Category Archives: The ECB and the Game

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.

ECB Transparency

By comparison with Cricket Australia and the ICC the ECB has, strategically at least, over the years been a relatively transparent organisation. On the particular question of what it spends money on, it helpfully produces its preferred way of looking at things in its Annual Review under the heading “How We Spent It”: £48.4mn on the professional game, £30.6mn on England teams, £21mn on community cricket and £14.1mn on admin & support. A total of £114mn in the 2015/6 year.

This gives us the view of the ECB as simply being at the service of the wider game. Other views are available of course, including those that are formed from a look at its financial accounts; what they show is the long-term decline in the distributions to the counties and the grassroots. There is a rather large difference between that which is spend on behalf of others and what is spent by others. Over the years the ECB has arguably become more like a central planner in the cricket economy.

An accidental download occurred in the course of writing this post and as it happens the ECB has entered new realms of transparency in the recent past, transparency max, if not 100% transparency exactly. Whether the accidental download was preceded by an accidental upload or a quite intentional one is another matter, but here a couple of points.

To some extent more transparency is a plus: disclosures that the cost of the CEO’s box in 2015/6 was £120k (enough you would think for some good vintages from the cellars), or that the budget for servicing sponsors was £275k (whatever that might cover) or that public policy and international relations was allocated £271K (the ECB’s foreign office at work presumably) might all help satisfy the curiosity of some and also prompt pertinent questions when the time arises for them.

There are of course also reasonable limits to what should be made public; the revenues from individual sponsorships being one example of something outside those limits and the ECB’s budget for drug testing in the first-class game arguably another. Management accounts are usually for board information and as such confidential for good reasons.

Cricket in England would benefit from a competently managed governing body, given matters transparency at present it would seem to be in an adjustment needed situation.

The ECB and the Sky Millions

The ECB’s decision to end live terrestrial coverage of England in 2005 has been a pain to many of us ever since. Given that it is a decision usually explained in terms of the extra revenues coming into the game, going in search of the upsides the two obvious questions are how much more money has it been and what has it been spent on?

The revenues line is monies from broadcasting, a large part of it, but also from ticketing and other things. If, for much of the time, broadcasting income has driven the trend it also very apparent just how much some World Cup years have generated and the extent to which the game in England is now dependent on cricket globally, particularly the other two members of the big three.

Surprising as it may (or may not) be the ECB’s revenues grew at a quicker rate in the era of free-to-air coverage, a comment on the question of whether cricket exists to make money or whether it should be the other way around. While the numbers, of course, reflect various influences over the years the decision to take England coverage behind a paywall, and keep it that way, has been a mixed blessing financially and can reasonably be seen as something other than a blessing overall.

The lower line in the chart is the distributions from the ECB to the counties (including the minor counties and the MCC) after allowing for charges. When it was set up in 1997 in an era before central contracts and the NCPC at Loughborough University, the ECB distributed approximately 60% of its revenue to the counties and the grassroots as channelled through Chance to Shine. This % spend has dropped by more than a half in the years since.

Michael Atherton writing in The Times last year recalled his experience of playing for England in the Caribbean in the 1990s with a team that was not fully fit, and minus some basic medical supplies, which were then provided by a friend and paid for by a cheque that bounced. The rebalancing towards the centre and the England team that followed was plainly not before its time, although he concluded in the same article that a fundamental change of direction back was needed now.

The general shape of the ‘ECB’s Manhattan’ can be taken as pointing the same way. If football has a problem with rich and arguably too-powerful large clubs, and a rather weak governing body, cricket has seemingly traversed a long way toward the other end of the spectrum. In other words what, fundamentally, is the ECB for and would it matter if the governing body of the game to an ever greater extent became the game?

Current arguments about whether to have two domestic t20 competitions from 2020 raise the acute question of whether this is a way to sustain counties that do not stage international cricket or whether it is more likely to be one step towards their set aside. While 8 team t20 competitions have been big successes in the other two of the big three, they have become so in very different sporting environments. By 2020 it will have been almost a generation since watching England was free and more like two generations since cricket was a mainstay of school sport, during which time football’s dominance has become ever greater and the time formerly known as its close-season has more or less disintegrated.

The better showing by England in Ashes series has arguably been the chief upside of the last decade or so. It would be ironic if the influence of Cricket Australia and the BBL was such now that ECB administrators playing a global game struggle to adapt to domestic conditions. Sometimes it might very well be better to simply stop (over-)managing, and let the game and its players adapt and evolve. The conclusion of last year’s county Championship at Lord’s one case in point; it is a competition which reaches its finale at a time that largely, if not entirely, excludes a young audience, which is unfortunate given that it deserves its chance to shine.