The argument around a new ‘franchise based’ T20 tournament in England is an interesting one. I totally get the concept – it is to have a separate T20 tournament in England and Wales that draws its players from a pool of the best white ball merchants in the world, exposes young English players to top level competition and bows mainly to the Indian TV market – very similar to the Big Bash or Ram Slam in design – and therefore, as it draws its money from foreign markets, it can afford to have an element on free to air TV in the UK – exposure that is critical for the sport.
So on those fronts – I totally get it – but for everything else the ‘would-be’ organisers and proponents of the new tournament have totally ignored the fact of where it will be played and who will want to watch it; points which could ultimately make the positive elements redundant.
There is the climate issue that needs to be factored in; it is much easier to draw support from a non-traditional cricket fan base when beer is flowing at 25 degrees on a summer evening, it is quite another when a thousand ‘Manchester Maximums fans’ are huddled under a stand sheltering from rain and a wind chill factor of about 4 degrees Celsius at Old Trafford. Then there is the tribal nature of the European sports fan which isn’t replicated so much elsewhere in the world.
To that end, the attitude and make-up of the United Kingdom is just so different to the other countries where T20 city franchise cricket has been successful. In India and Australia, the big cities are the focal point for the area or region around them and there are few ‘missings’ from a franchise view, so you don’t have the situation here where some of the biggest cities that cricket is played in and supported (Sheffield, Liverpool, Leicester, Bradford, Hull,Gloucester, Swansea, Derby) will not only be without representative teams, their nearest franchise will be based in a city they traditionally have a big rivalry with. Added to that, big cricketing areas in the rest of the county game (Somerset, Worcester, Northampton and the large Essex, Surrey, Lancashire and Yorkshire towns for example) will similarly feel unrepresented and unable to support a ‘rival’ city or area. I can only think the ‘fans’ and audience for a new franchise will be drawn from the cities themselves – and sadly I’m not sure there is enough of a cricket audience without the other supporter elements to sustain this model.
So, a nice idea in principle, but I think it is unworkable and ultimately smacks of self-interested people blinded by cash, making decisions based on hope and wild assumptions. This is such a shame as, given more forward thought and less short termism when it comes to planning, marketing and exposure, county cricket has great potential. T20 blast ticket season ticket sales are already up 35% on last season and ticket sales have risen 64% in the last 4 years; the three way fight for the County Championship had county cricket trending on twitter; Lords and Headingly saw 5 figure crowds for a single day’s play and Scarborough, Cheltenham and Chesterfield Festivals saw Sold Out signs on the gates, as did the majority of the Northants, Essex and Somerset t20 games. Unfortunately, none of these teams or out ground supporters will be represented in an 8 team franchise.
There is a lot of appetite out there for the county game and to tap into that by, say, allowing half of the current televised T20 blast matches to be on free to air terrestrial TV could really build up a buzz around an already existing growing market and really secure the long term future of the game as our national summer sport.
Unfortunately, unloved City teams, featuring mercenary players playing at half empty test grounds in freezing conditions does not a spectacle make – and I really think the ‘City Franchise’ plan is doomed before it has begun.
The upshot is -not only is it destined to be a failure for all of the above – it could mean it closes the door on a potential appetite for cricket on terrestrial TV for a long time – it certainly could do more harm than good for the wonderful sport of cricket in the UK.
Finally, it is not a coincidence that nearly all English cricket journalists who are not drawn from the ex-player pool are against this, as are the vast majority of supporters from both my personal experience and social media testimony. Yet the likes of Michael Vaughan seem to be at the forefront of championing this incentive, despite his Sheffield cricketing roots which you think would make him strongly agin a ‘Leeds’ based franchise team – confirmation (as if it was needed) that sport is driven by self-interest, rather than common sense and supporter appetite.
British franchise cricket. It can get lost.