Part 2: City-based T20 Cricket
• Let’s discuss the ECB proposals for city-based franchise and Somerset supporting these proposals. The statement is a dramatic U-turn on two years ago when you said at Media Day that “Somerset will carry no truck” on city-based franchise Cricket. What has changed the Board’s mind?
We still have no truck with city franchises – none whatsoever – because that is not what has been proposed. What was being considered two years ago alongside what was happening at the IPL was the Sultans and Oligarchs owning these franchises with their own corporations, ultimately owning the competition. That would have been, and still would be, utterly catastrophic from a county’s point of view. Where we have ended up is the counties own the competition equally with the MCC. The 19 stakeholders – the 18 county sides and MCC – would control the governance. That is a million miles away from where we were two years ago. Somerset now has a real incentive to succeed because we will make revenue from it.
The debate has been a little shallow thus far I think because we in the game haven’t done a good job to get the broader story out there. Let me illustrate that; too many people are looking at the new T20 through a straw and see it as an ‘either or’ or a ‘that or the Blast’ scenario. It isn’t, the challenges to Cricket are formidable. We have had some devastating research in participation among 7 to 15 year olds. Additional to that TV money, which is largely predicated on the popularity of Test Cricket, is 70% of the ECB’s income. And 20% of that comes from India. Over there 65% of the population are under 35. 50% are under 25 and they aren’t watching Test Cricket. That is the train that is coming down the track and that will have devastating implications for Cricket in England and Wales.
Cricket already has a financial crisis. We have about £150million of debt in the counties alone. That’s nothing to do with the ECB that is the counties alone. Nearly £30million at Warwickshire. Yorkshire are going ahead with their new stand and they’re going to be £40million in debt. No-one knows where Hampshire are as they are a private company but they are heavily in debt. These are huge numbers. Nottinghamshire have debt, Lancashire £20million. People have denied this financial crisis but it is real and we saw it last year with Durham. And it’s going to get worse with the income from Test matches drying up.
Now we are very fortunate here at Somerset because, for all kinds of reasons, we are financially very strong with a fantastically loyal fan base who turn up in their droves – we don’t have a problem – but one of the existential risks to this Club is if we lose half our fixtures because other counties go bust.
• So with our Club doing well in an improving landscape, are the current proposals poorly timed and wouldn’t the Board prefer to carry on doing what we are doing?
The Somerset view – very much the Somerset centric view – is ‘Crisis? What crisis?’ and it is a very well-rehearsed viewpoint. We are consistently the most profitable county of the 18, we have a rising membership which makes us almost unique, we sold out 13 of our home T20 games, we have international status, even though our business plan doesn’t need international games to pay for itself so whatever we earn from England versus South Africa is purely incremental. Not to mention the World Cup games coming up in the summer with the women’s cup and in 2019 with the men’s cup. Life is bloody good for us here at Somerset so we don’t need change. However when you stand back and consider our responsibilities to the wider game – not just Durham as other counties have been on the brink like Northants and Kent – then we have to realise that what works for Somerset isn’t a solution for the wider game.
And that is where the General Committee need to be commended I feel. If we stay as we are we are going to see counties going bust, absolutely no question about it and we at Somerset will lose income.
• Andy, I have to say that preparing for this interview one of my questions was to ask if this is a case of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them!’ because the ECB have seemed hell-bent on the city-based franchise happening from day one? This despite surveys among counties and spectator feedback against city Cricket. I understand your points above but is there an element that Somerset do not want to be considered lone dissidents with the Cricket authorities? Has the ECB applied certain pressures?
Not at all. The ECB have never been so collaborative and we have enjoyed having an input into these discussions with them.
The challenges are enormous. As well as the financial issues we have participation issues and we are up against Game Of Thrones and other things. Something has to be done.
Cricket has lost the battle of the playground. Only 2% of children between 7 and 15 have Cricket as one of their top two sports. Worse is 60% of boys and girls don’t even have Cricket in their top ten which is disastrous. For those of us who follow the game intently we are only too aware that there are problems in the recreational game with a huge drop-off in 16 year old’s who are no longer prepared to give up weekends to play 50-over Cricket. When you talk to the Clubs, and we have 62 focus Clubs here in Somerset, they all share the same familiar refrain.
• Is this a generation thing though Andy? When I was younger and playing Club Cricket I knew my duty was for my team and for my Club even when the weather was bad and I couldn’t really be bothered. Local theatre groups and community groups all bemoan kids being heavily active from 10-15 and suddenly switching off when they turn 16.
Cricket does have a participation problem and we have to get to those young boys and girls which is part of Cricket Unleashed of course. The game has done its own research and if a child hasn’t played Cricket before they leave Primary School then only 1% will play the game so we have to ‘get them’ before they leave.
We are supporting All Stars Cricket which has worked brilliantly in Australia and will work brilliantly over here. Over 2,000 Clubs signed up to it – that’s fantastic, 40% of the Clubs in the UK.
The kids get their own branded clothing, a bat and a ball and are not going to be overly coached as it is all about enjoying Cricket. We are going to see 60,000 children enjoying All Stars Cricket this summer. That’s just one part of what is being done.
We are addressing the massive drop-off of over-16s playing with the under-19 cup – there are five leagues here in Somerset alone despite only being the third season. Nationally there are 900 new sides in that competition.
Women’s Cricket has been phenomenal – anyone can see that. We have been a driving force here at Somerset and we are seeing more across the whole county, girls and women’s sides springing up. And we have seven games here as part of the Women’s World Cup this summer.
And you will appreciate that if you haven’t played Cricket what are the chances you will follow it? So all these girls playing become fans of the future.
Then there is the South Asian engagement programme. It is not that apparent down here because only 1% of the south-west population is Asian but it is massively important elsewhere. The likes of Mooen Ali and Adil Rashid are involved. You can see the South Asians coming through now in Lancashire, Warwickshire and Yorkshire through the youth system and they are very good Cricketers.
• I get all this – the participation issues and finances – and it is absolutely fantastic to see the development of All Stars Cricket, but I still can’t get my head around the need for franchise Cricket as part of this. The NatWest T20 Blast has been enormously successful with sell-out crowds and great international players taking part so why can’t we work within the current 18 counties structure? Why a new competition which carries huge risks?
For the benefit of Somerset supporters let me state again that this is not Somerset’s preferred route. It is abundantly clear that the broadcasters want an English Premier League which is in the process of being approved. It is expected that the media rights will increase fivefold in England & Wales which is unbelievable and this will create the financial sustenance that the game needs not just at professional level but at grass-roots level too. In fact a fixed percentage will be hypothecated for grass-roots.
The level of interest in this new tournament is enormous and we will see the size of any cheque when the deal is signed in the next 2-3 months. Let me also say that the Director General of the BBC asked for a meeting immediately when hearing of the ECB proposals and we expect to see a large amount of free-to-air coverage with the BBC offering some heavyweight coverage too. Perhaps via a number of their channels as they have some big digital channels too? And that wouldn’t have happened within the current set up.
There will be two T20 competitions, but the 50-over competition will take the biggest hit as that will run concurrently with the new T20 (let’s call it Supercharged!) but the positive is that this will be the showcase for the new young talent coming through. Academy and Seconds players will get a chance so we will bring in the Tom Banton’s for those games.
We know the County Championship to be the best in the word by far and this will be invested in, in fact that investment has already started.