With the English Cricket Board announcing its intention to create a new city-based T20 competition, beginning in 2020, can it really compete with the Indian Premier League and Australia’s Big Bash?
For a sport so entrenched in tradition, just hearing these plans were enough to raise collective eyebrows in the English cricketing establishment. With the 18 first-class counties not to be involved, over a hundred years of order was wiped away.
And what will replace it? Well, we’re still not entirely sure. The new competition is yet to have a brand name and no confirmed teams.
What we do know is it’ll run during school summer holidays over and will feature eight city-based teams. An IPL-style player auction will help promotion and wet appetites in the build up to the tournament, with each team spending an allocated budget. Though unlikely to make players millionaires (at least not right away), a draft pick-auction system, a first for sport in this country, should help add to the sense of occasion that has seen T20 flourish.
The venues are yet to be announced but the teams are likely to be based around Lord’s, Headingley The Oval, Trent Bridge, Old Trafford, Edgbaston and The Rose Bowl, with Bristol, Taunton and Cardiff sharing the eighth team.
The ECB will own and run the whole show, with a sub-committee in charge of all the off-field activity. There will be no inward investment from ‘owners’ and no money leaving the sport.
Are the counties likely to play ball? It appears so, especially after they were assured £1.3 million a year as their share of the new tournament’s revenue streams. The county-based T20 blast competition will also continue. Credit must go to ECB chairman Colin Graves and Director of Cricket Andrew Strauss for getting them onside by allowing them to share in the spoils.
Critics though have labelled this new proposal as ‘Crexit’ (a reference to the outcome of certain referendum last year) and a particularly big nail in the county cricket coffin. But for a sport that is further marginalising itself through limited TV exposure and participant accessibility, surely something needs to be done?
“We recognise the challenges we face in cricket, including competition from other sports, driving participation, changing viewing habits, different working patterns and financial sustainability. This is a huge opportunity here for our game and if we grasp it, the future is truly exciting,” said the ECB’s CEO Tom Harrison.
For a nation that gave the cricketing world T20, it’s a blistering indictment of the ECB’s governance that it has failed to properly utilise the format thus far. Last year, the T20 blast had average attendance figures of 7,000. Meanwhile, the Big Bash has seen crowds of over 80,000.
Cricketing purists may still scoff at T20, but it’s the most accessible form of the game. If the ECB really can create a global market leader that ushers in a new generation of fans, it could be the most significant change to cricket and its revenues in English cricket history.
Broadcasting rights will undoubtedly play a major role in deciding this. Big hitters such as BT Sport and Sky have the financial muscle, but free to air channels must have a fair slice if this competition is to succeed. To put it into perspective, in the 2005 Ashes series nearly 9 million people tuned in to Channel 4’s free service. 10 years later, with Sky now having exclusive rights, just 467,000 saw England reclaim the urn.
With more than three years until the first ball is bowled, it’s too early to judge if this competition will be a success or not. What can be said is that it’s unquestionably a gamble. But with the current state of cricket in this country, it would’ve been a bigger gamble to do nothing at all.