Last September I was reading an article by George Dobell about the ECB’s plans for a franchise league. It contained a line which annoyed me so much, I’ve been turning it over in my head trying to think of all the ways it is wrong. The offending passage was this:
“The ECB currently ascribe a nil value to county cricket”
Whilst I have no doubt that the ECB consider championship coverage as worthless, I do not believe that accurately reflects reality. When the current TV contract ends in 2019, there are great opportunities for county cricket if they could only see them. I think I’ve come up with a solution that would revolutionise the coverage of county cricket, and massively boost the profile of England’s domestic game.
The whole financial premise of this suggestion is based on a single reply I got from a tweet whilst watching a YouTube stream of Hong Kong vs Netherlands in the ICC World Cricket League Championship. The coverage was of a good quality but obviously made on a much smaller budget than the cricket we’ve seen televised in the UK, certainly since the 1990s. I wondered how much it would cost to do this for county cricket and so I asked the person whose tweets had pointed me towards the stream in the first place, Peter Miller:
Ignoring the £350,000 figure (Peter made a mistake in his initial calculations), this gave me something to work on. Ignoring the knockout stages of the T20 Blast and One Day Cup (as they are all shown on Sky) there are a maximum of 504 days of first-class cricket, 72 days of the One Day Cup group stages and 126 days of the T20 Blast group stages to film. This makes for a total of 702 days, at a rough cost of £2,106,000. Sky have released their 2017 schedule for televised cricket which includes 8 One Day Cup group games and 27 T20 Blast group games, but this still only knocks the total down to £2,001,000. That is a lot of money.
Who Will Pay For It?
The same people who always pay for it, the fans. Either directly or indirectly, all of the money which goes into sport comes from them. To fund the coverage of every county cricket game in England, I suggest increasing the cost of county memberships. In exchange, the members would gain access to either a partial or complete live streaming service of county cricket.
It’s kind of tricky to get a figure for how many county members there are in total in England. This Telegraph article from 2013 suggests there were roughly 88,000 members which would mean they’d have to pay on average maybe £23 each to cover the £2,001,000 costs. If that gave them access to live streaming from all English cricket except the games being televised by Sky (or whoever takes over in 2020), that would be a bargain. That said, not all members pay the same fees or get the same benefits so it would likely be somewhat more complicated than this. Each county would have to examine how they could extract the money from their membership in the fairest way possible.
With the costs already covered by the counties’ members, any revenue from this point is almost all profit. There are also opportunities for promoting the competitions which the counties won’t have had access to before. Here are just a few of the possibilities this would allow:
- A £60 annual streaming service for non-members. £10 per month seems to be the sweet spot for what people are willing to pay for online services, so a six month season would equate to £60 per year. There’s also the possibility of offering the service internationally, where you’d probably be able to include the games from Sky Sports as well.
- Added sponsorship and advertising. A new streaming service adds any number of possibilities for making money. Obviously the whole service could have a main sponsor. You can include video adverts during over breaks, when a wicket has fallen and so on. By increasing the number of viewers, it could also enhance the value of existing deals. Shirt sponsorship, competition sponsorship , even advertising hoardings at the grounds all become more valuable if county cricket’s profile rises.
- A regular highlights program on Free To Air TV. There are two impediments to this happening right now: The current TV deal and the costs of filming at all the grounds. All the other major sports which are shown exclusively on Sky or BT Sports like football, rugby union and rugby league have their highlights shown on free channels, which helps maintain their profile and keeps people connected to the sport. Hopefully in 2020 we can get English domestic cricket back onto people’s televisions.
- Highlight clips online. If a tree falls but no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Perhaps the modern equivalent of this would be: If a county cricketer has a great game but it wasn’t filmed, would anyone care? Many people suggest that highlight clips on social media can help promote the game, and I have to say I’m kind of dubious about its effectiveness. Where I think these clips would do more good is on websites like ESPNCricinfo, The Telegraph, The Guardian and, of course, the BBC. If websites like these can be cheaply licensed to offer highlights from county cricket, they will want to show them and will therefore write a lot more articles.
- Local TV highlights. Local TV news seems to spend very little time on cricket compared to other sports, but I think if there was broader (and possibly cheaper) coverage available then this might change. Another possibility for raising the profile of the counties locally would be to use the new local TV stations now available on Freeview channel 7. Being able to regularly show extended highlights of county cricket games on channels like Made In Leeds or That’s Manchester might really help reach people who aren’t currently interested in the teams.
Although all of these things would make some money, I don’t think it would be anywhere near replacing the money the counties receive from the ECB. I believe the more important benefit would be to significantly raise the profile of county cricket and its players.
Anything else you’d like to add?
It does bear saying that this whole idea does rest on some pretty shaky foundations. The £3000 per day figure came from Peter Miller who does not (as far as I’m aware) have any background in producing sports television. Squeezing more money out of county members is likely harder than I suggest, even if they are getting something for that extra money. Perhaps most unlikely, it would require the counties to stand firm against the ECB offering similar restrictions to those in place now under the current TV deal. The counties are entirely reliant on the ECB and Sky Sports now, to the point where they will seemingly go against their own interests and support a franchise T20 league during the English summer. If Sky and BT both said such a streaming service would make them reduce their offers for 2020 onwards, I suspect most if not all the counties would cave.
Feel free to call me naive and a moron in the comments below.