Wednesday, 21 September 2016

New City T20 - an interview with Chris Grant

It was a pleasant surprise to get a text from Derbyshire's chairman, Chris Grant, on Saturday, offering to do an interview with me regarding the plans for the new city T20. Having read the somewhat caustic piece that I wrote before the weekend, he said he was happy to call me and tell me everything that he knew about the competition and why Derbyshire had voted in its favour.

It speaks volumes for the man that he did so and I'm grateful for the hour or so that we chatted about the competition and exchanged views. He was happy for me to record the chat and to publish it here.

Chris accepted that there were understandable reservations about the competition among traditional county members and also that part of the reason for that was a lack of information.

Andrew Strauss wants to see a competition that features the best players in the UK with top overseas stars, one that ideally replicated the atmosphere and intensity of the final over the World T20, where we fell short. Was that because of  lack of exposure to such match situations? Strauss thinks it might have helped had Ben Stokes had greater experience of the 'pressure cooker' atmosphere as he bowled those last six balls.

The ECB made it clear, in their meeting with the counties, that maintaining the status quo was not an option, at a time when most counties are under severe financial pressure. At the same time, however,  the parity and continuation of an eighteen-county T20 was completely agreed and is regarded as a non-negotiable.

So here are the main points from our lengthy chat, concluding with my questions, after Chris had gone over the presentation that county representatives had received:

Broadcasting - Tom Harrison, formerly on the Derbyshire staff, is world-renowned as an expert on broadcast rights and had confirmed that broadcasters were keen to see a new competition with new brands, one that would attract investment and new audiences. For the first time, with BT Sport and Sky, there are two major broadcasters to bid against one another and drive up the value of this competition. Those broadcasters want something new, a 'best against best' and a compelling spectator experience, to engage a culturally diverse audience.

Ticket sales  - analysis has showed that the majority of the current cricket audience is middle-age, middle-class male, irrespective of the competition. There is concern over the lack of tickets sold to juniors - only 5% of Test match and 13% of T20 Blast tickets go to that category and there is a great desire to tap into that audience.

A survey has shown that while 990,000 people currently attend first-class cricket in some form, there are a further 9.4 million who follow the game but don't attend, between the ages of 16 and 64. A separate survey of 7,000 sports supporters showed that cricket fans saw the game as 'exciting', but most non-fans saw it as 'boring', with twice as many teenagers more likely to go to a rugby match or wrestling event than a cricket match. Only seven in every hundred children had cricket in one of their top ten sports, while one in every two current club cricketers said that they struggle to reconcile the time demands of cricket with their everyday life.

The new competition is aimed at attracting children and parents into both watching and playing the game.

Finance - The ECB has done some very detailed financial analysis, assisted by Deloittes. The estimated annual revenues from the competition were £48 million, largely a combination of ticket sales and broadcasting rights, with running costs of £17 million. That would leave an estimated annual profit of £31 million, some of which would go into the grass roots of the game for participation, but leave £26 million to be split between 18 counties.  Each county would, on those figures, get an annual £1.3 million baseline cash injection, with the eight 'hosting' counties getting an additional fee of £250K. This fee is no different to what Test-hosting grounds get currently, or that we will get for hosting the Women's World Cup.

The use of that £1.3 miilion will be down to individual counties, but Chris would be keen to see much of it ploughed into grass roots cricket and get the game played in every school within the county, with coaching input.

So Chris, what exactly have Derbyshire agreed to?

The same as every county, Steve  - at this stage, ONLY to give the ECB a mandate to develop a future programme of two thriving T20 competitions and identify the best way forward with this. This mandate would include entering into discussions with broadcasters to secure the next TV deal.

Over and above the ticket income, what about the merchandising/refreshments sales at grounds. Won't those clubs retain them, giving them much more than a hosting fee?

All ticket sales will go into a central pot, while the group of  non-Test match counties will fight our corner very hard to ensure that we get our share of ALL revenues that we feel are competition-generated.

You can be assured that there will be some very lively discussion on how much of the burger  sale, or that of a pint, Nottinghamshire and the others will take and what goes into the collective pot!

Chris, I have two major concerns. First, to attract this 'new audience' won't they need to simplify the game? Secondly, if they are looking to get increased participation, where are they going to play? I know a lot of old clubs where the ground is overgrown or has become a housing estate.

I agree on that Steve, you're right and the format and 'look' of this competition will need a lot of work. The ECB and especially Rod Bransgrove, at Hampshire, has been a massive supporter of Cage Cricket . They are looking into this and also potentially buying land to create cricket grounds and clubs.

If the new competition is a successful as the research suggests and the ECB think it will be, we have to find new players and places for them to play, together with new formats of the game with special rules.

So why isn't that being done now, with the known ECB cash reserves, given as £70 million in May of this year?

The problem, Steve,  is that the counties have a combined £130 million of debt and money is currently being swallowed up in servicing that debt. Warwickshire's debt sits at £28.9 million, Yorkshire 24.1, Lancashire 18.8, Surrey 17, Nottinghamshire 11 - plenty of others are in middle single figures...

So where do Derbyshire sit in this?

We have borrowed £2 million pounds short term, of which one million will be paid back by January of next year. We will have a mortgage of around £300K on the Gateway - less than some people have on their houses. We are among the least in debt counties, along with Essex, Sussex and Middlesex, but there is serious debt out there, as I have said, which is sucking too much money out of the game.

Warwickshire's interest payments alone, every year, are £1.6 million. Yorkshire are paying £650K, Lancashire 500K, Surrey 470K, Durham 300K...that is just to service existing debt and it is effectively wasted money. We are paying it to banks and lenders, rather than putting it back into the game of cricket.

So basically this new competition is not aimed at me, or the traditional cricket fan then?

No it's not, Steve and that's why there's been such an outpouring from existing cricket fans. The people planning it don't see the competition as being for the traditional cricket fan, though their support would be a bonus. It is is being aimed squarely at this new, untapped audience and we are duty bound to try to get them into the game. It is the lady across the road who takes her kids to the zoo, or the safari park - that's who they are aiming at, getting her money and that of those like her into the game.

But do they seriously think people will travel to these eight cities to see a game of cricket?

You were right on your blog. There's little chance of Derbyshire members traveling to Nottingham to watch a side that contains perhaps one of our players. But I went to the BBC Music Awards in Birmingham and there were people there from across the country. When Elton John played Grace Road in Leicester, the audience came from Penzance to Edinburgh. They might do that for cricket.

They might not...people 'understand' music, but don't necessarily understand or like cricket...

We simply don't know, Steve. We have to try this and see if it works for the reasons I have explained.

What about its impact on the existing T20 Blast? Detrimental, surely?

One of the non-negotiables from the non-Test ground counties was that there had to be a competition on the same lines as the current T20 Blast. It might reduce to ten games a side, five home, five away in the group stage, but as a group we were adamant that there had to be something where any one of the existing eighteen first-class counties could get to finals day.

Be quite clear that this idea will eventually be voted down if there is not a guaranteed nationally televised T20 Blast competition, as it is at present, with the same resources being thrown into it.

Cynics might say you risk diluting the audience, perhaps saturating the market?

Some may say that. Why would the casual fan go to see Derbyshire play Leicestershire, when you could go and watch the 'Nottinghamshire Eagles' play the 'Southern Shandy Drinkers'? The parochial fan, the current county supporter, will still go to follow THEIR side. It is essential that we get the marketing right, but Simon Storey and I think we can 'piggy back' off the success of a new competition.

For example, Northamptonshire currently have Ben Duckett on their staff. How long they can retain him is a good question, but he has stayed there for now, to his great credit, despite being coveted by every other county. If we get this right, Ben Duckett can afford to stay there, because there will be a draft for this competition each year. The 'vision' is that when, say, Northamptonshire win Finals Day, they will then go to the televised draft/auction and Ben might be picked up by one of the participating sides, based on his form in the competition, for, say, £50K.

His county will release him, just as they would were he playing for England, and perhaps quite happily, because that money reduces the likelihood of him having to go to a big county to earn top money. They will lose him for a few weeks, but otherwise have him available.

OK, I get that. Another question I have is the timing of the competition. I have seen July mentioned - is the month likely to be kept exclusively for that competition, or will there be other cricket going on at the same time?

The first year we could feasibly do this would be 2018, within the existing broadcasting deal, so Sky would air it originally. Colin Graves has gone on record as saying it may be launched in 2020, or whenever it was ready. The main issue of launching it early are its impact on future tours, which are scheduled well in advance. We need the England players involved, so that needs to be factored in.

The current idea is that the existing T20 Blast tournament would take place in late June/July, with the finals day around the third week in July. This new 'Charge' competition, as they are calling it, will take place in August, with the final perhaps in the third week of the month. I should stress that these timings are very much notional at this stage.

The intention is for one to follow the other, although another option, suggested among the counties, would be to play the two halves of the Blast either side of the new competition.

An issue could be that you have a side making a title challenge in the county championship who suddenly lose impetus, because several of their better players are 'drafted' and are no longer available at a key stage of the summer.

Yes, that could happen, but the reality is that we derive only eleven per cent of our revenue from county championship cricket.  We cannot allow that to be a driving force to prevent change. Yes, there will be games when key stars are missing, just as there are now - you won't see Jonny Bairstow or Joe Root near much championship cricket. There will be more missing for those few weeks, but we have to take that on the chin.

I suppose from a Derbyshire perspective, that might level the playing field a little, as on recent form we've only a couple of players likely to go to that draft?

That's probably correct, Steve. We have to fight hard to keep the integrity of the current competition, but be prepared to go with one that might just change county finances. Look at this year - we only played around ten days of cricket in the month of August, so it wouldn't affect that much, as long as the two T20 competitions were kept apart.

I actually think it would 'rev up' the existing competition, because players would be trying hard to impress and get a crack at the 'Super Charge' competition and the financial opportunities it would offer them.

So what are you wanting from supporters and members?

Their understanding of what we are doing and why, together with their mandate to continue to investigate this, while at the same time recognising their concerns and taking them to meetings. We know we won't get universal acceptance or anything like it, but the opinions offered will help us to make it into a robust competition that might just make a difference to the financial set up in the county game.

Chris, thank you for this. I have to say I am still not convinced that this massive untapped audience is there, but I better appreciate the rationale behind the competition - and how much still needs to be worked out.

Steve - neither am I, it will take a massive effort. The grain of comfort I have at present is that when we last hosted the Champions Trophy, it brought out an audience that came out, having not previously been involved in the game in this country.

Where the marketing gurus will earn their corn is in unlocking family involvement. They say they can do it and, while I have my doubts, we have to give them the opportunity.

One final point - the ECB are so confident that they can make this work that they are happy to borrow the money ahead of the broadcasting deal and give this to the counties from 2018. It's like going to the bank with planning permission for a development in your garden and asking for money against it. That's your analogy, right there and we need that money.

It is a work of magic and art to keep our heads above water every single year. Maybe if we hadn't been so effective at this, people in Derbyshire might have realised more how really hard it is, year on year, to keep the club going. We're running a business that loses money every year. By that 'magic', my financial input, the ECB handout and the support of loyal sponsors we somehow get to a break even and small profit.

But it is not sustainable. The ticket revenue from the County Championship each year wouldn't pay the wages of one of our young players. With membership income bringing in just 5.8 pence of every pound in the club, we need to be prepared to explore each and every opportunity.


I hope that the above helps other supporters realise the importance of doing something, whether you are a likely fan of the new competition or otherwise. The figures above convinced me of the need for that at least, even if the likely 'dumbing down' of the proposed game may render it not to my taste.

Do I want to see a change to the current set up? No, not at all, but if it came to a choice between that and counties folding - specifically MY county, then it is a bullet I am prepared to bite, albeit grudgingly.

Just as long as everything is locked down and the 'suits' can't renege on any promises or arrangements. I assume that everything will be carefully looked at and future-proofed from an eighteen-county perspective.

I struggle with the razzmatazz of the T20 Blast and am at an age when I don't really need the 'distractions' from the game, nor indeed coloured clothing. Yet I have grown to like it, tolerating its excesses if disliking the 'in your face' music, dancing and sideshows.

By the sound of it, the new competition will be a step too far for me and likely many of a similar mindset. I might watch one, in due course, just to shake my head like an old codger and tell anyone within earshot that 'it weren't like that in my day'.

Maybe I should warn the family...

But thanks Chris - your time gave me a better appreciation of the rationale and I hope that this blog, the longest I have ever published (albeit with considerable assistance!) will help a few others to better appreciate the challenges faced by our club and those who run it. Like me, some of you may struggle with the concept, but perhaps there is a much greater need. As long as the money IS equally divided between the 18 counties...

Now, if we could attract that new audience with the current set up, it would definitely get my vote.

Of course, I welcome your comments as ever!


Ron said...

Possibly your best piece ever PeakFan and I totally agree with your postscript although I myself have come to like the T20 Blast after my initial reservations. I attend and enjoy all three formats of cricket now but will not be going to Nottingham to watch a none Derbyshire side. Having said that if its a lads night out or a special occasion never say never!

Adam said...

Interesting piece again Steve, it is positive that Chris Grant is being so open about the proposals for the future plans of domestic T20, such as holding meetings and being interviewed by you. I cannot say though that I see much merit in the competition attracting new people to Cricket.

However, much the ECB deny it, the lack of Cricket and especially the lack of England international cricket on free to air television is one of the major issues in the decline of interest in Cricket within the UK. All that interest that was gained in 2005 after the Ashes has been thrown away for the sake of money. Sky very rarely release their viewing figures but from those that have become public they are very poor and getting worse. The Cricket World Cup in 2019 not being on free to air television will prove to be a catastrophic decision and what will be a golden opportunity to promote the game will be wasted.

We have the most exciting and marketable England team for a long time and school children up and down the country should recognise and be inspired by them. Cricket needs to do much more in schools, I am relatively young and I did not get into Cricket until my teens as we never played it properly at school. I was one of only several in my year who had any interest in Cricket and I believe the only one who has ever attended with any regularity Cricket matches at Derby.

It is easy to realise that more has to be done and the success of the Australian Big Bash has shown what can be achieved. The free to air Big Bash has attracted new supporters to the game and the two biggest reasons for this has been, free to air coverage and reasonable ticket prices. The competition is marketed much better too, the brand names involved are much more in vogue (KFC, Zoopper Dooper etc) whilst as Chris rightly points out Cricket here is largely supported by the middle class/middle aged male and the sponsorship supports that (Natwest, Royal London) are hardly names to generate excitement. The merchandise is much cooler (far want of a better word), the shirts are trendier, the baseball caps are designed similar to US baseball team caps. How many people here in the UK do you see wearing US baseball team caps, lots because they are seen as being fashionable. There are lessons for Cricket here to learn from.

We live in a far different country to where the Big Bash, IPL and CPL are played though. Unlike Australia our population is spread out and not concentrated in 5-6 major cities so we potentially lose a large amount of our new audience as they will have little interest in watching matches that take place far from them and involving teams that will mean nothing to them. India is already awash with enthusiasm for Cricket and the CPL is played in blocks of matches on Islands where everyone can get behind a team that represents them and again it is on free to air television. As far as I can see the proposed new competition will only once again cater for those same supporters who already attend T20/England international matches in the selected cities and I fail to see how the new support will be attracted.

Peakfan said...

Thank you gents. Appreciate the kind words and ideas. Adam, brilliant and very useful comments mate!

Peakfan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim, Chesterfield said...

Interesting. I also don't think this untapped market exists. Just because these people exist it doesn't mean they're going to turn up to watch cricket. The fact remains that the vast majority of people have zero interest in cricket and that's fine by me!

mh said...

As Adam says Free to Air cricket of either the new 20-20 competition or matches involving the National Team are what is needed to reverse crickets decline, not another jamboree for Sky or BT sport to fill a hole in their schedules.

Knack said...

If football and rugby are any guide the extra revenue will end up in the pockets of the players and their agents.

Anonymous said...

Shame you didnt ask mr grant abotu free to air coverage Steve.

its the elephant in the room that those driving this new competion out of sheer greed (and folly as the untapped audience doesnt exist and if it does wont be reached without free to air coverage) refuse to acknowledge in attracting new fans.

i dont mean a token game here and there or highlights or mathces on an obscure technically free to air channel like pick tv, i mean heavily advertised regular games on 'proper' free to air stations, that the majority of people still watch mostly, ie channels 1-4, and possibl at a push 5.

if its not on any of them as live games, regualarly (once or twice a week) it will nnot attract new fans. this si the only way it can. but the thing is a new competiotion isnt needed for this. if the natwest blast had a couple of games a week on the main channels (as well as being advertosed regualry on them) then it would have exactly the same impact as this new competion but with the benefit of not alienating exisiting fans.

high peak

Peakfan said...

I didnt because we all know that terrestrial TV won't match the others. Nor will the 'suits' accept their lower offer in an altruistic gesture.
Cannot argue High would make a big difference in awareness, but attendance and participation? Not convinced that it will. People dont get that you dont HAVE to score off every ball, like baseball. Maybe if you dont score off three successive balls in the new compy you will be out...
Heaven forbid...

Peakfan said...

I didnt because we all know that terrestrial TV won't match the others. Nor will the 'suits' accept their lower offer in an altruistic gesture.
Cannot argue High would make a big difference in awareness, but attendance and participation? Not convinced that it will. People dont get that you dont HAVE to score off every ball, like baseball. Maybe if you dont score off three successive balls in the new compy you will be out...
Heaven forbid...

Tim, Chesterfield said...

Free to air TV coverage is the ONLY thing that will attract youngsters to a game they rarely if even see. A simple and undeniable truth. So this can't really be about that can it?

Doug said...

Definately in the curmudgeonly camp, county based T20 is bad enough! I have never watched franchaise T20 and never will even if it was a street away.

Hope it sinks like a stone but I do doubt it will. There is always some mugs prepared to watch this sort stuff so the best hope is that Sky, who have created all the pressure for this competition lose out to BT. Sadly those pundits that have been prostituting themselves pushing it, will get the gig no matter where it is televised.

Roy of the Falcons said...

So we, Derbyshire, do not have significant debt and we are being asked to support a competition to get others out of debt plus we don't get a team in the new competition and they do, A very selfish view I know,
I cannot argue against the need for cricket to be on free to air television for it to prosper. We live in world where television exposure matters just look at what The Great British Bake Off has done to cookery.
i enjoy watching T20 cricket from around the world and I can see that the powers that be have got to give this new format a try but I cannot help feeling it will be the end of Test/County cricket as we know it. Let's just hope they do not kill cricket at the same time.

Nic H said...

I echo the thoughts of many. In 2005 in this country interest in cricket was high due to channel 4s coverage of the Ashes. It would also benefit from the oldate Sunday league live televised games. Momentum is key. We sold out to greed. The franchise will not work amongst those not already interested.

Dave Allen said...

Until today I was the Hon Archivist at Hampshire Cricket and I run a Blog down there. I'm intrigued to read Chris Grant's comments about Cage Cricket. He is completely correct about Rod Bransgrove's support for this form which seeks in particular to encourage inner-city kids to find a way into the game. It works wonderfully well, but Chris is entirely wrong about the ECB. They neither own it nor control it and it seems that's why they have never liked it - they would be very happy for it to disappear; but then why would they want inner city teenagers to get interested? (PS in the 1960s I used to holiday with my family in Chesterfield and have fond memories of Queen's Park)

Peakfan said...

Very interesting comment Dave and thanks for taking the time to make it.

Does pose the question as to what they have in mind that is more compact for playing the game.

Maybe two teams of six playing stick cricket on their mobile phones...