taking off my socks. This was, apparently, almost unknown amongst marketeers. As a result I spent the second half of my career as an underwriting director pointing out the simple arithmetical errors, unproven assumptions and consequences of compounded errors on the bottom line of each years plans from the marketing department. Harrison’s plan looks just like the plans I used to see in insurance from the marketing director; based on wild assumptions and requiring only the slightest divergence from those assumptions to deliver disaster. So Harrison is a product of his environment and it is English cricket that will pay the price.

    In the meantime Harrison is playing what used to be called ‘the Lloyds game’ in my industry. You put the suckers in a losing set up, having told them it is a sure fire winner, and move on to the next (and even better paid) role before the chickens come home to roost.

  12. If it’s gonna be a carbon copy of the Big Bash then they need the BBC on board, who will then need to put spin off shows on CBBC/Beebies.
    The big bash is completely aimed at families and very young kids, and that’s why it’s blossomed.

    I’ve been sceptical for years from a cricket perspective as I’d much rather have 2 divisions and create a Premier league.
    I don’t see 8 city/area teams working and certainly can’t see where the new audience is coming from, not quickly anyway.

    However i think this will change cricket forever in this country and it’s probably exactly what the ECB really want , they’ve been playing around with the schedule for as long as i remember trying to fit everything in, and never solved the problem. That is too much cricket in too short a summer.
    Back to our friends Australia, who have a longer summer, they only play 10 first class games (11 for the finalists) have a short 3 week window for their 50 over competition. They play test cricket alongside the bash but their is talk this may change if channel 9 get their way.
    Is the Aussie summer better than ours? Is that where the ECB are eventually trying to get.
    Is the ultimate aim here to finally get rid of those small “needy” counties that are more trouble than they are worth?

    • James Morgan on

      I suspect you’re right Neil. After all, why try to solve the endless problem of fixture congestion during the English summer by introducing yet another tournament! It doesn’t add up. There is surely another agenda here.

  13. I’m behind New T20 mainly because a two-division county T20 tournament would be outright nasty. The vibe was often that those two are the only options.

    Promotion and relegation would be mostly just random chance because of T20 and rain. Where teams and players are would be chaotic and the best teams and players would not necessarily be in Division 1. 75% of teams wouldn’t put their whole effort in it. Or, in other words, that old 40-over competition again.

    • Your summary is a concise explanation of why T20 is baseball rather than cricket. The short nature of the game makes for less opportunity for class to win meaning much more natural variance in results. And that is ignoring the effect of training bad habits into potential test players.

      • T20 is very similar to baseball. I happen to love baseball, and its incredibly popular and incredibly successful, so perhaps it would be no bad thing if T20 became the UK version of baseball – plenty of teams around the country to spread the message, plenty of games to maximise revenues, and then best of 3 for the “playoffs”.

        Of course, the ECB are going in a different direction, making it closer to fucking croquet or polo.

        • And I have no problem with baseball (apart from the rampant steroid abuse). My problem is that it requires a different set of skills and techniques to test (or even 50 over) cricket, which means a focus on T20 will damage the real game.

  14. Giles Falconer on

    I suspect many cricket fans will, like me, decide to time our family holidays for the 5 weeks when this new Twenty20 competition is scheduled.

  15. "IronBalls" McGinty on

    A time to remember….Summer, 2005, the Ashes were won, watched by 8 million people, the whole series gripped the nation, right from the off, Cricket was the “new football” screamed the headlines! Open top bus parade, Downing St reception, and medals all round. English cricket was never more relevant!….and then…Giles Clarke immediately sold this remarkable new product, to the Devil that was Sky. Out went the baby, bathwater, and, indeed the bath!
    Other than the privileged few, nobody, but nobody watched cricket in the following years. Popularity, and participation fell off a cliff. Spiffing wheezes were trumpeted to get people involved..all of which failed. Grounds going bankrupt, debt mountains rising, the ECB growing ever richer, yet the game becoming impoverished! The test side ain’t great, the short form side improving, despite the Establishment and not because of it.
    Kids recognising some wrestler, but none recognising Alastair Cook, Captain of England!
    The MSM embedded journalists doing all they could to retain their credentials and supporting the ECB blindly in the leap off the cliff into obscurity!
    They know, they all bloody know, that the sell out to Sky, completely and utterly made the game irrelevant to the General populace. Could they ever admit they were wrong? Heaven forfend!!
    What we have now is everyone screaming FTA,FTA!! as the panacea to save the game! True, but let’s rewrite history, wrap it up in some fancy Dan, cotton candy competition, we’ll make shedloads of money, the plebs get a bit in FTA, the Counties get a pittance to appease them, and everybody’s happy? Yes? How can it possibly fail?

  16. I love the imagery of Tom Harrison being all mouth and no trousers, having of course bet someone else’s shirt. As to the new audience, I’d say that this is pretty closely linked to ECB’s new All Stars initiative, aimed at coaching 5 to 8 year olds. I understand this will be marketed (amongst other places) to Mums on Mumsnet, inviting them to sign-up. Signing-up creates a marketable audience to promote a family T20 proposition to build this new hoped for and undiscovered fan base.

    • James Morgan on

      I wrote about 5-8 year olds the other day. My 6 year old gets bored with stuff within 30 mins. So do all his friends. I don’t think Mums will want to take their 5-8 year olds more than once. Three hours is a lot for young kids to sit through. Once the snacks run out …. mayhem!

      • I would target 10-13 year olds. 5-8 is far too young.

        The one thing that really gets 10-13 year olds hooked is partisan support. If they don’t care who wins, they won’t watch.

        But really, what we’re talking about is enthusing the dads of 10-13 year olds.

  17. And this is, perhaps, the bit that Harrison has got right. After all, the typical T20 shot (cross bat over cow corner) is precisely what most 5 to 8 year olds play as their first attempt at batting. He has obviously matched the type of cricket to the target audience.

  18. TV is not the answer it is streaming my 11yo daughter loves her cricket but she watched you tube and very little TV.

    I’m cricket mad but won’t pay for Sky and Cricket Australia showed a lot of streamed coverage.

    The Blast is doomed – who will sponsor it and it will be the cricketing equivalent of the League Cup

  19. PS Bet they still don’t attract the fair weather families to the beer match cricket on a cold night in the City!

  20. The Sky paywall monopoly does not actually allow streaming either, so when we say ‘free-to-air’ we can basically take that as a given that we are including a streaming service also. Remember when Sky kicked up a fuss about Notts and several more counties streaming highlights of their championship matches? They went crying to the ECB who were subservient enough to get them to stop,

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/cricket/2016/04/29/ecb-tells-counties-to-stop-twitter-broadcasts-to-avoid-sky-sport/

    There were 288 championship matches played 2016. Do you know how many Sky screened? Two. There is a much larger chunk of India’s Ranji Trophy screened on Star. Every English first-class ground now has an active camera at long stop and straight hit, enough to supply a bare bones broadcast – Cricket Australia stream every match of the Sheffield Shield on their website in such a manner.

    Sky buy up the rights to English cricket in toto and barely show any of the domestic stuff on television. Even with the Blast, the flagship domestic competition, they only ever show one game per night. There are five Sky Sports channels and meanwhile Chinese football and tiddlywinks is on the others.

    Sky’s corporate monopoly is taken to an absurd level of ridiculousness and hypocrisy.

  21. The question I always ask is: if you scrapped everything and started from scratch, leaving things to the free market, what would happen?

    My guess is you’d get 20-30 professional T20 outfits springing up around the country, who would form either regional leagues, playing as many games as possible – at least once a week from May to August, with play-offs in September. A sensible business plan would be to initially keep ticket prices and player wages relatively low, and sell the game cheaply to an FTA tv channel. Once each team had a big local following and the stands started filling up, player wages could go up accordingly.

    There would be no professional CC cricket, if we’re honest, just a high level of semi-pro 2 day cricket, similar to the existing minor counties competition. However, if the ECB agreed to use the profits of international cricket to fund a first class league, you’d probably be able to pay maybe 6-8 regional teams of full time professionals.

    • What you say makes a lot of sense, but we are (as they say) where we are. The ECB hasn’t been very good at managing or modernising the legacy structure (or at promoting it to ensure it has “relevance”). I think it’s inevitable that if a first class competition is to survive in the long term that 18 teams is going to be unsustainable. However the existing FC counties will cling on for dear life (and you can’t really blame them for wanting to survive). In the absence of any agreed plan for downsizing the transition is likely to be bloody, piecemeal and very unpleasant as individual counties finally run out of credit options and go to the wall. Fun times ahead.

  22. But practically all the counties are in debt – all except Surrey and Middlesex. What clubs are you suggesting here? Warwickshire and Yorkshire have probably the highest debt and these are two of our most historic and successful counties. English cricket with no Yorkshire!! Some counties have managed to run on a shoe string, targeting Twenty20 (e.g. Northants).

    • This is what I would do:

      Give counties in div 2 of the CC the option of going semi-professional to save costs. If that means that we end up with a division of 10 pro teams and 8 semi-pro teams, so be it, promote some of the minor counties to make it 2 divisions of 10.

      Reduce CC games to 8/9 per year, but make more of them. Play them throughout the summer, play them at weekends, don’t schedule clashes with test cricket so England players can play, play them at out-grounds as much as possible. Play them outside the county to try and expand your fan base! Anything to drum up interest. Get rid of the stupid bonus point system. You win or you lose. KISS. Put a slick highlights package on ITV4.

      International venues MUST get a better revenue splitting deal from the ECB. At the moment the counties take on all the risk and the ECB all the reward. This is not responsible management from the ECB.

      Expand the T20 competition. Add 6 new teams in underserved regions. Plymouth, Oxford, Cambridge, Norwich, Glasgow, and Belfast would be my starting suggestions. Try to expand the game and break into new markets. If they only get 5000 fans per game for the first few years, that’s still 5000 completely new fans.

      Play more games – something around 20, over a decent time period – 4 months. Play a mixture of Friday nights and Sunday afternoons. Again,3 extra home games = more revenue for the clubs.

      Playoffs in late August/September. Play best of 3 for the quarters, semi finals and a final.

      Put the T20 on FTA tv. Try to get every single game available. If necessary, ECB should buy some equipment and film it themselves and give it away to the new regional tv channels (eg Notts tv) and offer a cheap online subscription service. Do whatever it takes to drum up interest. Get the players visiting junior sections at clubs.

      Scrap the 50 over comp. 3 competitions is too confusing for casual fans. KISS.

      • To clarify: when I said “Give counties in div 2 of the CC the option of going semi-professional to save costs”, I meant semi-pro for that tournament only.

        So Northants, for example, might have 10-12 full time cricketing staff who play all competitions, plus 3 overseas T20 specialists who play in the T20 only, and then anyone else they bring in to play in the CC is paid match fee and expenses – would probably be a young player or a local premier league player.

  23. Hope the whole bloody circus is permanently rained off. It’s crap and we all know it.

    So the Country Championship is dead and only watched by a few retirees? Really? Nearly 7000 attended the Oval for 3 days last weekend and saw a great game of REAL cricket. And oh yes there were youngsters and families all enjoying the day without a mob of lager specialists. Wonderful stuff. Gourmet dining rather than instantly forgettable McDonald’s

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