First of all let me put this one there, I freaking love Test cricket. Like can hardly get enough of it. A couple of weeks back it was possible to watch non-stop Test cricket from 9:30PM to 7AM and then have the South Africa v West Indies Test start up an hour or so later. I watched a lot of this. Watching good Test cricket is the pinnacle of sport watching in my opinion. However this blog post isn’t about fixing Test cricket (which doesn’t need a root and branch fix but is clearly struggling in many parts of the world *cough* sub-continent and West Indies *cough*) No, this is about our domestic T20 competition.
The thing is I have never been a true lover of the 50 over game. It seems too long for a short format but not long enough to get into the individual battles and nuances of a Test series. T20 though is fantastic. A game that lasts roughly three hours with shows off a very different aspect of the sport. I watch our domestic T20 competition a lot in the summer and until last year, it was in a fixed window in the calendar so you knew that if there wasn’t a Test match on then it was very likely a domestic T20 match was on. Even if it wasn’t the mighty Hampshire it was likely that I would have it on. Last year though they re-branded the tournament and played it primarily on Friday nights and it just didn’t work.
Now here in deepest darkest winter my mornings (well in reality my afternoons as I sleep in and either Sky+ or watch the replay) are being livened up by the Big Bash from Australia and let me tell you this folks, this tournament is terrific and Cricket Australia has to be lauded for how it has firstly embraced the format and also how they have marketed it from both a spectator and TV viewer point of view.
Firstly we have too many teams. Yes I know the county system is in place but T20 needs to be separated from the county system. Have nine franchises playing at the nine Test playing venues (Lord’s, The Oval, Rose Bowl, Sophia Gardens, Edgbaston, Headingley, Old Trafford, Trent Bridge and Chester-le-Street – and yes I know I’ve not used their proper sponsorship endorsed names…). I know the other nine counties will wonder about money and for some of them T20 is their lifeblood but find a way to sort that ECB.
The people in charge of English cricket are getting huge piles of cash thanks to their Sky contract and who has a clue what they spend it on? They have to ensure the future of the sport and that is by getting kids excited by the game and they do that by T20. The reason I say 18 teams is too much is because the product gets diluted. If we had nine franchises then only half the amount of players would get contracts and they would be the better players.
T20 is clearly the vehicle to get kids enthralled by the sport. Young people need to be able to see their heroes and this brings me on to my next point. After two years of being behind a pay-wall and doing ok, for the third season of the Big Bash the rights were bought by a FTA station and they scheduled their evening programming around the Big Bash for the whole tournament and the TV ratings took off along with the crowds going to the games. A whole generation of people were watching domestic T20 FTA for the first time and they were attracted to the sport.
Also Cricket Australia play the games at the right time – the summer holidays and in a block. Our domestic T20 game should be in a block in the summer holidays so people can go and see. If it battles with the Ashes or with other big Test series then it isn’t a problem. The live game can be in an evening like they do in Australia and like most televised T20 games are here anyway. In Australia the Test matches are on Channel Nine and the T20 on Ten, so people can watch both, they aren’t in direct competition.
Next up is a biggie, the TV contract. Sky have exclusive rights to the T20 competition and all live county cricket through 2019. They pay an awful lot of money for this but in reality they are paying for the Test matches and the domestic game is a small percentage of what they are paying overall. If the ECB wanted to look forward instead of just looking at short-term money then they need to split these contracts and find a FTA partner for the T20 competition. Whether that is BBC2, ITV4 or Channel Four or Channel Five I don’t know but find a partner and start making it work. Channel Ten are seeing audiences grow but also all importantly the advertising revenue is set to rise between 80-90% compared to last year. Advertisers are seeing that people are watching and they are flocking to give Channel Ten their money.
I’ve never been a big IPL man as the cricket just seems secondary and it seems like a lot of rich businessmen having a very expensive toy, also the questions of corruption have been rife. The BBL hasn’t had that and instead has just been full of great hard-nosed cricket with innovative marketing and strides forward in terms of technology and interactivity with players and fans. I know over here we have players on the mic but over there they speak to them more often, the players know they are part of the show and embrace that. They are also marketed as stars. They bring in overseas players and they light up the competition.
I have just been so impressed by the whole BBL and would love the ECB to go to franchises for this competition. Play it n a month block, nine franchises, eight games, four home and four away each season so families are only paying out four times a campaign, top four go into semi-finals that are either played like they are in Australia on separate days with the final on another separate date or if they wanted to keep Final’s Day then they could find a way to do that but whilst I adore Final’s Day, I prefer the Aussie system of two semi-finals with the top two teams rewarded with the final at home in front of their home fans.
The final could either be played at the highest seeded team left or at different venues that can bid for the final a la the Super Bowl. Lastly find a FTA partner who is willing to not only invest money but more importantly invest air time and marketing into getting it right. The domestic T20 competition here can flourish but it needs balls and vision. That is not something the ECB has ever really shown us but they have the opportunity. The rest of the world is not playing cricket in July and August bar the West Indies. The big names will come and with a plan the English T20 competition can be as much of a success as the Big Bash is becoming. I just fear the ECB don’t have the vision or the cojones to take it to where it could be.
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