“As he grew rich he grew greedy; and thinking to get at once all the gold the Goose could give, he killed it and opened it only to find nothing.” – Aesop’s Fables
It is difficult to over exaggerate how much English cricket relies on Test cricket financially. Perhaps as much as two-thirds of the ECB’s total domestic income comes from the six or seven red ball internationals played every summer. The ticket sales alone for a home Ashes series draws in almost as much income as the entire Hundred (Including TV rights, sponsors, and 34/35 ‘full’ grounds) in a year.
Which is what makes it so surprising that the ECB seems intent on prioritising a competition which is losing money, and seems certain to continue losing money for the next six years without significant changes, to the detriment of their proverbial golden goose.
For a simple indication of the two formats’ relative worth: In 2019, the idea was mooted by MCC members that one Test every season, played at Lord’s, should be shown on Freeview. Sky responded by saying that such a move would cost the ECB £50m per year. For a single Test match. The total revenue for The Hundred in 2021 was £52m.
It has been said repeatedly by supporters of The Hundred that it is vital for the competition is played in August, since more children will be able to attend games or watch them on TV than at any other time of the year. This may be fair enough as an argument if your sole priority is the long term health of this one competition, but it is baffling in the context of English cricket as a whole.
Given that the ECB (and therefore the counties also) are so financially reliant on Test cricket, it would seem like a sensible measure to ensure that as many children as possible were able to watch it on TV, to become the next generation of fans (and, more cynically, customers). Instead, the ECB has chosen to do the opposite.
There is also the matter of attendance. The T20 Blast was shifted from primarily being in August in 2019 to June in 2022, and this appeared to cause a 23% decline in ticket sales. Given the high demand and high price for Test tickets in England, a similar fall in sales might cost the ECB several million pounds every year.
It should be said, in fairness to Tom Harrison and others at the ECB, that they acknowledge the reliance that English cricket has on a handful of Test matches every season. It was a key goal of The Hundred to become a second source of income for the game, to act as a safety net in the event that the commercial viability of the red ball game declined. That is not an unlikely scenario, not least because clowns like Harrison have been in charge of English Test cricket for a long time.
The initial indications from The Hundred this year don’t seem to indicate that the competition deserves this extraordinary level of support from the ECB. Viewing figures on the BBC for the men’s and women’s opening matches appear to be almost half what they were in 2021, suggesting very little interest from the wider public. And, to be clear, this is before the men’s Test series against South Africa has begun. Moving next year’s Ashes to a less favourable slot in the calendar wouldn’t obviously have any positive effect on The Hundred, but could have a severe negative impact on the number of people watching the Tests.
Cricket Australia hosts both a T20 competition and their Test series at the same time, with no obvious harm to either. The idea that it is necessary to sacrifice England internationals in order to ensure the growth and popularity of The Hundred is blatantly false. The whole exercise stinks of some worried executives throwing every possible resource behind a project they are publicly considered responsible for, or perhaps have bonuses linked to the success of, not caring about the wider damage it will cause the organisation and people they are supposed to represent.
The ECB is insulated somewhat from the consequences of their actions, at least for a while. A new Sky TV deal has already been agreed which offers them a similar guaranteed income over the next six years, albeit one that will likely be worth a lot less over time due to high inflation in the UK. The problem will come when they look to negotiate the next contract, from 2029 onwards. If interest in the longest format is diminished, and by extension its commercial worth, then it would lead to a significant devaluation in what Sky and their competitors thought the rights are worth paying for. That would be catastrophic for the ECB, and particularly the counties.
Or maybe I am wrong. But I don’t think I am.
If you have any comments on the post, The Hundred, or anything else, please leave them below.
Your title reminded me of an article by Vic Marks written after the first T20 season in 2003. He said ‘the challenge now will not to over-exert the goose that lays the golden eggs. Cricket is not good at this’. This has been shown to be true manifold times since.
Cannot argue with the thrust of your article. My underlying thought is; why does the game need all of this money? The amounts of money received from broadcasters, paid down to the counties and received by international and county players are significantly higher in real terms than they were 22 years ago, when central contracts were introduced or further back into the late 80s and early 90s when I started following cricket. I begrudge no one their earnings or good fortune however are we as spectators getting a better product than we were then? It all seems to me to come back to Gideon Haigh’s line from ‘Death of a Gentleman’; is the game (as a whole) looking to make money in order to play cricket or to play cricket to make money? For the players it is clearly the former however what seems to be missing is a non-professional counterbalance at administrative level, a board of trustees as it would be in some non-profit. organisations.
There are, I think, three groups which demand English cricket generate more money in the short term, at whatever cost. The first are the players, who typically have a short career in the sport and want to maximise their earnings in that time. They act in their own self-interest, understandably, and so are not really concerned about what might happen in 10 or 20 years’ time. The second are the counties, who are generally so ineptly run that they need a constant subsidy to keep their heads above water. If the central ECB payments slipped back to the 2006-19 levels, I suspect a few would fold within a couple of years. The third is the ECB executives. In business, there are a plethora of men in suits who can only manage to do one thing: Make a short term profit. They’ll slash and burn, regardless of the long term effects to the business, cash in their bonus and stock options from a ‘job well done’, and then move on to the next business before the inevitable collapse occurs. It’s practically a Ponzi scheme, frankly.
If I could make one single reform of the ECB, it would be to give club cricket and professional women’s cricket an equal voice (and voting rights) to the counties. The ECB is supposed to represent and act in the best interests of these three groups, but only the counties have an actual vote with regards to who the next chair is or where the money is distributed. THe counties are desperate for money, and so the TV rights are sold to the highest bidder with no question of widespread FTA TV coverage. The other two groups would instead want more cricket on Freeview because what they need most is exposure rather than money. If they were represented as members of the ECB, I would hope that a stronger compromise could be made between the two opposing viewpoints.
There is a fourth and a very important group – grassroots cricket! The clubs and initiatives which supply all of the above!
I read that as what Danny meant by “club cricket”. Of course clubs need money, but they need players just as much as money–and that’s Danny’s exposure point I think: if cricket is about as visible on terrestrial media as curling, then…it’s going to be about as popular as curling!
I also read constantly from people in club cricket that very little of the ECB’s money actually filters down to them.
I have thought for a while that so many of the issues in cricket stem not from professionalism among the players ( which is inevitable, given how long the game takes to play) but from the professionalisation of its administrators. I am aware that the professional players / amateur administrators divide eventually led to the Packer split, however there needs to be a counterbalance to commercialism.
In theory, the ECB board should play the role of trustee and rein in the professional administrators when they become too focused on money making. We know however that this has not happened in practice.
On the counties, some would only become unsustainable if ECB payments declined because their expenses have increased in line with their income; on player salaries and number of coaches and administrators. To be fair, they should be spending the money that they receive on the game as they are not there to make a profit. One could dispute whether they are spending the money in the right places however that is another matter.
If ECB payments to the counties were phased down over a number of years, they could cut their cloth accordingly while a salary cap could prevent the rich counties from hoovering up all of the talent (more than they do at present anyway). There is a risk that a small number of T20 specialists could opt out of county cricket under such a regime however this is small compared to the running down of the game as a whole.
English is a funny language. For example, ‘professional’ can be taken to mean both being paid for a job and doing a job well. When it comes to English cricket administrators, only one of the two applies.
Sorry to be a partypooper but…
…I think the problem of T20 specialists opting out of the county (and it will be international too) game will be that that in itself will run down English cricket. I don’t think it will be a few either, given the attitudes to franchise competitions that we’ve seen so far.
Once the county and the England team are shorn of a couple of dozen of their best players (including their best replacements), the international game will de devalued–leading to less willingness of other teams to play it–,the broadcasting rights will be devalued and county cricket will lose both its main income stream and the players best placed to attract even the meagre crowds that county cricket attracts now.
As far as I can see, the end result of that is that non-franchise cricket becomes semi-pro.
But, to be fair, that’s probably going to happen anyway in a decade or two–because the alternative is for everybody else to demand that the BCCI fund world cricket, to which the answer is very likely to be a two-fingered salute and the consequent removal of 80% of world cricket’s income stream…which would also turn it semi-pro.
“ Once the county and the England team are shorn of a couple of dozen of their best players (including their best replacements), the international game will de devalued–leading to less willingness of other teams to play it–,the broadcasting rights will be devalued and county cricket will lose both its main income stream and the players best placed to attract even the meagre crowds that county cricket attracts now.”
This seems to be The ECBs view, so they are determined to get a head of the game and somehow create a new audience before my generation either die or give up interest entirely.
I understand their predicament, however why not build on the Blast? That is where the money is worldwide, and many of the Test watching public have accepted 20/20, so why not built that? The answer is they don’t control the counties, like they do a new bunch of franchises, and are still bitter that the IPL became so big without them getting a slice of the cake from something they feel they invented. So now they have tried to reinvent the wheel. Many have tried to reinvent the wheel in the past, and all have failed. If the hundred does not take off in India then it’s doomed.
It is fascinating to speculate how this may play out. Already we have a situation where many of the leading English T20 players either no longer play test cricket or are fringe selections. Of the squad from the last T20 World Cup, only Bairstow, perhaps Woakes and possibly Billings are likely to be Test regulars in the future. Because of their international white ball, IPL and Hundred commitments, few of them play much County Championship or domestic 50 over cricket. That was the basis of my thinking that ‘12 month IPL’ contracts might make relatively little difference to English cricket in practice, with or without the Hundred.
Having said that, the franchise competitions around the world certainly have the financial capacity to outbid many of the national boards. Could we even envision a Rugby Union / Rugby League style split in terms of personnel? While Rugby Union was amateur, League had the ability to offer greater financial reward, before the situation was reversed on the last 25 years. Nevertheless, both codes survived through both periods. This was aided, as it may be in cricket, that positional skill sets are specialist and not all are transferable between codes.
This is the basis for my thinking that the traditional game can survive the challenge of franchises and that there is therefore no reason to distort the traditional structure to accommodate new comparisons, at home or abroad.
In that respect, it was interesting to see some of the players involved in Mumbai Indians’ tour of England–who presumably are the kind of players they’d want on year-round contracts to develop strength in depth (and maybe some McCullum/Stokes-style team playing identity). Most of the first team squad would have been playing international cricket at that time, so they weren’t necessarily going to be big names.
The one whose name caught my eye was Dewald Brewis. Because if MI start paying that kind of player much more than CSA can or will, then South Africa’s (or whoever’s) production line of young players is well and truly stuffed.
Ah, the “we can’t afford to be slow moving and have our heads in the sand….” line rears its ugly head. Don’t just decide what the moneymen want you to, decide it without having properly thought through the consequences first! The approach beloved of spivs, conpeople and snakeoil salespeople everywhere. A phrase that, immediately on hearing, should provoke a reaction of “oh, that means I need to consider this extra slowly and carefully”.
Really, why are these short-sighted (or maybe just self-aggrandising) idiots still in influential positions in English cricket? (Luckily, Strauss’s currently role is only an advisory one, so Richard Thompson is entitled to completely ignore his hastily-arrived-at suggestions!) And why are they so breezy about ignoring clear implications of things that are staring everyone in the face?
I’m genuinely perplexed as to why some people who like the hundred seem to think they are also entitled to financial support from those of us who don’t like it, didn’t ask for it , and have no interest in it. We have already paid a big price in the setting up of this new tournament both in the financial looting of ECB funds which were amassed by the old guard of supporters, and in the uprooting of the seasons schedule. We are currently enjoying some fantastic weather ideal for Test matches, and there is none available through much of July and early August.
One of the reasons, in fact the major reason for the creation of the hundred was to attract a new audience. The ECB specified that their primary aim was a new audience who, and I am paraphrasing….“liked cricket, but also wanted a different form of cricket.” They specifically stated they had market research which had identified this enormous new audience. (Although they never provided any hard evidence.) I also am sure I remember the phrase from someone at the ECB stating “this is not for you” to people like me.
So why are certain people blaming the old audience? It was the logic of holding it in cities where essentially the major test grounds are located, and where millions live, and so a new audience could be found. It’s nothing to do we me, and not my problem that existing fans of county clubs in those cities don’t seem to want to attend and fans living outside the cities in more rural counties where there is no hundred have no interest in commuting into cities to watch it.
We have no obligation to watch it or fund it. We are customers. (You prefer us to be customers rather than fans) Well here is a bit of reality. Customers demand a product or service they want to buy. It is the job of the provider to offer a product or service that attracts us. Something we identify with. A brand if you like. Maybe in time you will build new brands that will be popular. But your new teams (brands) are meanglingess and we have no loyalty towards them.
Perhaps now the Commonwealth games are over more people will pay attention, although as the football season has ludicrously started so early maybe not.
The ECB reminds me of a failing restaurant. They are not making the profits they want, and in walks Gordon Ramsey and says…” we are going to throw out the existing menu and replace it with a much more slimmed down version.” As the owner you don’t have many existing customers already so pissing them off could leave you with no customers at all if the new food doesn’t attract new diners.
The difference of course is there are millions of people who will happily pay to eat in a new revamped restaurant if the food is good and the price is right. I’m not sure that is the case with the hundred. The price is cheap, but the food is not very enticing.
You remember right – “It’s not for you” was explicitly said by Rod Bransgrove. When the ECB did their “roadshows” to ram this garbage down our throats – and as you say never showing any of the “research” that they claimed demonstrated an untapped demand for it – they didn’t bother to come to Hampshire, because Rod was so on board with it he didn’t need their help.
The whole thing is tawdry vulgarisation, nothing more or less than the tawdry prostitution of our lovely game.
The central point of the article is the elephant in the room – what kind of brain dead idiot destroys the basis of his main revenue stream (ie county cricket producing test players that generate 80% of the income) to promote this garbage? Answer – Colin Graves, the 50th richest man in Yorkshire, like many of those that run cricket, not rich enough to get to strut their egos on the football stage.
Thanks for clearing that up. I was sure someone had said “it’s not for you” but I wasn’t sure if it was Tom Harrison.
The irony is that if world cricket goes more franchise or club based and becomes the only place to earn big money there will be no need for organisations like the ECB. The New franchisees can govern themselves. The Premiership really runs football now and the FA is a just rubber stamp.
It looks like the ECB have bet the entire farm on the hundred and will now burn down everything else to prop it up. If it takes off I’m sure the plan is to replace counties with the new franchises. If it fails it has the potential to take down all of English cricket because there won’t be any money, or players for the longer form of the game that currently generates the income.
Personally all my life cricket has been more about the international than the club game. In that respect it has been different to sports like football where international football is now almost a joke compared to top flight clubs. Rugby is at the early stage of going down that road. International rugby is still the dominant force. I’m not sure a brand of club/ franchise cricket played for a few weeks a year is enough to hold peoples loyalty. Are fans going to be supporting a franchise in England for a month, a franchise in India for a month? then one in Australia and then one in South Africa?
It won’t be me, but then as Mr Bransgrove said ..”it’s not for you.”
Re your point about franchises holding fans’ loyalty/interest, Mark–I think that’s what the IPL franchises have in mind by expanding their geographical reach. Because then you won’t be watching several different franchises in several different countries, you’ll be watching Capitals or Royals or whoever play in different territories. It will be much more similar to watching Man Utd play in China, then in Italy, then in Manchester–they’ll just be called Manchester Capitals instead of Delhi Capitals.
The irony of what you suggest Marek is there would be no need for the ECB. The Premiership really runs top flight football in England not the FA. So the ECB would only be speeding up their demise. Especially if international cricket becomes secondary to global franchises.
Should three/four day domestic cricket, and test cricket go back to being semi professional, with perhaps some amateurs? Is it even feasible?
It’s an interesting debate about whether a governing body of a sport should be running as a business entity anyway? Should it only be about generating money? Cricket has never been particularly flush with money, and it survived. And that leads to the role of the players in all this. We tend to blame only the governing bodies but they are trying to find new ways of generating more money to satisfy the players. One reason I have little sympathy for players who complain about too much cricket. They don’t complain about too much money.
As the author Somerset Maugham said, “If you want to eat well in England, you should consume breakfast three times a day”.
Test cricket is our ‘breakfast’……..and it cannot be enjoyed if County Cricket is not being played throughout the season.
ODI is an important ‘meal’ too, because it is traditionally the WC of cricket……..ergo and 50-over game is imperative.
T20 has a WC too…….so it’s important.
What in God’s name is the Hundred for though? It is utterly superfluous.
No amount of marketing can make players an fans identify with these stupid commercial entities; and no amount of hype, schmoozing and zany Vox pops with kids can make a decent ‘meal’ out of what is a complete dog’s breakfast.
What a waste of money.
The “we’re not looking for consistency from Crawley” comment made me laugh.
Phew! That’s a relief then….
(Good, by the way, to get some unusual and unpredictable dismissals! Crawley caught at slip, Bairstow bowled through a gate big enough to drive a combine through…:-)
I’d say the problem from a financial perspective is that The Hundred is effectively trying to do two things at once – act as an in house promotional loss leader that’s worth the expense in terms of attracting new fans, both with the hard sell and the cheap/free tickets – and also as a commercial franchise ‘elite league’ cash cow that can compete with heavily financed IPL and its spin-offs and financially secure the future of English cricket. The problem being it can’t do both, especially when it’s got a rival competition that does many of the same things and which has to be downgraded and denigrated to justify it – and its participants paid off for the inconvenience. There’s a fascinating article below that points out that if separated out, the women’s Hundred is ‘profitable’ but the men’s isn’t due to higher salaries, the TV figures being ok but hardly spectacular for elite FTA sport and the fact that in order to stage it, it has to pay the fees to the counties. And therein lies your problem – you either have an elite, privately backed league that can draw in investment, big overseas TV deals, and competes in a global market – which personally I’d hate, but some see as the way forward, and would fulfil the ECB’s criteria of being a cash cow and financially justify the marginalisation of other formats including tests as it pays the bills – or you spend your own money on promoting an in house competition that promotes organic growth – as the women’s one kind of does by fulfilling an unfulfilled need. The latter would’ve worked with a rejigged Blast and parallel women’s competition to add value and attract different supporters, but it just isn’t going to with a men’s competition that tries to act as the ‘elite’ league (when it really isn’t) against others with far deeper pockets, cannibalises an existing competition, and alienates part of your existing supporter base to the point they are now discussing the best methods of mutiny. It’s predicated on huge growth that just isn’t going to be there when a sizeable portion of the cricket-watching public reach for the remote, and for new ones it’s an enticing entry-level offering to the game – which is not to be sniffed at – but not the premium appointment viewing of the best international cricket and its genuine cut through, or, say, a One Day final once was when on FTA or Finals Day could be if it were.
The thing with The Hundred is that it is an omnishambles. When viewed from any perspective, any angle, it is an absolute shambles.
Ultimately, the ECB has been incredibly poorly run since its inception in 1997 (and the TCCB before that, and the MCC before that). With regards to The Hundred, it’s a mess both in concept and implementation. According to a Deloitte report to the ECB in 2016, a T20 competition would likely have costs of around £13m per year and generate a profit of over £30m per year. That’s presumably why the counties were offered an upfront annual dividend of £1.3m each (£24.7m total, including the MCC) to guarantee their votes. Instead, if you exclude the county payments, it makes a profit of *maybe* £11m. Around £20m short of where it should be. The costs have ballooned beyond all control, and the ECB seem responsible for that.
The only real success of The Hundred has been the women’s competition, and they have COVID-19 to thank for that. Instead of playing matches at the eight main hosts, the women’s competition in 2020 was instead going to be touring across the country visiting most of the smaller county grounds as well as at least one private school and a couple of club cricket fields. Only nine women’s group games were certain to be televised on Sky, with each team hosting a single doubleheader (plus Manchester having a second because they couldn’t find a suitable outground). The women’s competition was four matches shorter than the men’s too, because each men’s team was to play their local rivals twice whilst the women’s teams didn’t. Instead of playing their final at Lord’s (think of what the members would think, seeing women on their hallowed turf more than once per season), they were instead to play theirs at Hove. When COVID-19 hit, it not only cancelled the 2020 season and its schedule but also required the ECB to implement biobubbles for the 2021 season. It would cost them more to do that at 20 grounds than just the 8 men’s host grounds, and so every match became a doubleheader. Thus, the ‘unexpected’ success was a total fluke.
To return to Danny’s original point, it is particularly strange that, under the new FTP, there will be fewer home test matches in the future. While seven per year was the standard between 2000 and 2018, six has been the norm since 2019 and there will only be 5 in 2024 and 2025.
The ECB seems to be hell bent in doing everything they can to antagonise their older fan base in a desperate attempt to attract a new audience for their hit and giggle formats. They obviously feel they have to so, and I suspect it is also the case that other country’s are winding down test cricket so attracting test series may get harder even though most of the Sky money is for test cricket. In addition a larger number of players can play the shorter formats for more money than county cricket.
Problem is for many of us their new vision offers little. If cricket is going to be endless white ball bite sized chunks played by meaningless franchises it offers nothing of interest. The prospect of long periods of the summer without any test cricket just means no cricket period. In fact it’s almost a completely different sport.
Many of us will just wave goodbye. They can’t complain about that, but they seem to think we have an obligation to keep funding this new nirvana until a new audience can be relied on.
Indeed. I have watched more Minor Counties (as was) cricket this year and may do so increasingly in the future.
In many ways, you can get the same buzz from following your local club cricket team. As Dmitri’s journey into lower league football shows, the amount that players are paid (if anything), and the amount you as a supporter have to pay (if anything), does not necessarily correlate with the amount of enjoyment that you will get.
Just ask current Man U fans. I quite admire those who set up the Salford football team, and I have heard of others who now follow local lower league teams. It isn’t just the money, although that is a factor for some it’s a throw back to the older days of a pie and a pint and a laugh.
Sport for money has to offer the customer something in return. I think quite a few sports at the top end rather take their fans for granted. I’m amazed at how many still follow mid table and lower level Premiership teams. It’s expensive, and your team will likely never win anything. They probably will put out a second team in the cup matches as well.
Perhaps county cricket should seriously look at restructuring to go semi professional. After all they still have the grounds and what would the hundred do if the counties refused to let the ECB use their facilities? Play it In Harrison’s back garden?
I don’t think there will be five in 2025, as I’d assume England would play a warmup match against a World Test Championship finalist like they did last year. In fact they played two against New Zealand, which they could do in 2025 and make up the missing Test to Sky from 2024.
If Sky don’t like it, I’m sure the ECB would add a Test against Ireland in 2024 just to satisfy the terms of their contract.
There’s no longer room in the schedule for that though, because the WTC final is a week earlier and the IPL will finish a week later than last year. Even next year’s Ireland test is scheduled to overlap with the IPL (although I think it’s more likely that it will overlap with the WTC final).
And there’s already something in that slot anyway in 2025–three ODIs against West Indies (why I don’t know, since the T20s are in Sepember!)…whcih should warm them up nicely as a bridge between the IPL and the WTC final if they get there…:-)
I too was surprised by there only being five tests in 2024, because I thought the TV deal required six–and there don’t seem to be any more white-ball matches than before.
Apparently Skys new deal with the ECB wanted little cricket in August because it would conflict with the start of the football season. And unsurprisingly the spineless ECB were happy to go along because 1:They are desperate for the money, and 2: it would allow more focus on their August absurdity…the Hundred.
Just reason 3785 why I’m glad I don’t subscribe to Sky any more. They don’t cover sport, they own it, and organise it for themselves and and their relatively small tv audience.
What is shocking is the people who claim to be the governing body of a sport, who claim to have its best interests are so eager to capitulate to such demands. So much for selling the rights, the ECB have sold out the whole sport to a company whose prime interests are much more aligned with a completely different sport. Namely football. Cricket it seems is now owned and run by the Premiership, and it would seem funded by football fans. Even though many of them don’t know this.