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.