Thursday, 30 April 2015

Franchising?

Reports in the Telegraph this morning that the ECB have appointed Mark Fordham to its board have opened up the prospect of franchises coming to English cricket in T20 for the 2017 season. Fordham has previous, being the mastermind of the IPL in 2008 and the Caribbean Premier League. He also was the brains trust behind Project Victoria, a top secret mission by Giles Clarke which looked at potentially franchising English cricket previously, and led to him being about as popular with Giles Clarke, as Giles Clarke is with your average English cricket fan. They settled their differences out of court. However, not everyone thinks franchising is a good thing and with the might of IMG behind it, are we selling the soul of English cricket again for a few quid? I for one, am disenfranchised. I hope I am not, as Nigel Pearson would say, "being an ostrich".

Lord's...the corridors of power
A few weeks ago, when the new broom that is cleansing the ECB corridors came thunderously sweeping a la Mike Gatting in his pomp, we were told that English cricket would be given back to the communities. For me, it seems massively high risk to bring in something that will alienate half of the audiences, and with thirteen out of the eighteen counties not happy with it, that view is held by many. It would be messing with the English county system, for an idea that has no guarantee of working any better.

The counties rely on T20. It is their golden goose, and for many it is the difference between breaking even and losing vast amounts of money. I have been fortunate enough on my travels to see T20 in the regions, and there is a huge difference in the way that each county approaches it. Essex and Somerset regularly fill their grounds, for the likes of Glamorgan and Yorkshire it offers a sense of cultural identity, whilst Surrey and Middlesex have been successful in attracting new cricket fans after work from their jobs in the City. All should be applauded for their approach and getting the communities of those areas into the grounds.

So say we have a region of the West? Would those loyal Somerset fans travel up the M5 to Bristol, Chris Gayle or no Chris Gayle? Would those loyal Essex fans be bolted on to a North Thames, or Sussex fans come up from Hove to the Oval and then get back around midnight? And god forbid, would Yorkshire folk support anything that wasn't fully Yorkshire? Leicester and Notts merging after recent pilfering of players? Should the loyal shoe making chaps of Northampton, winners a couple of years ago, have to go North or South? Is that giving cricket back to the communities? Doesn't sound like it to me.

A packed Taunton a couple of years ago watching T20 action

Then we have the question of who would own the franchises? Fancy an oligarch running your club only to pull out when he gets bored, or how about an American unaware of the culture, say somewhere like Yorkshire or Lancashire? Ask the football fans of Liverpool, Hull, or Aston Villa if they are happy? Or Newcastle United which has become a vehicle for sponsorship and is the nearest thing, bar MK Dons to a franchise in that sport? Imagine Mike Ashley owning Durham County Cricket Club too? Money has ruined football, and franchising would do the same to cricket, removing the cultural identity that we have grown to love.

Not forgetting that the IPL loses money on a regular basis and the Big Bash has only worked due to large sums being pumped in by Cricket Australia. Even then, it has only just started to break even. Another question that springs to mind is, do the people of Melbourne really care who wins out of Renegades or Stars? Or in Sydney, Sixes or Thunder? I don't and neither do many of my Aussie mates who go and watch the matches. I couldn't care who would win out of franchises here, but Surrey v Middlesex is serious shit. Yorkshire v Lancs, Somerset v Gloucestershire, Sussex v Kent, Worcester v Warwickshire, Derby v Notts need I go on?

T20 needs some love from the ECB. It needs to be televised on free to air television to help grow the sport and to gain a new audience. It needs to be played in a three or four week period so we can attract the best players, ideally in June  and then those counties can keep the best players all the way through the tournament. Get our England players involved, and get them better at the game playing against the best. With the likes of Gayle, McCullum, Finch and Dilshan over here this year, counties look like they are getting their act together in this form of the game anyway. Last year was an anomaly with crowds in certain grounds such as Edgbaston falling away due to the football World Cup. This year, especially should we have warmer weather, will be different. If not, give tickets to schools, and free. It is not all about making money you know?


Can you see these two merging? Me neither.


All this is up in the air anyway. Colin Graves and Co haven't even got into the seat of power as yet, and it would need a vote from the county chairmen, of which thirteen would need a serious injection of wonga to switch their voting. As of now, it wouldn't get the green light to go ahead.

It would be like turkeys voting for Christmas.


2 comments:

  1. The one thing we do know is that county cricket, as it stands (the 4 day game) is not financially viable on its own, largely because people don't go to watch it (that's not the same as not being interested; there are too many demands on people's time these days). T20 is not seen as cricket for the "diehards", it's a way of introducing new followers to the game. I don't think new followers would be interested in a county's history, so from that perspective, there is no obstacle to franchising. it seems to me that the key elements to make a T20 competition successful are:
    - The right players: get some international stars (Baz, Chris, Dilshan etc) in. Put a minimum number of UK/EU players in the team (the IPL uses 7 Indians minimum), and let them play with, and learn from, the big stars.
    - Get it on free to air TV. Absolutely essential to spread the word. Most people (including me) can't or won't pay for Sky Sports (in my case because Murdoch is a scumbag).
    - Make it a compact tournament, played every day over a short period, with nothing else on at the time (like the IPL window).
    - Advertise it. Invest some money in promoting it.

    Much of this goes against the Giles ("Grab the Cash and Run") Clarke philosophy, but there you go. There's only so much the ECB can spend on helicopter landing pads at Lord's.

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