Category Archives: The ECB and the Game

Sustainable County Cricket

Somewhere the other side of  coronavirus, hopefully, there is a  English cricket season of sorts, however much truncated. Games  behind closed doors in June, streamed, with BBC commentary?  It would be good for the mental health of its listeners if there were. Matches with at least some spectators in attendance by  August? Maybe; but not to doubt that 2020 may turn out to be a season that wasn’t.

As to the capacity of cricket to survive a fallow year financially, the big numbers in the game, ECB revenues,  mainly broadcasting,  and those of the 18 first-class counties came to around £260mn in 2018 and were likely to have been well to the north of £300mn after last summer, which should have left some surpluses. The  ECB’s new TV contract from this year is ‘significantly’ bigger than before, and with help one way and another  from government, it conceivably might be  enough to get the domestic game to 2021.

Quite how long Sky will actually (be able to) fund cricket while showing repeats remains to be seen. But for those of us thinking a future with 18 first-class counties is a marker for the game’s presence, the sustainability  question, if anything, is likely to become more acute. Why struggle to keep a structure intact, critics will ask, if something is not really viable in any event?

Surprisingly maybe county cricket in the time of Sky has, in fact, returned a small profit. The impression from annual snapshots of its financial health in the past has sometimes been rather different, sometimes with reason, but cumulate the 18 financial bottom lines over the years and what you get is shown below.

Legacies and surpluses from ground developments are certainly part of what has sustained the smaller counties, and without the success story of Somerset the trend is close to break-even. Some, of course, have had better experiences than others, but the aggregated line for the non-TMGs, broadly, does not hide great variations within.

Bumpy times at the TMGs; the costs of major ground rebuilds, and expansion to nine when six meant one often missing out problematic, as might reasonably have  been expected. To an extent  this has now been rectified, a major debt write-off (Cardiff), a seriously big capital injection from the  local authority (Southampton/Eastleigh)  and a re-financing (Chester-le-Street) having steadied things.

But a clear and obvious message about speculative excess, the financially unsustainable; from which cue and queue the scepticism over The 100. If the game is about to borrow more against its future, repayment horizons that extend past the current risky TV contract will help. What cricket doesn’t need is more bumpy times of its own making to follow the current uncertain ones.

Charts for the individual counties and other financial details are on the stats page.

 

 

 

 

 

ECB Directors & The 100

The boardroom practice of  existing directors nominating new ones is open to the criticism that it can create a  merry-go-round  for those involved,  detached from the people in whose interests they are supposed to direct. In the case of the ECB,  county reps  (39 of its 41 members are counties) have  been done away with in the name of board independence, being able to make decisions for ‘the good of the game’.

A count of directorships held by those  on its board shows that Scott Smith, the CFO, leads the way with a total of 10. Apart from his involvement with the National Archery Society he is  the  director of

London Spirt (The Hundred) Ltd Welsh Fire (The Hundred) Ltd
Oval Invincibles Ltd Manchester Originals Ltd
Trent Rockets Ltd Southern Brave Ltd
Birmingham Phoenix Ltd Northern Superchargers Ltd

As independent as that;  if it looks like a rather strange arrangement that is because it is and comes from the ECB being the owner as well as the governing body for The 100. Common or some form of collective ownership has its advantages and is one thing, a common owner of two teams competing in professional sport is another thing entirely.  It is prohibited in football in this country, point number one in the FA’s Owners and Directors Test (of those who are ‘fit and proper’). In rugby it has in the past also been blocked by the RFU.

The rule is there to help keep things honest, promote sporting integrity. Roman Abramovich (reportedly) might have taken over Tottenham Hotspur FC, did take over Chelsea but is prevented from owning both clubs: if he did would the matches between the two  actually be straight and seen as such? Some individuals might find themselves unusually well-placed to profit in ‘prediction markets’ in the event of confusion over the issue.

So does the ECB have a future giving space to a sporting Rick’s  in which its compliance staff will be ‘shocked, shocked to find  that gambling has been going on’? As a matter of external scrutiny when it gave evidence to parliamentarians last year the ownership of The 100 was barely mentioned. The 8 teams were mistakenly referred to as franchises by one MP,  an understandable confusion maybe given the distance that many personally feel from the way the game is run. Two days later the ECB put the detail of London Spirit Ltd and the others on the public record.

Something to keep quiet about? The ECB has set itself up as the sole shareholder of the 8  companies  and it wouldn’t be very surprising if they were turned into franchises at some point, if The 100 lasts. In the last decade cricket’s governing body used to describe itself as a conduit for the game as a whole; on the evidence given to the DCMS it seems ever more like Sky’s conduit, with big decisions about the financing and integrity of the game taken by a very small number of individuals and in whose interest is that?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DCMS, the ECB and Statistics

Before the  statistics it should be mentioned that the ECB does have some good things to say in 2019, the World Cup Final in the eyes of many has been the sporting highlight of the year. When its board members gave  evidence to a DCMS inquiry into the game’s future last month there was talk of  growing the game in schools, and women’s cricket was prominent in a way that it wasn’t during the last inquiry held after the ending of FTA coverage in 2005.

But on to The 100 and the ECB’s intention to attract newcomers to watch games. As for the evidence it gave on those who watch now: an average age of 50, “a 77% male bias and a 82% bias towards White British”; although of what these figures were based on, no mention. By comparison, in the world beyond the people of England and Wales were 51% female, 81% white Brits at the last census.

Nationally, the (median) average age is around 40, cricket spectators are older, but the game is not alone in having a mature audience; different numbers, but much the same sentiment in relation to football in the relatively recent past. This is not particularly surprising given the way much sport is funded, paywall TV, and the big economic changes  which have helped more mature types keep paying and keep interested. But no questioning that the game has a generational problem, arguably its biggest problem.

As to the disproportionate number of men who watch the game: if this, as it reasonably might be, is taken as evidence for wanting to encourage more women to attend, why would the basically proportionate number of white Brits be referred to in terms of bias?  Cricket, on the ECB’s own evidence, has been doing ok overall in attracting a diverse audience; three formats of the game enough.

So what’s the problem? A governing body with a CEO who simply doesn’t understand or who doesn’t (want to) believe his own statistics? To be sure England and Wales is changing in the direction of greater numbers of those who make-up the minorities. It could be fairly pointed out that the last census numbers (2011) are rather old,  the question now being how much change has there been since.

But also to the point here is just how different  the ‘cricketing heritages’ are of the minorities in a global world: just how much difference in interest in the game of cricket there is likely to be between, say, those who were born in the People’s Republic of China living here now, those with an Indian heritage and  those who have migrated from Poland more recently.

But  not much doubting the intention of those at the ECB who see the The 100 as “an awfully big opportunity…..to get  diverse and urban communities turning up in their droves”. Re-profiling the ethnicity of the game’s spectators may not get very far: The 100 may simply attract those who watch or would have watched the Blast, the stats that the ECB gave to the DCMS select committee could in any case be (many) a mile off.  But given what they say they know, it is an adverse comment on the governing body of a national game that they would try in the first place.

Some background detail on the stats page.

 

 

 

The Counties and ECB Payments

With cricket as with other team sports there are good reasons to  pool the monies that come into the game. In football the Premier League distributes £ sums in nine figures to individual clubs allowing for example,  AFC Bournemouth and Newcastle United, with their respective histories, to compete against each other.

The MCC library holds records of prize and other monies being shared in domestic cricket since before the time of the TCCB in the 1960s. While the numbers then had five digits fewer than in the top tier of English football now, in the more commercial ECB era the amounts paid out to the individual counties come in £mn and have over the last decade, broadly speaking, been pretty equal. Taken together with the game’s salary cap it gives the smaller counties a chance in the three formats of the game.

The fundamentals of this notwithstanding, the sentiment that a small number of seniors sitting on a bench are not enough to keep the county game afloat has been around for decades; and, of course, around for  those decades have been the first-class counties;  in the time since the snap was taken at Portsmouth in the 1970s  Durham added to their number.

But a mistake to think that there couldn’t be existential issues with the county game, that  domestic cricket doesn’t have a problem with excesses that come from the top. The problematic legacy of  rebuilt TMGs to accommodate  international matches has prompted suggestions by some that The 100 will make, or otherwise just cement, the establishment of  ‘8 super counties’, with not so much, if anything, of a future for the others.

Looking at their respective financial sizes the differences between the scale of operations between the TMGs is very apparent, perhaps more striking than the differences between the TMG counties and those that aren’t. Surrey, something of an outlier with its Oval Events £ generator, is approximately the same size as  Lancashire and Warwickshire put together. There is then another sizeable drop down to Yorkshire: who if not a financial minnow exactly before the rebuild of Headingley,  was then comparable to Derbyshire,  since when in the  financial legal table  it has moved up to bracket with the now  ex-challenger TMGs.

The Cricketer magazine last year had an editorial suggesting that the domestic game was almost £200mn in debt and that the new ECB competition  was ‘a diligently researched, meticulous attempt to eradicate it’.  So is ‘one-half’, or more,  of The 100 really a rather underexposed debt relief scheme?

Trawling through the accounts of the 18 counties for 2017  and allowing something for the ECB reserves held then gives a figure of somewhere around £125-30mn. Quite a lot less debt to eradicate  than might have been thought, maybe; much of it, of course, held by the TMGs, Lancashire, Warwickshire and Yorkshire with debts £20mn+. So is much of what lies behind, and in front, of The 100  ‘a small country’ re-exporting  problems  from over-expansion back to a much larger one?

Failure, as the saying goes, is an orphan, but to be sure the disorder from too many TMGs has a lengthy history and could reasonably be traced back to three businessmen and a Rose Bowl; the county of the Hambledon club going in search of prestige, and parking, in the 1980s. The game’s finances might well have been easier to manage since had they gone up the river in a boat.

But the problems of excess are a tale of many other decisions as well plainly.  In 2004  the offer from Channel 4 to continue with FTA coverage of Test cricket during 2006-9 was less good than the then existing contract; a message from the past that the  value of TV rights can go down as well as up to say nothing of the consequences  when they do.

The  decision to (almost) max out on £  over exposure from 2020, comes with a big, if not huge, downside risk  given that the world and the  value of TV rights may very well change again by 2023.  In a game that needs to find some sense of balance the sooner it reverses out of The 100 the more likely it is to find it.

The county by county financial details for this post are  on the stats page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taxing Times?

The start of a new season at Lord’s and through the North Gate to the bag security check and  body search, as ever courteously done. If 2019 is going to be anything like previous seasons, and it probably will be, those doing the searching and wishing a good day will usually be  young, not over-paid and given the nature of the work, somewhere else tomorrow. As we reach the end of a decade that began with ‘austerity’ and all in it together, earnings of £12,500 are allowed now for those with jobs, there the next day or not, before paying income tax.

Two members of the Sunday League generation headed to the Mound Stand; born in a favourable decade for buying a house, the blogger’s mate and  partner have recently cashed in their chips on their property. A boy from the north done pretty good over the years, lived at number 16 when  Andrew and Ruth Strauss were good neighbours; but middle England, Pitshanger not Park Lane. Taking capital gains for what they are, allowances and exemptions totted up before payments of tax on income for him something like three to four times that for those at the gate, but a modest multiple still by comparison with some who will be along later this summer.

Gross inequities to be sure, a lot, although by no means all, coming  from the cyclical up of house prices. We have been here before, three times as it happens in the case of the Sunday League generation. The last cycle ended in 2008, like its predecessors, 17 years after it started, time to regret, forget and do it again then; although this time round the wealth transfers to the nation’s (grand) parents have been much greater, helping keep up the numbers of Sky subscribers and making a day at the Test at £150 affordable.

Ten miles west lies Southall with a population made up very largely of those with a South Asian heritage, a local travel company supplies adverts between overs on Sky and if you were to listen to some, one place where cricket’s new audience is going to be found.  A decade ago the local authority counted the number of cricket pitches in public spaces there, found 13, 31 in the borough as whole (Ealing),  and  expected then a need for a further six.  Divide by two for the actual numbers last year.

It is not in the least bit difficult to connect the decline on the commons with tax breaks for those prospering . The journalist James Bloodworth in his piece ‘Is capitalism killing cricket?’ goes back to the 1980s to point to the beginnings of the current decline of the game, the long form particularly. Certainly the rise and rise of managerialism has been no friend of cricket in schools and the problems faced by those aiming for a generational  renewal of interest now, any format, should put them in a place where they get some space.

The muddle surrounding The 100 has left those who take an interest wondering why they should. Looked at from the outside in 2019 the ECB appears cast as the gambler late at night with losses to recover unwisely taking big risks. Those trying to connect, looking for cool, could do themselves a favour by binning the management speak and then take a lead from Gareth Southgate about being honest and to the point. The game will find its own waistcoat.

If there is to be an uptake that sustains, the international game still seems the more likely place for it. Twice in the last forty years cricket has come up big, individual brilliance rising from the depths and a moment seized after an opposing captain’s mistake. In both 1981 and 2005 cricket, a civilising sound of the English summer, arguably did something for those outside it:  Botham’s Ashes in a country with  3mn+ unemployed, and in 2005, when a war in the desert still rankled with many.  The open question now is whether the game could actually do it again?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dividing Game?

The afternoon of the 2018 Royal London  final was spent chatting to a players’ agent, an enthusiast for the ECB’s new competition amidst the game’s traditional audience, he made the point that for some of the players he worked with it might be a chance  to something like double their earnings from playing the game.

A polite conversation ended with agreement that cricket needs to attract more younger spectators than were present that day. ‘The 100’ is billed as the route to this end and for its duration large incentives to focus on the white-ball game seem to be coming the way of many players, in a sport with small numbers at the top on central contracts well remunerated, the great majority of professionals a great deal less so.

As to the effect on the playing base for Test cricket this brings us to the extent to which the game has already divided into those who specialise in one format or another. In the 2018 English season there were  450+  players who appeared at least once for their county; of these,  around 300 appeared in the Blast, one marker for the numbers who might conceivably think of themselves as possibles for the new competition, and of these, around 80% (230+) also played some Championship cricket.

FC List A T20
Did not play at all 77 (34) 172 (101) 152(111)
Only played 85(60) 3(3) 52(18)

England-qualified in brackets.

As a marker this is, of course, open to the comment that those who played more often, those who performances keep them in and around their side over a season, may in many cases be more of a possible, if not a probable. The Worcestershire team, for example, that won the 2018 Blast had four players who were ever-present, and some 90% or so of the names on their team sheets during the competition were occupied by 12 players.  These are not numbers to surprise particularly, around 90% of the places in the Surrey Championship winning side were occupied by 14 players, and the graphic below shows that player counts for the game as a whole were not very dis-similar.

The players’ appearance numbers are lined up in increasing order, Joe Root’s  for example (3 Championship matches, 1 T20) put him centre-left, those for Joe Denly (14 and 13) put him at the right hand end. T20 cricket is  concentrated in the hands of a smaller number of players than is the case in the first-class game, and if ‘the 90%ers’ were taken as a another marker for ECB competition possibles,  then the number drops to just under 230. Around two-thirds of these players were also ‘90%ers’ in their Championship sides.

‘The 90%ers’ T20 FC FC, who play T20
Total 229 271 146
England-Qualified 153 203 107
England-Qualified aged under 26 60 85 42

In short, taking a broad brush for some sense of the overall picture, while some specialisation there be, and not all of it short-term overseas hires by any means, in 2018 there were more T20 cricketers who were also Championship players; amongst the England qualified they numbered about a half of the Championship ‘regulars’. The question prompted by this is what is going to be done to solidify the careers of those  who see themselves as red-ball cricketers?

 

Data on appearances compiled  from Cricket Archive, nationalities taken from Cricinfo. The second table is based on rankings by county.

 

ECB Broadcasting Revenues

In recent years the ECB has generated revenues averaging around £145mn per year, of which something like two-thirds, close to a £100mn, has come from broadcasting. The deal with Sky announced last year to start in 2020 has been widely reported as being worth £1.1bn over 5 years, much bounty, and on the face of it more than twice the current sums.

As to where it is going to be spent, media reports this summer now gone have given figures of a £40mn budget for the new ECB competition, closer to £60mn once the payouts to the counties have been allowed for.  Specifically mentioned, £8mn to the players, but the details of the rest a bit of a mystery basically; plenty left for marketing, staging fees and so on and it would be a sad state if a big part of it was not for promoting participation.

But looking at the general picture, the £1.1bn figure suggests around £120mn more every year, so are the sums that have been mentioned in relation to the 100 so far really only half the story? Or was the headline number for the Sky contract a certain sort of overstatement, knowingly done, made available to encourage the adoption of a new ECB competition at a time when it had not been agreed?

A part of the answer to this question is how solid, reliable, any of these numbers are: the £145mn figure comes from the ECB’ s accounts, averaged out over the last four years, so allowing for the fact that revenues are considerably higher in a World Cup year. The broadcasting revenue comes from the ECB’s Annual Return for 2016, which that year gave a detailed breakdown:  for 2015, a World Cup year, and 2016, not; a little bit of extrapolating the 2016 figure to two other non-World Cup years gives an average figure near £100mn (£2018). In short both numbers are solid enough for a look at the general picture here.

More questionable are the sums reported for the 2020 Sky deal. A first question is how much of it is guaranteed, how much add-ons. If the ‘game-changer’ of a deal is dependent on add-ons, there seems to have been no public mention or hint of it so far; the words ‘up to’ that are used sometimes in reporting the contracts and transfers of footballers absent. The ECB’s Annual Return shows that (relatively small) sums were  paid then from an option Sky had; the open question here is whether a much bigger deal is much more dependent on options held by the broadcaster.

To be sure there are other factors that could create a sizeable difference between the headline figure and ‘actual’ revenue to the ECB: tax payments pull the numbers one way, bounty from the World Cup(s) the other;  although it is certainly possible that there will be £10mns extra per year from 2020  aside from the 100 budget given so far, a tester to be sure for the ECB board doing direction for the game as a whole.

To be spent quite how if so? In the generality of things the game has a problem with too many TMGs and declining participation, to which the response of the business minded governing body thus far has been to partly nationalize the sport; ownership, production and regulation of the new competition, the ECB.

There are fundamental reasons why other governing bodies in other sports do not do this, the problems surrounding a common owner of two teams playing one another being one of them. It is a no-no in football and is the first point covered in the FA’s Owners and Directors Test, there in the interests of maintaining some degree of sporting integrity. The ECB appear to be treating this as a secondary issue, which in  a sport that has its share of gambling issues is a poor signal to give.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

T20 Cricket and its Ownership

Both football and rugby union in England prevent the common ownership of teams that play in their competitions, a defence against the conflict of interest when two teams with the same owner play each other. In European football this issue was dealt with by the Court for Arbitration in Sport nearly twenty years ago after the investment company ENIC  bought stakes in clubs in Athens and Prague; since when in England Owners’ and Directors’ Tests have been introduced by both the Premier League and Football League that bar individuals from holding a significant interest in two clubs. The FA has its own separate test.

Despite the very great concentrations of money in football and the advantages it gives to those who have it, there is something to say the integrity of the game is still fundamental, that whatever the pre-match odds,  the outcomes of matches are not fixed. In 2017 the take-over of Gloucester Rugby Club by Mohed Altrad, the wealthy owner of the club in Montpellier, reportedly a good owner willing to invest substantially, was blocked by Premiership Rugby.  In cricket  in the first-class game 15 of the counties are currently registered under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies  Act; the other three, Durham, Hants and Northants have  different owners. Multiple team ownership within England’s major team sports has either been regulated on the basis that it is to akin to a no-no, or has otherwise just remained a non-issue over the decades.

The new 2020 t20 is different in that the game’s governing body is creating the teams that will be playing in it. While this does not necessarily mean they can’t be independent,  the ECB has so far has consistently maintained that the eight team competition will be  ‘ECB-owned’, which raises the question what does or at least what might this mean? What  here is light, what is shade?

Daniel Brettig wrote a piece last year titled ‘The big argument before the Big Bash’ in which he relates the differences there were within Australian cricket over ownership before not taking  finance from business people involved in the IPL; passing by ‘the free cheese in the mousetrap’. On this subject Michael Atherton also wrote a piece in The Times last summer looking at the different t20 leagues around the world, and also arguing for the advantages of not relying on external funding,  so that the profits that come along are available to nurture its future stars.

While there is plainly a question mark against the existence of any profits from 2020 t20,  this part of ‘the future’ could, with a bit of effort maybe, be seen as light. As to the management of the new competition, a reasonable question is whether the board of the  ECB would pass the FA’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test? The declaration  the FA requires directors to sign has as point number one

“I am not either directly or indirectly involved in or have the power to determine or influence the management or administration of another Football Club”

so after allowing for the specifics of its context, and wording, but given its intention and particularly how widely it is drawn, quite how would the ECB’s directors  (and the directors of a competition board) not fail it in relation to 2020 t20?

A regulatory body that owns the regulated seems likely to have problems from what might be called regulatory capture contraflow. As for t20 cricket keeping its profits within cricket, but avoiding the issues surrounding teams with a common  owner, in England this is, of course, the competition known as the T20 Blast. Given that the ECB is directing the future of the game away from it, the not so straightforward questions are quite why so, and where are they heading?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arrowgate

Kartikeya Date  wrote a comment piece a while back expressing amazement at how few professional observers seemed to be aware of how over rates are calculated in international cricket and the  indulgences in mistaken arithmetic that follow from it (http://cricketingview.blogspot.co.uk). The subject of over rates was again prominent this week in English cricket with the Championship standings for 2017 finally settled;  Middlesex’s appeal against a penalty of two points for slow rates, in the game when an arrow landed on the Oval, rejected.

Championship cricket requires a minimum of 16 overs an hour, which, maybe confusingly, is not to say that those counties who meet the minimum will actually be bowling 16 overs an hour as pavilion  clocks tick round. The over rate calculation that is used is

(Time spent in the field in minutes- allowances)/3.75

Rule 16.4 in particular states that two minutes are allowed for when a wicket falls, although not the last wicket or one that is followed directly by an interval. There is no allowance for a drinks break. So, if a team was in the field for an hour with no wickets or anything else to allow for, the calculation becomes 60/3.75 = 16, although, in practice, if a team is to incur a penalty they have to be in the field for at least four hours. As to the anything else that is allowed for, the ECB rules have this to say

“Any suspension of play for an injury to a player or for any other reason beyond the control of the players shall be a deductible allowance”.

So, if an inebriated spectator made their way onto the field and held up play an allowance could easily be made in the calculation. What Arrowgate raised is what happens when there is a longer suspension,  such as one from a safety or security alert, that might lead to the early termination of a match, or otherwise seriously reduce the available time for play.

The  rules are, of course, cast in terms of the team fielding at the time play is suspended,  although the calculation for determining penalties is done on a match basis and  a longer suspension might, of course, affect the team batting as well; as arguably happened on the 4th day of the Surrey v Middlesex match. Actually giving players leeway on this appears problematic given the way the rules are expressed through the over rate calculation;  at the  moment players are given consideration for relatively short interruptions, but not for more lengthy ones, something that,  on the face of it,  seems ironic.

This time round it appears that the ECB have dealt with a problem by sitting on it. It would be a very good thing for spectators if the safety-related issues  raised that day were not sat on, the need for ground authorities to communicate and co-ordinate operationally in particular. A comment on the blogger’s experience that afternoon is here http://bythesightscreen.com/surrey-versus-middlesex-4th-day/

Over on planet football, when Manchester United played AFC Bournemouth at the end of the 2015-16 season, there was a safety alert when a suspect package was found in the toilets before the kick-off, leading to a postponement. During the  evacuation of the ground, which took 20 minutes plus as one side of the stadium was emptied followed by the other, the blogger’s experience was that the PA was telling spectators  to remain by their seats, while turnstile operators directly underneath were allowing spectators  to exit, that of others that spectators were still being admitted to the ground at the time of the evacuation.

Happily all who went to the ground that day went home again, as might be expected when the suspect package was, in fact,  a training device. The follow-on question here is were it necessary to evacuate a large crowd at a cricket ground, say 15 minutes before the start of a T20 match, would the response be better than at Old Trafford 18 months ago?

 

ECB World (Updated)

Information subsequently received from the ECB Board has stated that the seemingly sensitive information about items of budgetary spend mentioned before were in fact purposefully made available to anyone who might want to take an interest. This (still does) surprise me but clearly no adjustment(s) needed!

A copy of the 2016 Annual Return can be downloaded above.

June 2017 A table summarising the ECB finances since 1997 is on the stats page. In the year to January 2017, the ECB lost £37mn, the reserves were halved, the explanation being much larger payouts to the counties.