Dropping attendances are just not Cricket

Deloitte are reportedly soon to publish a report into the state of affairs in English cricket. The fact is that worldwide cricket attendances have been steadily falling for a couple of decades – until recently England had bucked the trend and were still drawing near capacity crowds. Reportedly for the first time since 1986 the Oval Test failed to attract the lurking ticket touts with the event suffering the embarrassment of failing to sell out this year. The reality is that the lack of live cricket on terrestrial television has reduced the average punter’s accessibility and to the game. Many existing fans are unable to engage with the sport and new fans are largely limited to those subscribing to SkySports. Having been touted by the Davies Review, the Coalition government has put on hold the suggestion that the Ashes Tests should be listed, thus ensuring broadcast on free-to-air television. The ECB probably consider that the premium paid by Sky (The value of the current deal with the England and Wales cricket board is £300 million) compensates for the loss of wider television audiences. Ticket price is surely a key factor. The ECB does not control ticket prices, host venues do and host venues are forced to enter into auctions to stage individual test matches. Twenty years ago there where only 6 test venues in the country: Lord’s, The Oval, Edgbaston, Headingly, Old Trafford and Trent Bridge. Now Cardiff, the Rose Bowl and Durham are competing. The grounds will reportedly spend around £17.5m hosting Test matches next year - a huge increase on the £5.6m spent in 2006. Venues must attempt to recover the huge outlay they have invested through gate receipts. This summer England play 6 Test matches, 13 one day international’s and two T20 matches. Pakistan played two Tests against Australia over here. It has been said that 55 days of international cricket is too much but reducing the cricket would mean reducing the income. Some believe that the game is suffering from mismanagement. The previous close ties with Allen Stanford (who is yet to stand trial on a number of charges) caused huge embarrassment to the sport and arguably dented some people’s confidence in ECB chair Giles Clarke. The congested cricket calendar arguably causes much confusion amongst fans who see different competitions played simultaneously. It is increasingly difficult to follow the match scheduling timetable – and the published results. If fans are unsure as to when a fixture might be they are unlikely to attend - few newspapers are know bothering to report on the county game. Cricket is facing a harsh reality check. International grounds reportedly have a combined debt of around £91million with many owing large sums to local authorities who are currently undergoing a comprehensive spending review. The Daily Telegraph claims to have seen a draft copy of a soon to be published Deloitte report which stresses that the sport is in desperate need of finding new income streams. Their article quotes Hugh Robertson, Minister for Sport and the Olympics as saying: “There is an agreement among most people in the game that recognises the financial crisis facing cricket and recognises that the Twenty20 format needs refreshing and looking at again. It also recognises that county clubs need to generate much more income in non-cricket ways, and to do that they will need to develop facilities. "The whole broadcast world is about to change with digital switchover [in 2013] and cricket will be advised to use the time between now and then to have a think about this because there are some real challenges out there for cricket. That is the thought of a cricket fan and it is something for the ECB to look at through its board.” “If you can only access a certain segment of the population through your satellite-television deal then you have got to make it as easy as possible for people to watch live cricket. If the tickets are priced at £60 that makes it an expensive day out for two adults and two children.” Settling for Sky’s money may suit cricket in the short term – but arguably in a harsh commercial world Sky’s willingness to spend large sums of money on cricket must arguably only be reflective of public demand to watch the sport.

Published August 31, 2010

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