Essex, one of the counties fighting to retain the number of home fixtures played in the group stages of the Twenty20 Cup, believe they may be winning the battle.
Essex attracted more than £500,000 in gate money from their eight Friends Provident t20 matches during the 2010 season and chief executive David East emphasised in an interview with BBC Essex that it was imperative for them to continue with the same number of matches in 2011.
“It is immensely important for us that we maintain that level of cricket because of the revenue it generates,” he said. “From an Essex point of view – and this is mirrored with several other counties as well – we had incremental growth in terms of income and attendance.
“These are crucial revenue-generating matches for us and other counties. The overall structure of our sport will suffer [if Twenty20 Cup matches are lost], as will all the other interactions with the community and our production of the next generation of England cricketers.
“Initially it seemed that only a small number of counties were interested in retaining the present t20 structure but that number has steadily grown, forcing further discussions and a delay to arranging next season’s domestic fixtures.
“Some of the smaller counties such as ourselves, Sussex and Somerset have made a huge success of Twenty20 with the eight home games that we currently have but there is a call for a reduction in that amount of cricket from some of the larger venues who have had difficulty filling their grounds.
“So there is a difference of opinion there, but it is enormously important for us that we maintain that level of cricket so that we can remain sustainable.
“We need to be in a position to be able to generate that level of income in order that we can plough it back into a quality squad to remain competitive and also to continue with the really important work that we do behind the scenes in terms of our cricket development and our community engagement.
“Some of those things would have to give if we were unable to maintain the level of income from Twenty20 and, were that to happen, it would be really disappointing and a huge step backwards as far as we are concerned.
“We have been discussing this (the number of matches) for months and it is enormously frustrating that we are in this position now and that we don’t have a set fixture list yet for 2011.
“We are currently unable to make any adjustments to our squad because we don’t know what our income is going to be, and we are about to go on sale with a membership offer which is obviously now going to be without a set of fixtures for next year.
“So all of those things are very frustrating but we are where we are and we’ll just have to get on with it. We are very lucky at Essex in that we have a very loyal supporter base and I am sure that people will remain very supportive of us, but it is certainly not helpful in terms of trying to define what we are selling. I am sure that there are not many other businesses that work this way.
“Ticket sales were up, revenue was up across the board although obviously it does vary from county to county. But from an Essex point of view, and that is mirrored from several other counties as well, we had incremental growth in terms of income and attendances and I think that is something that should be nurtured and developed.
“To balance that, there is a sound cricketing argument in terms of the amount of cricket that is played but what we have to realise is that these are crucial revenue-generating matches for us and other counties, particularly smaller ones.”