The Great Salary Cap Debate in English Cricket


It has been a fairly quiet weekend for English cricket. Shame we didn’t have a tri-series game for everyone to watch. However, there has been a bit of interesting off-field news: the ECB have cut the salary cap in county cricket by 10%.

Normally I’m a big fan of salary caps. As an NFL fan, I know that the cap keeps domestic competitions competitive. And as an Aston Villa fan (don’t hold it against me) I realise that the inequities in English football make it basically impossible for 95% of league clubs to win the Premiership in the forseeable future.

Unless you’re one of the top clubs (Man Utd, Chelsea etc) you’re basically there just to make up the numbers – something the disingenuously named Financial Fair Play will entrench. A salary cap that levels the playing field is desperately needed in football but impossible to implement unless it’s applied worldwide (something which seems virtually impossible to do).

Financial Fair Play, ostensibly devised to save clubs from themselves (i.e from overspending and going bust) imposes a cap that varies from team to team i.e. wages are restricted to a percentage of current turnover – thus formalising the competitive advantage enjoyed by the big boys and making it even harder for aspiring clubs to break into the elite. In my opinion, this regulation is just about the worst arrangement imaginable.

The whole point of salary caps, one assumes, is to keep the game competitive and financially viable. The cap in rugby union (which is set at the same level for every club) works pretty well. Although some of the bigger teams whinge about it – arguing it prevents them from competing with the French clubs (who have a higher cap) – the cap prevents the likes of Leicester (who have the biggest ground) from winning the league year after year.

The interesting thing, however, is that salary caps are usually increased incrementally over time. It’s steadily creeping up in NFL and the same is gradually happening in rugby, where they now allow clubs to recruit a marquee signing whose wages do not count against the cap. That’s why the news they’re actually lowering the cap in cricket raised my eyebrow. Indeed, it also raises a broader question: what exactly is the raison d’etre of the salary cap in English cricket? Many fans don’t even realise there is one.

I’ve got mixed feelings about the ECB’s latest attempt to resuscitate the domestic game. At a time when the standard of county matches needs to be increased (in whatever capacity possible) I’m not sure cutting counties’ playing budgets is the way to go. For example, how will counties be able to sign big name overseas players or afford to pay England players that no longer have a central contract?

I appreciate that the salary cap is a bit academic for many smaller counties, who spend well below the limit anyway, but if we’re looking to raise the standard of county cricket in general this move doesn’t make sense to me. Surrey, for example, may struggle to sign Kevin Pietersen now – not because they lack the financial resources, but because the cap might prohibit it.

Whatever you think of KP, it will be a shame if crowds are unable to watch him next year now he’s finally back to full fitness. Then again, some might argue that he’s earned enough cash in his career already and should simply take a pay cut.

It would be particularly interesting to hear the views of Durham fans about his issue. A few years ago they were penalised for violating the cap when Steve Harmison and Paul Collingwood returned to county action after being released by England. How did that make you feel at the time?

The ECB’s priority is obviously to encourage counties to produce their own, home-grown young players rather than relying on kolpak and overseas signings. There’s nothing wrong with that at all in theory. The incentives given to counties for developing English players is a good thing.

The flipside, of course, is that there are a large number of county teams and there might not be enough talent around (considering that the number of people playing league and recreational cricket is dwindling) to ensure that county cricket is of a sufficiently high standard.

When Michael Vaughan’s England were sweeping all before them in the early 2000s, there were plenty of kolpak and overseas players playing domestic English cricket; consequently the jump from division one county cricket and the international game was relatively small.

This is obviously a highly complex issue and there are no simple answers. Therefore we’d be interested to hear what you guys think. Is cutting the cap a good thing? Perhaps you think the cap should be raised – something Saracens are campaigning for in English rugby. Alternatively, you might want to scrap the cap altogether.

What would be best for English cricket in the short, medium and long term? It might take Einstein to figure this one out, let alone Giles Clarke, Colin Graves and Co.

James Morgan


  • The biggest problem in all professional sports is the massive conflict of interests between SPORT competition and FINANCIAL competition. A team or club can lose every game, yet still make a profit (at least in the short term), or vice versa. So at the end of the day, is it really about victory versus defeat, or profit versus loss?

    Ultimately, as much as it pains me to say this, the money will always win in the end. The rules of sport apply only to sport and sportspeople, but the laws of economics apply to everything and everyone. There’s no contest.

    • You can have money without professional sport, but you can’t have professional sport without money.

    • “The laws of economics aply to everything and everyone.”

      But the laws of economics dont aply to everything and everyone.Just look at the bankers. According to the so called free market theory Without govt intervention most investment banks would have gone bust on both sides of the atlantic. We live in a world where the elites decide when and where free markets will aply.

      First class cricket is like the bankers. Without outside subsidy it would go broke. It relys on money from the ECB from test matches, and 20/20. (which is why the counties are terrified of franchise 20/20 cricket) First class cricket at county level has no comercial point at all. Its only purpose is to provide and train players for the more profitable forms of the game. All this makes salary caps in cricket different from other sports becrause fist class county cricket is not self financing.

      Its a very interesting debate this because it is a microcosim of the major political and economic issue of our time. Namely should Neo liberal theory be imposed on everything. First Class cricket according to theory should go bust because it is not financially viable. Yet it is in many ways a form of research and development for future product.

      • Interesting thoughts you have there.

        Let’s play a thought-experiment: imagine if county cricket WERE allowed to fail and go bust. What would happen next? Would that be the end of cricket as a sport in England? Or would a new, commercially viable form of professional cricket replace it?

        I’ve always marvelled at the fundamental difference between football and cricket in this regard. Most footballers spend most of their time playing for their (franchise) club, not their country, whereas most England cricketers spend more of their time playing for England than they do for their (ECB-subsidised, non-franchise) county. Only in international tournaments do footballers “return” to their home nation to play.

        If we had a situation where cricketers were not confined to playing for their county/state/province/country most of the time, and were free to follow the best pay they could get, wherever in the world they could get it, it would allow lots of players to be far better off, play in far better teams than the ones they currently play in, and allow up-and-coming cricketing nations like Afghanistan, PNG etc. to import foreign players to help raise the standard of their domestic game.

        I’m not saying everything would be perfect (the ICC would effectively become FIFA 2.0), but it would improve things, and help the game to spread around the world much faster than it is now.

        • The problem with cricket is there are 3 main flavours. First class, ODI and 20/20. As you say, in football players are paid by their clubs and then go and play international football for the countries. But the game they are playing is the same. Same 90 minutes.

          If cricket was aloud to go bust something new would emerge from the Ashes. It would probably be 20/20 franchise cricket. Probably with 10 teams. 2 in London, one in Birmingham, Nottingham, Leeds, Manchester, Cardiff, Southampton, Durham, and one in say Canterbury. Financially this would make money, and the owners would not have to worry about finding players for England or subsidising four day cricket. If you believe in free market theory this is what would survive because it is what Is financially viable. But what a narrow,and sterile world it would be. The counties are like the bankers. They really should be wiped out. But it screws up a lot of other things if you allow them to go bust.

          It may be there is no real long time hope for test cricket. And all that can be done Is to manage decline. Who knows if it will even be played professionally in 35-50 years?

    • Much has been made of Surrey’s decision to dispense with Pietersen, but I suspect those who take pleasure in his demises have misunderstood the club’s motivation. They’ve signed Sangakkara, who – as far as I recall – had made himself available for almost the entire season, and will play championship cricket. And therefore a much more useful acquisition than a Pietersen who might only play T20.

      I hope I’ve got that right but correct me if otherwise.

  • It’ll never work. Until they realise that it’s such a large problem and address it all at once these little things will do nothing.

    They need to get world cups and home tests on FTA TV (even if it’s just extended highlights)
    Hey need to get cricket back in school
    They need to sack off a few counties, too many, not enough talent.
    Raise the level of amateur cricket by investing in clubs (and not the big clubs.. But the ones further down the tree!). Big clubs have too much already
    Sack off 90%of the youth stuff at County/district etc.. Pointless. Just run camps for those Jnrs performing in their leagues. Reward performance regardless of club over mummy and dads purse or favour clubs..
    Raise the standards in amateur crixket, keep long games, keep the draw.. Yes if you play low down play 40-45 over Win lose but from about half way, play draw crixket.

    so many more things needed, could go on for a long while

    • “They need to get world cups and home tests on FTA TV (even if it’s just extended highlights)”.

      I saw a Tweet from George Dobell saying WC highlights will be on an FTA channel – does anyone know more about this?

  • I’d forgotten the salary cap was still in force. Yes Durham were penalised for breaking it a couple of years ago – it does hit counties hard when a player who’d been on a central contract (and whom they hadn’t taken into account in their budget) gets injured or is unexpectedly dropped by England.

    Of the various arrangements from other sports, I perhaps prefer the rugby model. Maybe keep the cap in force for the Championship (which fewer people watch, but has a wider purpose of preparing England players for Test cricket), but allow marquee players to be signed for T20 to attract bigger crowds. Whether and how this could work in county cricket’s already complex structure is a different matter.

  • I think I read it was being reduced from 2.1 to 1.9 million. I might be confusing it with something else. These figures do seem rather high. I hang my head in shame if wrong.

  • Where does the excess cash end up then?

    Oh, right, the ECB have a new senior management wage to pay along with generous pension no doubt, personal staff costs, lots of jollies and plane trips.

  • Think the rugby method is they way to go. Set cap, one signing outside the budget and then have extra “Credits” that you can earn by having players that have come though your acadamy on your books (think that in Rugby there is a good chunk available for this). Means you can have th big name player, while also encouraging English youth players to come through. This should be in place for CC and 50 Overs. Torn on T20, as I think that as a spectator I would prefer a franchise version with fewer, more meaningful games, but I understand how this would penalise the counties that don’t have a franchise… either way the salary cap should potentially also allow a second player outside the budget for T20.

    • Good thoughts. Rumour has it that the counties that won’t host games under the franchise system will be given £1 million as compensation (if our T20 competition goes the same way as Australia). It could well be that all parties will find this acceptable.

      • I imagine so. Smaller county taking one million to play no games rather than hosting games that could be a washout or poorly attended because the team is rubbish.

      • Couldn’t you merge counties for the purposes of a franchise, and maybe split the games between grounds? A West Country side. An East Midlands side (for example) – with maybe the major test venues/counties rebadged as city franchises – with 2 in London?
        Or is that seen as a precursor to merging counties for all forms – and therefore to be avoided like the plague?

  • At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, I will mention that 10 of the 18 counties did not generate enough income to cover their interest payments last year. As a whole, the counties owe £262m. Warwickshire, for example owes over £25m. Of this £262m, £36m is owed to financial institutions and I imagine that much of this is secured on the grounds and buildings. A further £45m is owed to local authorities. I imagine that these particular 3rd parties are starting to get a little bit uneasy. A further £28m is owed to “subsidiaries and connected parties”. Interestingly, Yorkshire’s debt is second only to Warwickshire, at £24m approx. One wonders how much they owe Mr Graves and whether he is prepared to waive repayments.

    I imagine that certain parties will be only too keen to send the unviable counties into administration and get their hands on the land. Whatever Mark supposes, the laws of economics cannot be denied forever unless someone with very deep pockets comes along. I cannot see the government doing this for cricket. I cannot see too many local authorities writing off the debts either. The Russian oligarchs don’t seem interested in cricket and have problems of their own. Getty probably feels he does enough for the game by running Wisden and cricket events on his own ground.

    On the other hand, the ECB seems to have reserves of about £50m. There needs to be some kind of re-financing plan developed by the ECB to get this money into the right places otherwise I cannot see 18 counties surviving for much longer. Warwickshire must at present be the favourite for the first county to fold.

    • Should the 18 counties survive much longer? Seems harsh to cull some, but it is not working at the moment. Would we be su much worse off with 10 teams with a higher quality championship? Aussies seem to do fine with a 6 team tournament. Also, we really should be trying to encourage people to come to CC matches with innovations such as Night Matches, rather than just write them off as a loss. CC is not working in this country at the moment, and neither is T20, but we just don’t seem to want to change.

  • There is no reason why the LVCC games can’t be televised. ECB could fund a dedicated channel on FTV tv, make the red button available so people can choose. I think you’d find people tuning in (youngsters, people at uni, peopel off work, retired people). you can do a ‘highlights’ at the end of the day of each match for people at work.. Boom.. suddenly you have county cricket on the TV. I’m sure you can get proficient camera men at the grounds pretty cheaply.

    After a few years, I reckon you’d see a rise in sponsorship of the program, adverts, and boards at grounds etc..

    • Yes, there is a reason. Sky pay such large fees for rights because they place a very high value on exclusivity. If there was an LVCC FTA channel. it would attract very small audiences, but Sky would still find the idea unacceptable, because it means they can do longer brag about exclusivity.

      This is key to their brand model. They want a monopoly. Sky want consumers to think, “to watch sport, I need to get Sky”. So they are very unlikely to agree to relax their exclusivity, even for county cricket, as that would dilute their brand.

      Judging by the audiences they get (usually only a few hundred thousand) I would be very surprised if Sky don’t make a huge loss on cricket, at least at fact value.

      Not only the rights but the production too – hundreds of hours of outside broadcasts – are extremely expensive. But I imagine they see it, and many of their other assets, like European Tour golf, as a loss leader.

      Cricket is a prestigious part of their portfolio, so it attracts people to sign up for Sky – and once they do, they start watching their other channels, subscribing to other services, and signing up to Sky broadband and phone contracts. Whether or not they actually watch the cricket which first attracted them to the brand is irrelevant.

      • Absolutely Maxie. Which makes a farce of so called free markets. As you say cricket is a loss leader for monopolist Murdoch , and subsidised by football.

        If you are a 5-9 year old who attends state school, and who has no Sky tv, and whose parents don’t have any interest in cricket you would be excused for not knowing cricket exists at all. It is completely invisible. For the long term good of the game this is a stupid, and irresponsible position the ECB has created. For a bit of short term cash they have pissed away any visibility of their sport. No wonder the number of people playing is falling.

        If English cricket was a sovereign state the ECB managers should be tried for treason.

  • Mark, the holder of the rights sold them to Sky. Why is this a market failure? Who should have stopped it and on what grounds? Did County memberships strike? Was ECB headquarters blockaded? Cricket does not have a divine right to exist. Blaming it on this indefinable guardianista “neo-liberal” hate – speak is just lazy. County cricket is basically bankrupt. If you lived in Warwickshire, how much more council tax would you pay to bail out the county team?

  • I don’t belive in so called free markets. Sorry if that makes me a “guardianista “neo-liberal” hate ”

    There is always some artificial or hidden subsidy or cross subsidy, loss leader or exclusively deal. Markets exist, but not free markets. Competition is the key. It drives down price and drives quality standard up. No wonder monopolist capitalists hate it,and do everything they can to avoid it. (In addition to sports rights Murdoch has exclusivety deals with 6 major Hollywood studios.) Even the guy who owns Netflix says if they can’t break at leat one of those deals when it comes up again then something will have to be done. And he doesn’t usually believe in regulation.

    If Warwickshire county cricket club is broke what has that got to do with Warickshire tax payers? If you believe in free markets then they should just go bankrupt. But as we saw with the banks it is not as simple as that. The people who run county cricket clubs perhaps should not have allowed the ECB to sell the rights to essentialy English international cricket to Sky in such a way as to make their sport invisible to new potential fans. No wonder the number of people playing and watching is falling.

  • The belief that anything in thsi country 9and world) is ‘free market’ or in any way good for the consumer is absolute rubbish. you try starting a cricket retailer for example… Sky is another example of how there is no such thing as a free market and that sport and us by extension really have no say and might as well stop bothering. the game is lost and will not recover.


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