Wednesday, 21 September 2016
New City T20 - an interview with Chris Grant
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!