Falling Twenty20 crowds worry county chairmen
Falling crowds at Twenty20 matches will be high on the agenda when county chairmen meet at Edgbaston on Tuesday.
Launched in 2003, Twenty20 proved an instant success with the public with huge crowds attending matches. But the competition has been massively expanded and there is now a growing feeling that the format is overexposed and the public is tiring of it. This season there are 151 matches, with each county playing eight home matches.
"We do need some kind of change," Hampshire chairman Rod Bransgrove told the Daily Telegraph. "This is the crucial time. We have had a couple of opportunities and not got it right. We now have to look at it again and decide what we are going to do to explore the fantastic opportunities Twenty20 provides. We are running out of chances."
The first four or five years of Twenty20 competition witnessed massive crowds, the zenith being when almost 30,000 watched Middlesex play Surrey at Lord's in 2004. Many other larger grounds also sold out, and buoyed by this success the ECB took the decision to increase the number of matches.
It is common knowledge attendances have been down this season. While some counties still attract good crowds, the major grounds have seen a dramatic falling off in interest. Warwickshire, which at one time expected close to capacity at Edgbaston, have averaged 3000 a game this year, and it is a similar story at many other counties.
A source at The Oval told Cricinfo the counties had to take their share of the responsibility. "Who do you think asked for more matches?" he said. "The counties saw Twenty20 as the cash cow and they pushed the ECB to give them more games. Now the public are voting with their feet, the same people are moaning it's all the ECB's fault."
Another administrator said the timings of matches were a turn-off as well as the cost. "When it all started there were a handful of games, so the scarcity value made them must-see events, and the ticket prices were low. Now prices have rocketed and there are too many games in too short a time. Not many people can afford £20 a night eight or nine times in six weeks. So they come to one or two and miss the rest. It's the same audience, it's just been diluted. And when the buzz of a full ground becomes a more stilted atmosphere of a two-thirds-empty one, then the casual fans stop being drawn in as well."
The county chairmen are expected to demand another revamp of the format, with more weekend matches and a competition spread over the season. That is unlikely to find favour, either with the ECB or with Sky, who have broadcast rights and want a product which fills the void between football seasons.
The other main area under discussion will be the county championship. The ECB continues to press for reform and earlier this year put forward five alternative proposals for change, but it is expected the chairmen will opt to leave things as they are.
So the pros reportedly don't like it, the fad seems to be passing with the fans, maybe reports of the death of ODIs and Tests were premature
Players 'do not enjoy' Twenty20
English cricket chiefs have been urged for a Twenty20 rethink as it is claimed 'not a lot of professionals enjoy it'.
Former Glamorgan batsman Ian Thomas fears this season's longer six-week 16-game campaign is leaving fans and players with Twenty20 saturation.
"We have to keep the spectators happy as we are an entertainment industry but what are we doing to best prepare English cricketers?" said Thomas.
"There has been a lot of T20 cricket and the schedules need looking at."
The Daffodil county signed big-name Australian fast bowler Shaun Tait specifically for their T20 campaign as they targeted the shortest form of the game due to the potential prize-money and commercial riches.
Glamorgan have benefitted from bumper crowds and their opening Twenty20 Friday night triumph against rivals Gloucestershire on 4 June attracted a record 7,424 crowd
Chairman Paul Russell also pointed out Glamorgan benefitted financially from the money-spinning corporate market as their hospitality boxes at the Swalec Stadium were a regular Twenty20 sell-out.
"Filling hospitality boxes is as important as big crowds in financial terms," said Russell.
"We've also been very happy with the crowds."
The England and Wales Cricket Board extended the T20 campaign for this season from 10 to 16 games and Glamorgan finish their campaign against Kent in Cardiff on Friday night.
Glamorgan's heavy defeat to Somerset on Wednesday confirmed that Matthew Maynard's men cannot qualify for the knock-out stages of the potentially lucrative competition.
Most of the Welsh county's home fixtures have been screened live on S4C, but Glamorgan have still benefited from bumper crowds by their standards.
But some of their rivals have suffered poor attendances as the sporting public vote with their feet about their feelings of T20 cricket overdose.
And Thomas fears for the standard of cricket at the end of a long and intense Twenty20 campaign.
"There are not a lot of professionals that enjoy playing Twenty20 cricket," said the BBC Radio Wales pundit.
"It is a difficult format of the game as it can destroy your confidence and it can destroy your technique for bowlers and batters alike.
"My worry is that guys are getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of the corporate and commercial world - but we have to look at the bigger picture of developing cricketers.
"The aim of English cricket is to develop cricketers to play Test cricket, one-day international cricket and the add-on of Twenty20."
Thomas once jointly held the Twenty20 Cup record from 2004 to 2006 after scoring 116 not out for Glamorgan against Somerset Sabres and now he hopes the ECB consider spreading the games out for the sake of spectators and players.
"I know the guys are tired as they've had no breaks," said Thomas.
"I don't mean to sound pitiful as playing cricket is a fantastic way to make a living, but we must have that view of how we develop cricketers for England."
Russell was at a meeting of county chairmen last week and the issue of Twenty20 county cricket was discussed.
"Our information from the last chairman's meeting is that they will stick with the format for another year and have another crack at it this," said the Glam chairman.
"Stability is more important than continual hopping and changing trying to find right decision."
And Russell told any cricketers who are feeling the wearying effects of their commitment to T20 cricket to knuckle down to the busy schedule.
"You are a professional sportsman, you chose this way of life so you do what it takes," he said bluntly.
"When I was working I didn't particularly like working a 48 hour weekend without sleep to get a contract, but that is the life you choose so those are the things you do."
And add to that article this recent article.