Just The Start? Essex Reject ECB’s Flawed City T20 Plan

J

It takes guts to look a seven figure sum in the face and resist temptation, but that’s exactly what Essex have done today by rejecting the ECB’s plan to introduce a city T20 competition.

Make no mistake about it. Essex’s stance, which comes hot on the heels of Middlesex’s plan to reject the new competition last week, is a real embarrassment for the ECB.

Essex and Middlesex are two counties with great traditions, who have produced many England players, and are often thought to be close to the powers that be:

Andy Flower, who is still a powerful figure in English cricket, is Essex through and through. Ditto Alastair Cook. Meanwhile Middlesex’s Angus Fraser is obviously still an England selector.

The fact that two high profile counties from the south-east are turning their backs on Harrison’s harebrained-have-a-hit undermines the ECB’s cause badly.

It’s obviously not a fatal blow, as these are just two counties and the numbers are still stacked against the rebels, but it might just be start of something greater. Perhaps momentum will slowly turn against Harrison and Graves?

The words of Essex chairman John Faragher couldn’t have been much more direct and cutting:

It is essential that the County Championship, domestic 50-over and T20 competitions are encouraged to grow, and they must be protected …

We are focused on expanding cricket in Essex, East Anglia and Metropolitan London, ensuring there are opportunities for all age and ability groups, male and female to be actively involved in the game.

As a result of the proposed changes, these opportunities will be reduced, our income overall will suffer and the first-class game will be diminished, in contradiction to the ECB’s objective, which is to grow the game in this country.

These words are not an apologetic rejection, they’re a unequivocal repudiation of the ECB’s whole rationale for financially coercing counties into supporting their ill-conceived venture.

As Faragher makes clear, how can a T20 competition grow the game when it “excludes large areas of the country from any involvement in it”?

Whereas Middlesex rejected the ECB’s plans because of their unique position as tenants at Lord’s (so they wouldn’t have earned the same revenue as other host counties who own their grounds), Faragher’s critique goes right to the heart of the issues. It exposes the contractions of the plan and highlights real concerns.

Those who read TFT on a regular basis will know I’m not a fan of this city-based tournament. I wonder why, for example, the ECB think that a city is inherently sexier (and easier to market) than a county. Why do they assume that a team called “Nottingham” is any more appealing than a team called ‘Nottinghamshire”?

I also wonder why an entirely new competition, with players representing teams they have no natural affiliation to, would be appealing to the public? There will be no local heroes in the ECB’s new competition – just players looking for a convenient pay day.

What’s more, I don’t see why a new competition with eight new franchises would be any more appealing than, for example, a premier division of the nine best counties with a few overseas stars.

If the ECB really want to plug T20 to the masses why not just market the Blast more aggressively? I don’t see the advantages of starting afresh with new city-based entities.

Besides, if the ECB’s target audience isn’t currently interested in cricket, they won’t care whether a team is new or not. After all, everything is new to the uninitiated.

I also have huge doubts concerning the ECB’s plan to aggressively market this new competition to kids aged 5-7 (and their Mums). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: my six year old boy loves sports, and he likes nothing more than kicking a ball around or hitting one with a tennis racquet, but he won’t sit still for half an hour let alone three hours.

If Tom Harrison thinks that six years olds are going to sit politely and watch 40 overs of live cricket (let alone their disinterested Mums), he’s got another thing coming.

It seems to me that the whole city-based T20 is an ill-conceived plan that’s trying to replicate the IPL and Big Bash without taking into the account the idiosyncrasies of the UK.

English cricket fans are not the same as Indian fans. Our loyalties to our counties are stronger than Indian supporters’ loyalty to their zonal teams. And we don’t have a predominantly city-based population like the Australians do.

The bottom line is this: the success of any city-based T20 tournament in the UK is very uncertain and the risks are undeniably great. Therefore it doesn’t seem like a ‘percentage’ shot to proceed. It’s too much of a gamble.

At the moment the ECB seems determined to put the mortgage on what I consider to be an outside bet. The county system isn’t perfect by any means – but what system doesn’t have its foibles? All county cricket probably needs is better management and marketing.

And let’s not forget that the modern county system has seen England win the Ashes five times in the last seven series, and get within one Carlos Brathwaite heave of winning the World T20 twice in six attempts.

I think you’ll agree that’s not a bad record at all.

James Morgan

About the author

James Morgan

James is a freelance copywriter, writer and author. He's a founder and co-editor of The Full Toss.

16 comments

  • I remember taking my then 14 year old daughter to a Friday night T20 match a few years ago at the Rose Bowl (Ok then, Ageas). Middlesex batted for 5 overs, then the rain came, back out for a further 6 overs and then it rained again. Game called off and no refunds because game had lasted more than 10 overs. She’s 18 now and won’t ever go back to watch another T20 game.

    Harrison thinks that because it works in Oz and India, it will here. What happens if it rains for 6 weeks in July (and it hasn’t rained for a month in Hampshire so stands to reason it will rain all summer long!).

    I’m with you James, Bravo Essex !

    • I took a load of kids to watch a game at Northants on a Sunday afternoon. It took us 2 hours on a minibus to get there. The weather that day was odd: bright sunshine all morning, heavy downpour just before the scheduled start, then bright sunshine for the rest of the day.

      The start was delayed from 3pm to 4pm, that was no problem as it was an afternoon game. We sat through the rain waiting.

      Then they came out and said “despite having a full house and about 8 hours of available sunlight, ECB regulations stipulate that we’re not going to play a T20, we’re going to play a 8 over game”.

      Well, you can imagine how the crowd felt. You can imagine how the kids feel about going again.

  • The social geography differences are key. I’ve lived in SA and Asia and it’s easy to see how city based franchises work there. Uk is different with lots of micro allegiances to cities within a region at the expense of other cities within the same region. Allegiance is also split within cities.

    Crickets following in UK is largely genetic and passed on within ‘cricket families’ and it will always be difficult to attract new fans. ECB should be working to bring people back to the game which is likely to be more productive.

    The ECB missed its chance by taking cricket off FTA in 2005. Simon Hughes asks where all the fans have gone but it’s bloody obvious! If your brand isn’t strong and you then hide it behind a pay wall don’t be surprised if it diminishes.

  • Spot on James, agree with all of that. Well done Essex & John Faragher. Went to the members meeting where John explained his views. He favoured developing the current T20 competition. Having a premier league with 8 teams, and a 2nd division with 10. Having relegation & promotion. Therefore you have the 8 best counties competing for the title. Instead of errrrrrr 8 made up teams competing for the title!!!!
    The free to air TV games are important. But with only 8 of the 38 planed to be free, how are the clueless ECB going to attract all the ‘new’ fans?

  • I tend to think that if this idea of a franchise had come into being a few years ago, i.e. at the start of the t20 craze in other countries, then it might have had the muscle and the impact of working. The county t20 competition back then was not nearly as successful as it has later become with the likes of Somerset and Essex regularly selling out their admittedly small grounds and it being a bit of a life-blood to them.

    However, as time has gone on, many (but not all) of the counties now have pretty successful t20 operations with the likes of Surrey having massive crowds at the Oval. However I have a couple of real issues.

    Firstly there is the idea of the blast continuing alongside the new competition. Well there is no way that this is likely to survive with anywhere near the same audience as at present if all the best players are taken for the bigger competition, it won’t have access to the same overseas players and fairly likely not the same amount of sponsorship/TV rights. That is why counties like Essex and more particularly the fans are against this.

    Secondly, it is a big presumption that there is going to be the same access to the highest level of players. The IPL is pretty much a competition that lasts not much under 2 months. Sure some of the highest calibre players might come across if the money is right, but will there necessarily be access to the same level of cash as the IPL and even the Big Bash? Well that isn’t entirely clear.

    Perhaps as well as that, and suggested to above, can the good old British weather really be reliable enough to ensure that a new crowd will go in their droves to watch a game in cold, possilbly wet evening weather? Only the regular cricket-tards tend to do that and I’ve seen it myself in grounds where there are folks going to games just hoping that the weathermen get it wrong……

    I don’t see too much to get enthused about really.

  • Durham became the sixth county publicly to endorse the new tournament last night (Somerset, Yorkshire, Derby, Leicester and Sussex are the others).

    Some of these counties look certain to be big losers in the new tournament. Take Somerset for example – the NWB is a big hit for them and the nearest new tournament venue is likely to be Cardiff (with perhaps one or two games held nearer but I doubt it). Their support seems to me to be very odd.

    • As I said at the beginning of the article, I guess it’s hard to look at seven figure sum in the face and then walk away. I suspect Durham also have little choice considering that the ECB are bankrolling them 🙁 We’ve also heard all about the financial penalties for those who don’t get on board. One county representative described it as ‘bullying’ to get on board.

      • Somerset get around £2mn in ECB pool income at the moment
        (more than their members’ subs and gate monies combined). I imagine it is what the ECB hierarchy could say about the existing distributions as much as anything that have some by the parts where hearts and minds tend to follow.

        It seems hazy as to quite how far down the road this has actually got given that the vote coming up is really just step one. With a three year run up, still time for someone to through Marty Feldman the ball for a spell from him.

  • I completely agree with your article James – and well done Essex also. May I also just offer my apologies on behalf of Durham, the county I follow, for endorsing this thing. Yes, Beefy, that once big hater of Twenty20, has decided to support this circus! It is either the prospects of a Sky pay cheque, or the fact that Beefy is chums with ECB affiliated suited slimeballs like Bransgrove, or perhaps both of those reasons, but either way, he has decided to support the thing?

  • 100% agree with the article, and many of the comments posted on it. It seems to me you have to be of a particularly ‘religious’ nature to support this new competition – you need faith in something there is no actual evidence for (like having a belief in angels or fairies at the bottom of the garden!). I fear (or maybe hope?) it won’t end well…

  • It is curious how it seems to be completely dividing the (English) cricketing world being that the majority of fans (and quite a few scribes) seem opposed, however the majority of former-playing television types, which naturally include the Sky/BT ”paywall lobby”, being zealously – at a remarkably irrational and fervent level! – ‘pro’ the Twenty20. Your Vaughans, Simon Hughes, Hussains, Bothams, Bumbles, et al, all seem besotted!!

    • Could that be because most players, most ex-players (and, let’s be honest, most of the rest of us) would love to have the chance to be paid more, maybe a lot more, for doing less! Bowl 40 overs on a hot day or 4 overs in a cooler evening? It’s not difficult to see the attraction!

      • But if they ever have any pretensions on test cricket, the bowling ‘forty overs’ is clearly the correct choice to make. Just to clarify, the issue isn’t about first-class v Twenty20 (that debate has been going on for awhile now) but the current county-administrated championship, limited overs and Twenty20 competitions v this proposed ECB Twenty20 tournament. The players were initially supportive but there seems to be some reservations now that the plans have come out; the PCA has recently voiced fears for the players not included (2/3rds!), those left playing The Blast and (concurrent) fifty over competition. Trego has just said that we should keep The Blast and promote that more.

        Ex-players Sky-types are clearly besotted by the paywall money, and are wanting to be seen as being loyal Sky employees. They’re also socialise in the same circles as the ECB bigwigs.

    • All of whom receive paid work from either sky or the ECB. Don’t bite the hand that feeds etc etc. They think that they know best because they’re “inside cricket” and the necessity to apply logic and reasoning to an argument is unnecessary for them.

      On websites such as this and BOC, most posters have heard the arguments both ways many times and concluded that the numerous negatives significantly outweigh the positives.

      On twitter or various media sites, the majority of commenters will have given the matter a good 30 seconds thought at most before expressing their opinion, and one thing we know about the internet is, people rarely publically change their opinion in the middle of a debate, even if they privately see they are wrong.

  • I’ve asked Lancashire when members are going to be consulted. I’m still waiting. Incidentally, this is three years off which seems absolutely ludicrous – world probably moved on to something else by then.

By James Morgan

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