The English Franchise T20 League (Updated)

I don’t think it will have escaped anyone’s attention that the ECB are trying to start a franchise T20 league, over the strenuous objections of a large number of current cricket fans. There seems to be no solution to this impasse, both sides are entrenched and it seems like there can be only one winner.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I believe I have come upon the solution to all of the problems the new tournament faces, leaving all sides happy. And my solution is this:

Instead of playing a franchise T20 league in England in August, play it in Dubai in October.

Why October?

The first reason is that it’s outside the regular English cricket season. Both the international and domestic schedule is full throughout the English summer, so the only way to add an extra competition during this period would be to cut back something else.  As a general rule I’d always choose there being more English cricket rather than there being the same amount of English cricket, just rearranged.

Because the international team is so busy, it’s also very unlikely that any centrally contracted players would be able to play a full competition. This is important because the only English cricketers the wider public would know and respect would be current and former international players. County cricket has no presence on free-to-air television, little coverage in mainstream newspapers and is frequently sidelined by other things even in specialist cricket magazines and websites. Other countries may be able to launch a successful T20 competition without their best players,  but I’m not sure the visibility of domestic cricket would support that here. It would be possible for the ECB to refuse to schedule any overseas series during the competition window, allowing England’s only marketable cricketers to play in it.

Key Dates From 2016/17

Dates Event
29 June 2016-7 August 2016 Caribbean Premier League
8 November 2016-9 December 2016 Bangladesh Premier League
12 November 2016-16 December 2016 CSA T20 Challenge
20 December 2016-28 January 2017 Big Bash League
9 February 2017-5 March 2017 Pakistan Super League
5 April 2017-21 May 2017 Indian Premier League
7 April 2017-28 September 2017 County Championship
7 July 2017-8 August 2017 T20 Blast Group Stages
2 September 2017 T20 Blast Finals Day

This table shows just how crowded the calendar of domestic T20 competitions is, with only a couple of possible dates. It’s possible to fit a four-week competition from Monday 6th March to Sunday 2nd April, squeezing in between the PSL and IPL. There is a larger five-week gap through October, from Saturday 28th September to Sunday 5th November.

Apart from the smaller gap, there are other downsides to holding the competition in March. Most English players will not have played a competitive T20 game in seven months, with the T20 Blast group stages ending in early August. Everyone would inevitably be rusty, which certainly wouldn’t help the teams play at their best. Marketing the new competition is also much easier if you do it for free during coverage of English cricket, which you can do through the summer but not the winter. Lastly, the Indian Premier League dominates the T20 landscape around that time and elite T20 players might choose to fully prepare for that rather than playing in a new competition.

On the other hand, English cricketers should still be match fit and in form through October. You can promote the competition throughout the summer, culminating in the draft for the new league occurring possibly after the T20 Blast finals day in early September. With the only competing T20 competitions around that time of year being the South African T20 Challenge and Bangladesh Premier League, a well-financed English tournament should be able to attract the star T20 players from around the globe. Altogether, October is a much better option for everyone.

Why Dubai?

If you are looking for somewhere else to play cricket for an English TV audience, you must consider the time difference. If you want games to be shown at the prime time for UK TV (6.30-10.00pm) that would mean starting at 4.30am in Australia, midnight in India, 11.30pm in the U.A.E., and so on. One pattern which becomes clear is that it becomes easier to manage as you travel further west. Hosting it in Jamaica, for example, would mean ‘evening’ games start at 12.30pm local time. There should be no need for floodlights, which means the franchise competition could be held at smaller grounds and would be somewhat cheaper to run.

Location Local Time At 6.30pm In The UK
Sydney, Australia 4.30am
New Delhi, India 11.30pm
Dubai, UAE 9.30pm
Johannesburg, South Africa 7.30pm
Miami, USA 1.30pm
Kingston, Jamaica 12.30pm
Phoenix, USA 10.30am

The second part of choosing a host country for the competition has to be the weather, specifically the average weather in October. This unfortunately would probably rule out the Caribbean islands, since October is both the rainy season and the tail-end of their hurricane season. With a condensed schedule of games, you really wouldn’t want to risk a hurricane or tropical storm knocking your whole competition out of action for a few days. The same issues affect the Southeastern states of the U.S.A., and South Africa is also somewhat damp around that time of year.

Dubai is extraordinarily dry, and has three floodlit cricket stadiums in the Dubai Sports City complex. The time difference is not ideal with evening games possibly going past midnight local time, and that will likely have a negative effect on the ECB’s ability to attract any kinds of crowds to the grounds themselves. I personally don’t think attendance numbers matter in T20 competitions as they are all about the TV audience, but a virtually empty stadium would detract a little from the viewers’ enthusiasm.

Why would anyone watch it?

I think the best way to look at this would be to ask, “Why would anyone care about the teams in the league that the ECB has proposed?” It alienates current county fans by splitting up their teams or merging with their rivals. All of the teams will have no identity beyond a notional ‘home’ city. Put simply, it’s a stereotypical T20 franchise league based on the IPL template. When I think back to when the IPL was on ITV4, the teams I supported were basically the ones with star players I respected and admired. So I’d support Delhi Daredevils because they had KP or Rajasthan Royals because they had Rahul Dravid, but I have no lasting affinity for either team. How could I? They only exist for about one month a year, and haven’t even existed ten years yet.

So to fix this problem I propose that, instead of a team of ECB marketing consultants trying to create 6-8 teams out of thin air for us to ‘support’, the teams take their identities from their star England players. The England players who are made available for the competition can be drafted by the teams, and those drafted in the first round become not only the team captain but also the figurehead and team identity for that season. People from outside Leeds might not rally behind the ‘Leeds Vikings’, but I bet a lot more would support the ‘Root 66ers’ or ‘Adil’s All-stars’. On top of sidestepping the ephemeral nature of T20 teams, it also gives at least four England players an opportunity at captaincy they might not normally receive.

Anything else you’d like to add?

No, that’s pretty much it. Feel free to abuse me and insult my intelligence in the comments below. If you’re with the ECB, I expect the cheque for creating the solution for all your problems in the post.

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3 thoughts on “The English Franchise T20 League (Updated)”

  1. Ho Ho! Nice one. But to be serious for a moment the plain fact is that we either take part along with every other cricket nation in the new world of cricket – or we don’t. Our call of course. Brexit says that we can zig when everyone else in Europe zags. Same could apply to cricket. 😱

    The rubicon was crossed with the IPL. Gradually every other cricket nation has followed suit. Give or take the odd nuance serious domestic cricket is T20 and the competition has eight (ish) teams in it. It’s played over a concentrated period when there is no other cricket. It is high hype with 100% TV coverage. In short it is what cricket has become. Follow the money.

    As I say we can choose to zig. We can continue to delude ourselves that the best thing to do on a sunny August Saturday is to go to Taunton and watch a few chaps in whites toddle around performing an ancient ritual in a low key contest that started on Friday and will finish on Monday. We’ll be the in the company of maybe a hundred kindred spirits. The beer will be warm, the deckchairs comfy and we can have a nice chat between naps.

    Or we can accept the reality that the game is up. Our call. Our call.

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    1. For a start, this is a completely serious suggestion. I realise it’s outlandish and massively unlikely to happen, but nevertheless I think it would work. Whilst I agree that Test/First-Class cricket are likely to fade away in time, right now both are powerful forces in English cricket. Test cricket is still the defining format for England’s international team, and the counties are largely beholden to their members who (I assume) disproportionately favour the First-Class game. Playing overseas and out-of-season sidesteps any conflicts with these traditionalists, and doesn’t cause any division in English cricket.

      Besides which, T20 leagues like this are made for TV so I don’t think it really matters where it’s hosted. As you say, it’s all about hype and marketing.

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  2. Editor’s Note: I’ve just edited this post, and in doing so completely changed the conclusion. The original post suggested Phoenix, Arizona as the location I’d choose for the new competition.
    The main changes I planned today were making “Why October” section clearer to ready and easier to follow and adding a table showing time differences in various cities around the world. Looking again at the time differences, I reconsidered the UAE as a possible host. Neither Arizona nor Dubai have 100% ideal time differences with the UK, but Dubai does have the cricketing infrastructure to host a league of this type all in one location.
    It was my first blog post, and I apologise for my inexperience. I’ll try to spend longer on posts in the future so I can get things right the first time.

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