So, the recent travails of trying to sell out the early Tests in the North of the country have been there for all to see. Yorkshire did a fairly decent job of getting punters through the gate, but the struggles that Durham had in attracting fans to the Test have been well documented. In my mind, it was either simply staggering arrogance from the ECB that they believed that they could sell out 2 Test matches in such a close proximity so close together or more likely, it was because they didn’t really give a monkeys, after all they had banked their £950k from each venue, so let the counties take the hit. If this was to be Durham’s last Test match, which I sincerely hope it isn’t, then I suppose they can console themselves that they were there when the ‘chosen one’ got to his 10,000 run mark.
As I mentioned in the preview of the 2nd Test, I simply find it incredible that the ECB are able to still persevere with the ballot systems, which not only hoses the counties (unless you can get an Australia or India to sell) and that in turn ensures us fans get hosed too – a double bubble for the ECB (actually come to think about it the fans tend to get hosed whatever the situation). Why not do as they do in Australia and agree a profit (or loss) sharing scheme and then allocate Tests fairly on a four-year basis? Oh yes, we come to the money question again and as we know the ECB doesn’t like to get involved with anything that might dent the rather tasty nest egg that they’ve managed to accumulate over the past few years, after all Giles Clarke’s lunches don’t come cheap.
This all got me thinking about how other industries and businesses would deal with a customer base that had been going south for quite a while. The term that is now fashionable in the business world is ‘customer experience’, what can we as a business do to convert interested individuals into buying customers and how can we ensure that we get them to keep coming back to us in the future? Now I generally think most business talk/marketing is a mixture of bullshit combined with some of the dark arts, but in this case, I think there is a strong lesson to England’s cricket administrators. After all, if we take the emotional tie of being an England cricket fan away from the mix, then what is there to attract people? I’m pretty sure it’s not the £75 tickets or the ruinously expensive crap they class as a food and drink, nor is it the genuine mismatches that many of the Test Series have thrown up over the past years. I think you get my point as to where I’m going with this! Why would the inhabitants of Durham, Yorkshire, Hampshire or Glamorgan part with their hard earned cash to watch a sport that they know little about? After all it’s not as if you can easily switch on the TV as a casual onlooker to see if cricket is something that floats your boat, you need to pay Sky at least £70 a month for the privilege of doing that.
So what about those fans who do actually go and spend their hard earned cash watching the game, what is their experience of the whole day? Is it something that gets them yearning for more? Well not really in my book and I quantify this by stating that I went to 5 Tests last year (3 against the Australians, 1 against New Zealand and I also flew out to Dubai to watch the 2nd Pakistan test), this year I plan on heading to a maximum of 2. If we look at the fan or customer experience, as this is basically what we’re classed as by the ECB, someone to fill their pockets and keep noise to a minimum unless we’re wholesome in our praise for Alastair Cook, is this really acceptable? Firstly there is the ticket prices, I’m based in London so generally I can’t go and watch a game in London for less than £65 a day, which is a whole lot of money to spend watching part of a game in a 5 day format. Then add in the cost of drinking their god-awful piss beer for £6 a pint and then eating something that might or might not be classed as fit for human consumption at the bargain cost of around £10 (the burger I had at the Oval last year was still wriggling as a vivid example of the dreadful food). So in essence my day out at the cricket with crap beer and something inedible to eat is well over £100 for the day, fancy coming back again? Nah I might give that one a miss! This is the easiest thing in the world to sort out from a customer experience point of view, firstly make sure the tickets are no more than £40 per ticket and if you want to charge top dollar for the food and drink, then please come up with something that isn’t undercooked burgers or Fosters lager! Not exactly rocket science, but as we well know fan enjoyment of our sport is at the very bottom of the ECB’s wish list, it’s all about profit for them.
Ah, they may say, but we have the Lords Test match coming up and that always sells out, so we must be doing something right. Well, Lords is a law onto itself, and I don’t mean that in a good way. I went to the Saturday of the Ashes Test last year and as a Middlesex fan, this really pains me, but I had a really crap time (and not just because Australia were hoofing us round the park). You see my name isn’t Tarquin or Barnaby, I didn’t go to private school, I didn’t go to ‘be seen’ and no I can’t afford the £86 lunchtime hamper and therefore I am not the type of fan that the ECB wants to see in the crowd. Lords has always been about the pomp and circumstance and the thing is that the could put the Sri Lankan under 13’s girls team out against England and Lords would still sell out. It’s never been about the cricket for the average Lord’s punter, it’s about showing the world that you have the connections to be an MCC member or can afford to drinks at the Veuve Clicquot champagne tent or have the money to host a corporate box, these are the real fans that the ECB wants, not you or I, who are passionate about the game. We’re all from the wrong sort of family after all! Needless to say I won’t be watching any Test Matches there again in the foreseeable future…
On a slightly different note, I see Dave Richardson’s been tweaking his rule book again and coming up with some encouraging sound bites about the future of Test cricket – http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci-icc/content/story/1022445.html. Now don’t get me wrong, I think we should be doing all we can to preserve the status of Test cricket and the division idea is a positive one, it’s just that we seem to have the same rhetoric around change every year, but nothing ever seems to happen. I think the first time 2 Test divisions were mentioned was back in the day when the Beatles were still together and precisely what’s changed since then? Well bugger all seems to be the closest guess anyone can fathom. Personally, I’d be surprised if anything does change in the short term, despite the fact that Shashank Manohar seems genuinely committed to growing cricket as a global game, rather than pandering to the favoured few. However, what happens when one of the big three is threatened by relegation? I’m not sure that they are going to shrug their shoulders and declared that we should have played a bit better then (despite Colin Graves’ assertions). It would not surprise me one bit if we ended up with the farcical situation where we have 2 divisions but one in which neither India, Australia or England could get relegated. I’m sure that would be an extremely positive signal about growing the game to the masses. As for the other things being proposed by Manohar, such as the reduction in revenue going to the big 3 and a more even spread of cash amongst the full members and the associates, I am awaiting the news on this with bated breath. Manohar no doubt has the best interests of the sport at heart, but the BCCI looks like it’s circling for a fight with Anurag Thakur, the newly elected president, no doubt bought into power with a mandate of safeguarding their cash and the ever so lovely Giles Clarke still wandering around the halls of power. It could be a very interesting few months for the future of our game. I would suggest to watch this space.
Have a good evening and rest of the week…..