County fixtures fixed, for some: John Stern

The reduction of the Twenty20 Cup from 2012, and the retention of the 16-match County Championship schedule, has been as a victory for cricketing rather than commercial values.

I’m not so sure. I think the counties, as ever, have weighed up the financial benefits of reducing the Championship season and thereby freeing up time for entry into the T20 Champions League and decided that the extra revenue wasn’t worth alienating their members even further.

Counties would each receive a guaranteed £50,000 just for being part of the Champions League ‘family’ and then the two counties who qualified for the tournament would received plenty more than that.

The reduction in T20 matches from 16 to 10 per county is certainly progress or, technically, regress since we’re back to the schedule used in the 2009 season. I wonder how much money has been spent and time wasted to reveal what any cricket fan with half a brain could have told the ECB a year ago.

And leaving the Championship alone is, within the context of an 18-team set-up, sensible on the basis that it doesn’t need fixing. Sixteen four-day matches is a lot, too many in an ideal world but, as we know, county cricket is far from that.

What worries me is that shunning the Champions League feels Little England-ish. It feels like when England didn’t enter the football World Cup until the fourth tournament in 1950 or when Chelsea were withdrawn by the Football League from the first European Cup in 1955.

The reaction to the ECB’s announcement yesterday showed how ludicrous the county system’s quasi-free market set-up really is. Kent and Somerset complained about the reduction in Twenty20 matches because that is how they make their money.

For clubs like them and Essex, the 16-match schedule worked well. In provincial towns away from major urban centres and without major football clubs there was clearly an appetite for more T20 and their smaller grounds were filled to capacity. The bigger Test-match stadiums, with international matches to stage and market, struggled.

Different counties have different needs and different agendas so the game is a constant state of compromise.

Counties are in competition with each other – for players, for supporters, for cash, for the right to stage international matches. But the financial losses sustained by many counties are predictable and eye-watering.

I have said this before but county cricket needs to be more like American football’s NFL which is, broadly speaking, run as a centralised socialist collective. It is vigorously commercial (though still without shirt sponsorship or stadium perimeter advertising) but revenues for pretty much everything are shared out equally between the 32 teams.

On the field, teams compete with each other but off the field their competition is viewed as other local sports franchises or other leisure attractions. There is a genuine sense of all being in it together, an impression that never gets from English cricket which continues to be intent on tearing itself apart.

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One Response to County fixtures fixed, for some: John Stern

  1. Rob Steen says:

    Bravo John! I’d also cite Major League Baseball as a role model in this respect – all hail the socialist collectives!!