ECB Remain Tone Deaf on City Based T20

So it appears the ECB is still determined to drive through a city based T20 competition, despite the serious concerns of a number of counties and fans.

Last week Cricinfo’s George Dobell reported that a new document sent out by the ECB contained information suggesting there may even be ‘financial penalties’ for those counties who are deemed to be delaying the process, which would also include amending the constitution of the ECB.

Currently the ECB does not have the power to “deprive a first-class county club of the right to participate in all first-class county competitions authorised by the ECB”, but the governing body is seeking to change this in the near future – with a meeting of County chief executives and chairmen scheduled to take place on March 27th (with the suggestion that there may be a vote in April).

George Dobell also highlighted a number of ‘key points’ from the ECB’s document relating to the new competition – most of which raise concerns as the ECB continues on this ‘full steam ahead’ approach to changing the domestic cricket landscape in England and Wales

Full Disclosure – I’ve used George Dobell’s exact wording of the key points, as I believe he has captured the details better than I probably could have – you can find his original article on this subject on Cricinfo here.

Test matches will be played during the window for the new competition. The document says this means: “Test Players are not anticipated to play in the new competition if selected in the relevant Test squads.”

Whilst this is not surprising, nor is the ECB’s intention to use Joe Root et al in the marketing for any new competition, it still feels like something of a thumb in the eye that English cricket fans may get to see Chris Gayle but not Jos Buttler.

The ECB was never likely to leave a gap in the Test calendar, it’s too financial important to the English game from top to bottom, but still it feels like it makes it a slightly harder sell to new (and even existing) fans that the English cricketing heroes they see in the paper will not be on the field.

The intended start date of the new competition is July 24, 2020, with the final scheduled for August 30. The Blast is likely to begin at the end of May.

The 2020 Olympics are scheduled to be held in Tokyo, Japan from 24th July to 9th August 2020, and whilst Japan is some nine hours ahead of the UK that’s a pretty significant event for the ECB to go up against…

By a combination of some good fortune and FIFA’s questionable decision making, a clash with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar – which is set to take place in November and December – will be avoided; but with the Olympics and World Cup (not to mention the European Championships) cycling every couple of years the ECB is pitting itself, at least partially, against some heavy hitters in the marketplace.

And that’s not to mention the start of the football season, which seems to get earlier every year (and almost certainly will in 2022 to accommodate said World Cup in Qatar).

The competition will consist of 36 games played in a 38-day window. Every game will be televised and each team will host four games.

I used to be a staunch ‘play it in a block’ kind of guy, but have come round on this over the last year or so.

Concerns about the English weather are justified, with a couple of days rain potentially wiping out multiple games and leaving a somewhat sour taste for that team that needed one win but only got a point for a ‘No Result’ – that in itself makes the tactic a gamble, even if you’re only asking ‘home’ fans to potentially part with four games worth of cash (which would still be expensive though)

The television aspect of things is also somewhat intriguing. Will any games be on Free-to-Air TV for example? A cynic might baulk at the idea of the ECB doing such a thing given how tight they have been with Sky in recent years.

As George Dobell pointed out on the last episode of the One Stump Short Podcast, there has been an apparent reluctance to even talk to anyone except Sky about TV coverage and whilst one does not want to bite the hand that feeds, there are other hands out there now…

The domestic 50-over competition will continue at the same time despite the absence of the best 96 limited-overs cricketers; an average of five per county. That means, according to the ECB document, that “there is likely to be a requirement to play at out-grounds for counties whose venues are used by new teams.”

So effectively the ECB is further devaluing the the One Day Cup…a pre-cursor to its demise perhaps?

Many would say so – some already are – few would mourn it though I suspect.

County coaches are to be made available to coach the new teams if their county employers are willing to release them.

Whilst on the surface this seems reasonable, we’ve seen enough club vs country debates in others sports to at least have concerns this might end up being another point of friction in the county vs city team debate that is inevitably going to brew

Each team is to have a set player budget to be spent in the draft and, at the draft, 13 players will be selected per team. Two players per squad will be deemed “wildcards” and will be selected after the group stages of the T20 Blast (the existing T20 competition contested by all 18 counties). The intention, the ECB states, is “to reward in-form players not originally picked up in the draft and to link the narrative between the Blast and the new competition.”

For arguments sake, Ben Duckett is not drafted. He does well for Northants and is then picked up as a ‘wildcard’, weakening Northants (both on the field and in terms of their chances of winning the T20 Blast) – whilst I don’t hate the logic behind giving in-form players a chance, this has shades of ‘another cut to the county game’ as the ECB tries to get the tally up to one thousand…

Conspiracy theory perhaps, but there does seem to be so many elements to this story that involve weakening (certain) counties position within the game.

There will be six salary bands (A-F, with A the most expensive) with two players selected per team from each band, apart from the lowest band (F) from which three will be selected. Teams will draw lots before each round of the draft to determine who gets first pick. There will be a 24-hour trade period following the draft so teams can swap one or two players from within the same group. Overseas players will be able to pick a salary level at A, B and D grades only.

The drafting and trading aspect of this is interesting and also kind of fun. It will create discussion and debate each year (which is absolutely a good thing); but this is also where the sums start to really come in to effect – to attract big names there needs to be big bucks on offer.

If the 2020 Caribbean Premier League schedule is anything like this years (29th June to 7th August) then realistically the ECB is going to need to stump up the cash or risk playing second fiddle.

Whilst playing ‘second fiddle’ and welcoming guys like Chris Gayle or Darren Sammy (or their 2020 equivalents) in to the latter stages of the competition might seem like a good idea financially and add some extra fizz to the knock out phases, it hardly inspires confidence in a new competition if it could be accused of ‘penny pinching’…

In that same vein, do they want to go head-to-head with the CPL like that? Or try and work together? And if they work together with the CPL to avoid a clash how does it affect other tournaments like the ones in Pakistan and Hong Kong which could be seen as ‘fledgling’ now but will hope to be far more established by 2020.

It is proposed that teams could retain a maximum of eight players and a minimum of four players into the second year of the competition.

I actually like this – again, I am no fan of this city based T20 competition but praise where due; retaining at least a few core members of a squad is going to be important if they are to build up a rapport with fans.

It is the “the strong recommendation” of the marketing companies involved in the launch of the competition that it features “new team (i.e. non-county based) brands, to drive reappraisal and differentiation from existing cricket.”

The risk here is of course that you create a significant detachment with existing fans – are Sheffield based fans, who would happily support Yorkshire, going to get behind the ‘Leeds Lions’?

Likewise, will enough new fans from around the Leeds area come in to games to replace those absent Sheffield based ones?

This is not to say it won’t happen, and the above is just one example, but is a concern – and one which might extend to other areas of the country if you begin to look to Derbyshire fans to get behind a Nottingham team or think Gloucestershire fans will travel to, say, Cardiff – because expecting large swathes of new fans to turn up and fill the void left by existing ones who may not attend is something of a gamble…

All commercial and ticketing matters will be centrally organised. Revenues will be taken centrally. Venues will be paid a staging fee and be allowed to keep hospitality and catering revenue.

Ticketing and central management of revenues is not surprising, but given the relatively weak efforts the ECB has gone to to support the T20 Blast, you’ll have to forgive some concerns here.

At the risk of banging the same drum, sticking so rigidly with one TV broadcaster could be used as a demonstration of a lack of imagination or effort in promoting the current competition – which isn’t a great yard stick for any new tournament the ECB might want to start up.

That said, a city based T20 tournament would be ‘their baby’ and thus would likely elicit a more determined effort from the ECB to promote it.

One wonders if they can actually do so successfully given their apparent hands off approach with the Blast, with the counties themselves spearheading its promotion (and resulting success).

On the venue front, it’s easy to predict at least the majority of likely host grounds (see below) but one does have to wonder what effect it has on any other venue every being able to bid to host games if those that host in year one get a staging fee and the secondary spend while the rest simply receive their pre-defined pay out…would we be ‘stuck’ with the same ten venues ‘forever’?

Perhaps, and that in itself has some positives of course, but there is also the risk it in turn makes the host counties stronger and furthers the gap between them and the smaller counties as a result.

Venues will be chosen according to their capacity, transport links, catchment area, facilities and relationship with their local authority.

Because of course. It’s no great surprise that London will likely receive two teams. Manchester, Nottingham, Leeds and Birmingam probably too.

Southampton’s Rose Bowl is the fourth largest ground in England and would ‘cover’ the South coast – so we’re up to seven teams already.

Does Cardiff miss out? It would be bold to cut off an entire area like that (albeit fans in North Wales may be more likely to head to Old Trafford perhaps)

What about Chester-Le-Street? Given Durham’s recent run in with the ECB it would not be hard to imagine the Board taking further ‘retribution’ on the North Eastern county, but in doing so they risk cutting a 19,000 capacity ground out of the loop whilst also effectively cutting off the competition geographically at Leeds – which would do little for their desire to reach as many people as possible.

A new sub-committee of the ECB Board, comprising a chairperson and independent directors bringing specialist skills would oversee the tournament design and implementation. A new central division within the ECB would be formed to run the tournament.

This probably shouldn’t be seen as a surprise either – and in purely speculative terms, it would not be a great surprise to see someone who has been involved in the IPL, BBL or similar brought in.

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About Rob

Software engineer by day, Elite League Media man by night, Rob also blogs about cricket for One Stump Short, hockey for In Goal Magazine and video games for Outpost Delta as well as hosting the One Stump Short Podcast.

Posted on March 14, 2017, in County Cricket, Domestic Cricket, T20 Blast and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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