Friday, 16 September 2016

Further thoughts on city T20

I'll start this piece by saying that I have a massive respect for Chris Grant and what he has done for Derbyshire County Cricket Club.

Regular readers will know that, and the level of professionalism, on and off the pitch in his tenure, is light years away from what it once was. More than anyone else on the county circuit, he has been transparent about his thoughts on the new city-based T20 and is to be commended on that.

Yet I am not convinced and it would seem that I am not alone.

Having spent a fair bit of time over the past few days looking over Twitter and various news sources, the biggest issue that I have - and I suspect many others too - is that there is no detail. To use the old phrase, the devil lies therein and the counties earlier this week voted for the introduction of a competition that no one really knows a darn thing about. How can you do that?

What cities will it be? One would guess, for eight teams, two in London, then one each in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Nottingham, possibly Southampton and one in the west (Cardiff?) Surprise, surprise, that's one for every Test ground, bar Durham.

How will the teams be recruited? The best of the county game, plus the 'cream of world cricket'. Maybe three overseas per team, so a lot lifted from our domestic game for appropriate squads.

When will it be? That's a good one. The current thinking is July, when a lot of cricket fans - TRADITIONAL cricket fans mind, not this 'new audience' we will be finding - are taking their holidays, in the hope of catching some cricket played by the team they have supported, in some cases, for decades. Some sources say the month will be entirely given over to the new competition, which is a bit of a pain, isn't it? Call me old fashioned, but I reckon that the likelihood of a Lancashire fan from Liverpool going across to support a team called Manchester is slim. Likewise people from Sheffield suddenly buying Leeds tops. Only a quick Google search is needed to see what Derbyshire and Leicestershire fans think of supporting a team that may well have Nottingham, Outlaws or Robin Hood in its name.

If the aim is to make money for counties, I can buy that and superficially it is good. If the aim is to bring cricket to the masses equally so, but I struggle to see how. The TV rights will almost certainly go to Sky and they aren't close to saturating the domestic TV market, though granted are increasing it steadily. The cricket will be in eight cities in high summer, not across the far greater range of towns and cities as it is now. People won't travel two hours or more to watch a twenty-over game, be charged daft money for food and drink and maybe, if they're lucky, not have to pull their jacket around them for warmth or stick a beanie hat on their head.

This isn't Australia, where you can sit with a cold beer in 95 degree temperatures. With 65% of their population across the big cities that host state sides, the only change is a couple of extra urban teams. Of course the games are well-attended, it is by the same fan base. We'd have around 25% of our likely cities as a population base, a good few of the cricket faithful already marginalised and hostile at having to support a weird composite side that bears no resemblance to anything they have followed before.

Nor is it India, where the IPL is a huge affair and tickets are considerably more affordable. There's not the history to contend with there either, so the intermittent bugler who gets the crowds on their feet sounds like it is part of an event. Maybe a kazoo may be more appropriate for our version and quite possibly loud enough.

Of course the TV pundits are in favour. You don't bite the hand that feeds you, but it is delusional to think that a host of non-cricket families will discover the game for the first time, even if Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers were in town - sorry, the city. For the unconverted, a six is a six, whether smitten by a golden blade or someone of more rustic talent. The game itself is a mystery and the word 'cricket' is met with a glazed expression and swift change of subject. They will, in short, be much less interested in London  beating Manchester than the traditionalists would watching Surrey do the same to Lancashire. Whoever gets the crucial marketing 'gig' will need to be offered a huge salary, as it is going to be tough.

Which brings me to my final point. What of those left behind? There will be, we're assured, a T20 competition as we have at the moment, but will it run simultaneously?  If so, the cream of the domestic talent will have gone, the top international talent will be signed up and you'll be left watching two largely second elevens,  bolstered by two blokes from Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Whoopy-doop...

If they run it earlier in the summer, the chances are that the weather will impact on both the games and the attendances. Branded hot water bottles will be all the rage, if there are sponsors to be found for largely second tier and possibly second-rate cricket, maybe re-branded The Pound Shop T20. Overseas players will be involved in the IPL and won't commit to playing both English competitions. They are already complaining of burnout.

Then what will happen? Those in the corridors of power will sit back in their leather recliners, pontificate once more that the county game is dying and 'renegotiate' the cash hand out to eighteen counties. No one's going along to games, they will say, and there's too many teams. They will have short-term conscience money, but then?

What if the new idea fails, as I suspect it will? There may be an initial curiosity value for some, lured in by the big names, but by the time people realise that it is actually just a series of celebrity beer matches, one where no one really gives a monkey's who wins or loses, it may be too late.

Once the bigwigs have seen that Sky will pay big money for a short series of matches, however crass and meaningless, what guarantees are there that the second tier down - the counties - were not deemed surplus to requirements? The big names play in the city competition, they play for England and hey, it's the same as in Australia now. It must be good.

Unless these newly-formed city sides (they already hate the word franchises) are totally independent of the counties at whose grounds they play, it can only increase the financial divide between the rich and the poor. Derbyshire may - or may not - get an extra million a year, but our dear neighbours by the Trent will otherwise get ticket, merchandising and refreshment sales that will make the current financial disparity into a future yawning chasm.

The devil's in the detail right enough. Let's just say that, in my humble opinion, the people in charge of the the county game have done a Robert Johnson and met him at the crossroads.

I hope I am proved wrong and will gladly admit to it in due course.

But I am not convinced. Not by a long chalk.

Let's hope Cap'n Grant can steer the good ship Derbyshire through some choppy waters in the years ahead.


Nic H said...

It won't work. People in this country are too territorial and their local club is their identity. Current supporters of clubs outside those cities will shun it and those in attendance will be their autograph collecting and supporting the 'player' and not the club.

mh said...

Martin said

I think the organisers will find it virtually impossible to organise this competition without giving further benefits to the counties who own the grounds where the matches take place.

These counties are not going to give the franchises use of their grounds for nothing , so will expect a rent ,and to a certain extent they have the franchises over a barrel, so the rent will include a lot of profit.

Another suspicion is that the counties owning the grounds will offer reduced price tickets for the games held at their ground , in a similar manner to that which they do for test matches, which results in these counties having increased memberships.

I suspect it will be a success because the marketing men will start off by pricing the tickets quite low to encourage people to go and for there to be full grounds It will also presumably be on TV , though hopefully something other than Sky who currently have a monopoly.

The problem for the counties where there is not a franchise is how will they fare in attracting spectators to the existing 20-20 competition, which may now be viewed as a second rate competition, especially if it is held at the same time as the new 20-20 competition.

I think this needs a lot more work/detail before this should be given the go-ahead.

BobW said...

As you say the devil is in the detail and guess what? There's no detail yet. I bet the ECB don't even know themselves...