Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Essex
Graeme Wright’s book is a lively account of the issues attracting the attention of the game’s business minds at the beginning of the decade, some of which have certainly moved on, some of which equally certainly remain, hardy annuals as it were. The difficulties caused by the bidding war for major matches and the resultant indebtedness of some of the TMG’s, now recognised, a fixture list seemingly giving little rhythm to the cricket season, still, and criticism of an over-powerful bureaucratic governing body then, for better or not a new ECB constitution in 2018.
The language of dependence tends to permeate the references to the smaller counties, downstream from decisions, resistant to the proposed city-type T20 competition at the end of the last decade and, in the view of some, leaving the modernisation of the game a decade and more behind rugby union. What future for county cricket now, with a city-based T20 game on the horizon from 2020, its Championship watched by the proverbial three men and a dog and calls from prominent figures to reduce the amount of 4-day cricket that is played?
Financial numbers tell us something about the county game and the revenues of the four counties above in the time of Sky TV are in the chart; the numbers for Kent, Somerset and Worcester not very different to Derby, Leics and Northants in 2016, those for Gloucester closer to Essex, Sussex a bit higher. Once the effects of general inflation have been allowed for, the revenues of the four have, broadly speaking, flatlined, the effects of taking TV coverage behind a pay wall not helping with the general awareness of the game or, it seems reasonable to think, membership numbers or ticket sales.
In the peculiar, peculiar in the sense of being unusual, economics of team sport, revenue sharing is something that gives smaller clubs a chance to compete, an aid to the overall competitive balance of the competitions that are played. The extent of this varies between sports, although for smaller clubs, their share of pooled funding is, of course, a larger % of their revenues.
Scaling the financial numbers in cricket up by factor of around 30, Leicester City FC, a relatively small PL club, were around 75% financed from TV monies in the year they were champions; in rugby union where the numbers are closer to those in cricket, Northampton Saints, for example, a not so small rugby club, receive about 30% of their funds from Premiership Rugby and the RFU.
When free market economics meets English cricket it could therefore be expected to be on the side of the smaller counties. Cricket has a long history of pooling monies from Test cricket that dates back to the time of the TCCB, and before: in the Sky era ECB monies have been of the order of 40-50% of the total revenues for Essex, Northants do not disclose £mn figures, but have referred to ‘well in excess of 50%’ in their accounts. The % for Derby and Leics are in the chart.
The revenues that the ECB generate are, in large part, derived from Test cricket and concentrating the revenues coming into the game via TV contracts has concentrated the financing for the red ball game. For individual counties more revenue may be generated by T20 ticket sales and the associated hospitality than comes from member subs from those more interested in 4 day cricket, but taking ECB monies with other revenues together the picture of what it is that finances the county game is more mixed.
Whether overall the long form of the game has been used to support the development of T20 cricket by the counties in the last decade or so is moot: but whatever answer be given, a county Championship that is in large part financed to support the development of the England Test team needs sensible fixture scheduling among other things.
In the 2018 season ahead county cricket overall will still make some sense economically, Derbyshire and 17 others doing what they are financed to do. Whether from 2020, when the cities are seeking a new audience for the T20 game, more 4-day cricket should be played by the counties at a time and in conditions they often don’t play in now, is another question again, and one that deserves to get an airing.