“Makes sense doesn’t it!” – The ECB, The Hundred, And Women’s Cricket

Today, as almost ninety thousand cricket fans crammed into the MCG and millions of TV viewers around the world watched the Women’s T20 World Cup final, seems an excellent opportunity to look at the status of women’s cricket here in England. The perception seems to be that we are making good progress towards a professional and popular women’s game. And, relative to some countries, we are. But there have been numerous opportunities squandered, a multitude of promises unfulfilled, and far too many empty platitudes.

Personally, I’ve found it frustrating that England has seemed to lag behind Australia in developing women’s cricket recently. England awarded the first full time central contracts in 2014, followed by Australia in 2015. Other than that, Australia have really taken the lead in the women’s game. Cricket Australia started the Women’s Big Bash League in 2015, followed by the ECB’s Kia Super League in 2016. When Australia’s domestic competition went fully professional in 2017, I naturally waited for the ECB to follow suit soon after. And waited. And waited. And waited.

Eventually, in 2019, the ECB finally seemed to come through on the next logical step for women’s cricket when the PCA announced that 100 new professional domestic cricketers would be created in 2020. It was included in the ‘Heads Of Agreement’ which detailed exactly what pay and other considerations professional players and the PCA could expect for the duration of the new £220m per year Sky TV deal. Meanwhile, people from the ECB were saying that there would be eight full time teams, based in the same cities as The Hundred, where these new professional players would play throughout the summer.

The creation of a professional domestic structure is absolutely key for the future of women’s cricket in England. It should provide a high standard of competition, which improves the ability to develop players for international cricket and also makes the  game more entertaining for potential supporters. In the best case scenario, if you build women’s cricket up like Cricket Australia have with the Women’s Big Bash League, you can even reach a point where women’s cricket is profitable rather than something subsidised by men’s cricket. Which is, frankly, more than men’s county cricket seems to manage.

Recent developments seem to suggest that we are a long way from the ECB committing to this kind of growth. First, the ECB reduced the number of new full time contracts from 100 to 40. Now, around 5 weeks before the English cricket season begins, we haven’t heard a single thing about any of these new players being signed or even the teams they’re supposed to play for. I’m starting to think that the ECB may have abandoned even these modest goals.

The reduction from 100 to 40 professional crickets is incredibly important for two main reasons. Firstly, it massively restricts the opportunities for women to make a career playing cricket. Australia’s star player, Ellyse Perry, had the option of either football or cricket as a career and chose cricket because there were more opportunities and higher wages in Australia. If she was English, it seems very likely that she would have become a footballer instead. Other prospective cricketers will have left the sport because they will have had to choose their full time job over cricket, because training and playing cricket in your free time in the hopes of gaining a rare full time contract just isn’t financially realistic for many people.

The second, and perhaps more important reason, is that a reduction to 40 new full time cricketers reduces The Hundred and the new 8-team domestic competitions (if they arrive) to semi-professional status. It’s simple arithmetic. If there are 21 cricketers with England central contracts, the 40 new domestic players and 24 overseas draft picks, that equals 85 total professionals.  There are 8 teams in The Hundred with a squad of 15 each, meaning that there is a total of 120 players. So at least 35 squad members in The Hundred this year will be amateurs. Club cricketers. A far cry from the rhetoric about it being an elite competition.

The reduction also acts as a reminder to all of us (not that anyone here needs reminding) that the ECB are not to be trusted, nor should their promises be believed. In another related example, England’s women cricketers were reportedly told that their pay brackets in The Hundred would range from £50,000 to £15,000. When the final figures were announced, it was actually from £15,000 to £3,000. Quite a difference.

I almost don’t blame the ECB for constantly lying and cheating though, because everyone else seems to just let them get away with it. The press don’t seem to care enough to write about it. The counties can’t even collectively act in their own interests, so the idea that they might somehow get their act together to help women’s cricket is almost laughable. The most disappointing to me is the PCA, who are supposed to represent and  protect these women cricketers from abuse and deceit by their employers. Not for the first time, the PCA’s response appears to be silence and inaction.

But most of this isn’t new. Whilst I’ve been angry about this consistent failure by the ECB to build up women’s cricket in England, the thing which really spurred me to write my first blog post in about six weeks was a couple of smug, arrogant and incredibly misleading tweets by the new “@TheHundred” Twitter account.

 

#EachForEqual is the official theme and hashtag for this year’s International Women’s Day (which is today). It is meant to represent support for “the gender equal boardroom, a gender equal government, gender equal media coverage, gender equal workplaces, gender equal sports coverage, [and] more gender equality in health and wealth.” So let’s examine how the ECB are doing on these aspirations which they are publicly supporting.

Gender equal boardroom – 4 out of 12 on the ECB board. There’s just one woman acting as a representative for the 40 counties and the MCC who elect the chairman and approve the board, I believe.

Gender equal media coverage – The ECB are always at pains to say that the men’s and women’s competitions are inextricably linked, and that both will gain signficant exposure. In the real world, Sky are committed to showing all 34 men’s games and just 11 women’s games whilst the BBC seem likely to air only the final. To put this into context: Sky showed 12 Kia Super League games in 2019, which means that the total coverage of women’s cricket by Sky will actually decrease this year.

Gender equal sports coverage – In The Hundred, the men will play 34 games at 8 grounds. All televised, all in big cities. The women, on the other hand, will play 30 games at 20 grounds, mostly in small towns and mostly not on television (and quite possibly not even streamed or with radio commentary).

Equality in wealth – Even including the £300,000 team bonus for winning, which is the same in both competitions, the average wage in The Hundred for a woman is around £60,000 less than for a man.

In other words, they’re achieving none of it. I don’t think they’re even working towards it. It’s just a meaningless hashtag and phrase.

The huge new TV deal and The Hundred were supposed to usher in a new era for women’s cricket in England. Whilst the press release platitudes and slick social media marketing still proclaim that to be true, the reality is far different. No amount of flashy videos, hashtags or other nonsense should distract us all from the fact that the ECB is absolutely screwing up the women’s cricket. Somehow even worse than they’ve done to the men’s game.

And the most frustrating thing to me is that hardly anyone seems to care.

5 thoughts on ““Makes sense doesn’t it!” – The ECB, The Hundred, And Women’s Cricket

  1. Bazza Mar 8, 2020 / 8:15 pm

    The ECB will tell you that by increasing contracts they capitalised on the CWC in 2017 I’m certain that Matt Dwyer planned a regional boost to the KSL but then came along the seeds of the 100 and that put on hold any initiative that was solely to boost women’s cricket.

    At the cosy meeting with the DCMS the Devil (sorry Colin Graves) talked of a 70/30 split between the professional and grassroots game there was no explanation of the split between the men’s and women’s game in both categories.

    While I have sympathy for the counties as they get no compensation for developing female cricketers and with County teams coming to an end. They should be ring fencing some of their £1.3m for CAG cricket to improve what has been run in the majority of cases by volunteers or underfunded grassroots coaching staff. Now all their talent will be funnelled into the regions, again with no real benefit, the counties are businesses and will need to focus on profit making activities.

    I agree where have the PCA been and secondly what has Clare Connor been doing in her cushy role apart from saying yes Colin, yes Tommy?

    Women’s and Girls criicket has been done a significant disservice while other sports have taken huge strides forward; football, netball, hockey and rugby

    Liked by 3 people

  2. dArthez Mar 10, 2020 / 8:37 am

    The ECB is not much different from many a dysfunctional kleptocratic government. Rule by PR, and photo opportunities, while busily looting the coffers, destroying any semblance of a functional entity to the people on the ground.

    If England seriously expect to compete in women’s cricket on that basis, they should ask Zimbabwe Cricket for pointers …

    Like

  3. Zephirine Mar 11, 2020 / 1:20 am

    Oddly, the person who seems to have done most for England women’s cricket was Giles Clarke. Once he moved on to even higher things, his reforms started to get unpicked, culminating in the bizarre decision to axe the successful KSL and thereby actively disadvantage England’s women for international competition.

    The weird thing is that women’s cricket in England/Wales is potentially a money earner. Audiences were going up all the time, partly thanks to the outreach work of genuine stars like Sarah Taylor. But those audiences were… erm… mums and kids…. The people that are supposed to go to the Hundred. So they must be stopped from watching women’s cricket* so they can be forced to go to the Hundred?

    It’s all gone beyond incompetent into the realms of frankly barking.

    * of course, as we know, they can’t understand it.

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    • dannycricket Mar 11, 2020 / 7:26 am

      I would say women’s cricket is definitely a potential money earner in England. To demonstrate that, I would point to the similarities between England and Australia. If CA can put women’s cricket on the path to profitability, it seems a no-brainer that the ECB can achieve the same thing by mostly copying them. That’s the great thing about not being first to market.

      Unfortunately, managing something that is a “no-brainer” is obviously beyond them. The issue I have with the piecemeal, half-baked steps they’re taking this year with women’s cricket is that they cost more money than before but don’t put women’s cricket in a position to make more money. By the end of the new TV deal in 2024, women’s cricket will be slightly more popular (thanks to a little exposure on the BBC) but less sustainable due to higher costs. If the TV rights in 2025 revert back to around £70-80m per year (if BT don’t bid, for example) then women’s cricket (being a high cost item with low returns) will be cut to the bone.

      So take The Hundred. Sports generally make most of their money from TV deals. Sky only appear willing to show double headers with men’s games in order to cut costs. The ECB have only mandated that each team must have one double header each, and only Manchester has more than one at their home ground. This means that Sky are only showing 9 of the 28 group games in the women’s competition, plus the final and semi final. If the ECB mandated that all women’s games were double headers, then it seems likely that every game would at least be shown on Sky, even if it was only on the Red Button or the website. That would be significant in building a sustainable TV audience.

      Likewise with the semi professional 8-team women’s competition. The ECB were supposed to be setting up a fully professional T20 and 50-over competition with 100 domestic cricketers plus those from the England squad when available, which could have the potential to get interest from Sky like the Kia Super League did. Instead, there’s a promise from the ECB to create just 40 new professional players, and a few weeks before the season starts there’s no teams with no fixtures this year, as far as I can tell.

      It’s a common argument against increasing funding to women’s cricket that it’s not profitable so why bother investing in it? It is true that it’s not profitable now. The IPL wasn’t profitable at first. Neither was the BBL, or Facebook, or Microsoft, or essentially any successful business you could name. You become profitable by investing in something, and really committing to it. And the ECB just don’t seem capable of that with women’s cricket.

      Like

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