The ECB’s recent announcement regarding their proposed new 20/20 championship is, on the surface, very good news for the sport. However, if you look closer there are grounds for concern. In this blog we’re going to address the potential issues.
Broadly, we believe that this is good news for cricket and UK sport in general. The ECB’s objective of driving participation and concentrating on recruiting the next generation of fans with a particular focus on a diverse, young, family audience is spot on. Their insistence that this new tournament will be broadcast, at least in part, on terrestrial television fully supports these objectives. The ECB are modelling the potential impact of this new tournament on Australia’s Big Bash, which has been an undisputed success. It has transformed cricket from being Australia’s fifth most popular sport to the first in just five years. Bringing cricket back to a new broader audience is a very positive move.
So, well done to the ECB for instigating this new tournament. After years of falling participation the ECB now understand that the ‘old school’ county members who have traditionally inhibited the growth of the game aren’t the future!!! Exposing the sport to a new younger audience is future proofing cricket.
However, our concern is the structure of this new tournament. In short, there will be 8 teams who will be based around the major urban conurbations. Whilst they will play their matches at the bigger County grounds, they will have no formal connection with these Counties. Player recruitment for each team will be based on an annual draft system. Effectively, each franchise will be building a new team from scratch every season.
The ECB’s rationale for this structure is based on the game’s constitution which requires their member County’s approval for any such reform. As there will be 8 teams competing in the new tournament, from a possible 20 first class Counties, only 40% could be granted a franchise. The ECB require 75% support from all the Counties to agree to their proposals, therefore there couldn’t be a hint favouritism towards those with the larger grounds in the bigger cities. Therefore, in order to achieve approval of these reforms from the smaller Counties, the ECB has decided that the franchises must be completely separate from the existing County teams and provide an equitable split of revenues for all.
There are a number of issues with this model. Firstly, the ECB are ignoring their established fan base which the counties have been building through the existing NatWest T20 Blast over the past 10 years. Are Surrey fans, for example, going to have any affinity with a ‘London’ team based at Lords? Unlikely.
The second issue relates to the players. Without player consistency, fans will to have to start with a new team each season which will not only be inconsistent and confusing but also detrimental to the long-term brand building of the franchise. You could counter this argument by saying that this is not a problem in any other sport, professional players move to where the money is most attractive. Our response to this argument is the fundamental crux of the issue; due to the drafting mechanism, there will be instances where players are contracted to their Counties for the Specsavers County Championship, Royal London One Day Cup and NatWest T20 Blast, however for one month a year will potentially be playing for a team from a competently different part of the country. For example, England captain Joe Root has played all of his senior county cricket for Yorkshire, as one of the most explosive and exciting talents in England he will be targeted by all franchises. Imagine if he was drafted to play for the team based in Manchester, will he be embraced by the local supporters? No is the answer, fans know when they are being duped, they understand when sport lacks credibility and will turn off accordingly. Footballers who transfer from rival clubs must demonstrate passion and loyalty to their new clubs before they will be fully accepted; under current ECB proposals players might only play for the franchise for one season (38 days a year), this is not enough time to demonstrate loyalty and passion to the fans of the franchise.
And this leads us to the fundamental issue. The success of a professional sports team is based on whether there is an emotional connection with the fans. Without it there is no passion, fans will turn off as soon as there is a more appealing or credible alternative. To put it bluntly, without the emotional connection the financial model fails.
So, in conclusion, we applaud the ECB for instigating this tournament (despite being about 10 years behind the curve) and genuinely hope that it is successful. However, we worry that the current proposal is too much of a compromise to appease some stakeholders rather than a platform that will propel the sport to a new level. So, we call on the ECB to be bold, understand the fundamentals of why fans follow professional sport and create a tournament that will genuinely change the cricketing landscape.