So, the future’s bright, the future’s franchise. Michael Vaughan must be over the moon that the city-based (but not, actually) T20 tournament he has always dreamed of has finally been planned to commence in 2020.
At the same time as the existing county T20 tournament.
I know the ECB has been striving for years to ‘grow markets’, ‘increase market share’, ‘more generic corporate speak’ but since inventing the twenty over format a decade and a half ago, we seem to have spent most of the intervening years trying to catch up with other nations’ innovations and success.
First we chased the IPL, dithering over whether to schedule our international fixtures around the subcontinent cash cow or shake our fingers at the mercenaries who placed their families’ financial security ahead of their chances of carrying the water bottles for England that year.
Now, it’s all about the Big Bash, Down Under’s cheer-leading, bail-flashing, family friendly tournament. This is the new goal because the Friday night T20 fixtures were, apparently, attracting too many millennials ploughing in with their after work drinks and disposable income and having far too much raucous fun. We need to attract the children.
In a move akin to pulling down the curtain in front of the Wizard of Oz, someone pointed out to the English administrators that free to air TV was all that was needed to bring in the kids faster than a dubious bloke in a mac handing out sweets at the school gates.
My argument is that it’s not the cricket itself that needs to change to attract more families to the game. It’s what’s available once we get there. We’ve already got the boundary cards and foam fingers for the little’uns to wield; I can’t see flashing bails or lowest common denominator football style rivalries really doing that much to raise the appeal of the game.
How about scheduling that takes deliberate account of the school holidays: Easter, May half term AND summer? What about more attractive multi-day ticket offers for County Championship cricket, and much more by way of activities off the field to make the day more family friendly? In fact, I’d go so far as to offer paid-for childcare at the county grounds for 4 day matches in the holidays. Kids’ activity camps make a killing out of sack races in provincial sports halls; just think of the yummy mummy money to be had.
This links, of course, to the exorbitant test match ticket prices in this country. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the most fabulous thing about watching test matches abroad is being able to watch an entire test, which is impossible for all but the wealthiest over here.
Free to air viewing is going to be great. But I think the time for it to turn around our audiences is gone. The problem now is children not getting outside to experience sports and activities; closeting them indoors, glued to a screen, may make the viewing figures look great but the dollar it sacrifices has to come from somewhere.