The 2011 English international cricket season begins at Cardiff this morning with plenty at stake for all three sides. India aim to keep their test No.1 status out of England’s greedy paws, while Sri Lanka hope to spoil the post-Ashes party. But as the summer progresses it won’t only be on-field results or performance that matters. Attendance and revenue will be scrutinised more closely than in living memory.
2010, remember, was the year of the great spectator no-show, with swathes of empty seats during test matches and a hefty slump in receipts. Significantly, even the Oval didn’t sell out. And that partly explains why so many counties took a real smack in the chops, financially. Last season, only three clubs made a profit (Notts, Somerset and Warwickshire) while fifteen made a loss. The test grounds were particularly badly hit, exacerbated by a combination of the the ECB’s eye-watering hosting fees (now revised) and their investment in new facilities. Lancashire, Yorkshire and Warwickshire all lost at least £2 million.
So this year they need our bums on their seats, bigtime. And thus far the picture is mixed. Lord’s is sold out already for the India test and pretty full for Sri Lanka. The Oval still has a few tickets left for the Thursday and Sunday. But none of the non-London grounds (as far as we could tell) are yet fully booked, most worryingly Cardiff – who rather need to get their skates on.
Last season the cricket press speculated at length about why attendances had fallen, and were usually miles off the mark – mainly because their experience of live cricket is so different from ours (they get in free, have the best seats, and Npower pay for their lunch). Usually in these discussions two things happen: Jack Bannister blames the decline in over-rates, and an ECB suit promises more face-painting.
The actual reason is very simple: going to the cricket is expensive. Very expensive. As a quick snapshot, Lords are charging £60 for most Sri Lanka tickets, the Oval £60 for medium-range India tickets, and Edgbaston £46 for the same opposition. Throw in travel, beers and food and you’re looking at £100 a pop for a day at the test. And that’s just for you; try multiplying that by each of your three kids, for example. All in all, test cricket is now such an indulgence (before you even factor in your Sky Sports subscription) that as spectators we’ve become very choosy about what we watch. Pakistan and Sri Lanka, say, are fine cricketing nations, but they don’t get your juices flowing like the Aussies or Saffers do, because there’s no historic rivalry involved.
So in this climate of soaring ticket prices and concerns over falling gates, we’d like to take a careful look at the English cricket spectator’s experience. If us punters are paying through the nose, and the counties need our revenue, the very least we should expect is an enjoyable day and value for money. Throughout the season, if you attend an international (or even county) fixture, we’d welcome your feedback. Here are some of the things you could tell us about:
Price How much were your tickets and what kind of seat did you get for the price?
Atmosphere Joyous (eg, Trent Bridge), vibrant (Edbgaston) or like sitting through a Powerpoint presentation (Lord’s).
Customer service Did the stewards treat you like a valued client, or like cattle? Was there one bloke checking 900 bags while you stood in line, missing the first 10 overs?
Food Somewhere in England or Wales there must be one cricket ground which offers more than stale Ginsters and a £6.50 bacon roll. We’ve never found it. Have you?
Extras Was there anything to do during rain-breaks and lunch? A museum, or a decent shop, perhaps?
Or anything else you experience. Do get in touch, and tell us all about your day at the cricket. The e-mail address is email@example.com, or enter them in the comments section of any post; we can collate them from there. Thanks – and look forward to hearing from you.