Monday, August 25, 2014

Franchises are coming to T20 cricket

The “Birmingham Bears” won England’s domestic T20 competition yesterday. However if you read some in the Media you wouldn't know. True cricket writers like Scyld Berry in the Telegraph reported the match but he referred throughout in his report to the team as “Warwickshire”. In a way both he and those who used the “Birmingham Bears” descriptor are right. “Birmingham Bears” is a brand owned by Warwickshire County Cricket Club. So ultimately it was the county wot won it. But Warwickshire had chosen to create a “City brand” for their T20 team and it is rather arrogant of those in the media to ignore this – pretty contemptuously in some cases.

What is going on? Are we seeing a bit of raging against the dying of the light going on? I think that we are. That light is, of course, the County system beloved of the cricket establishment – at least insofar as T20 is concerned.

 The Counties

Counties are an historic element in Englishness but for years they have been declining in significance – in part a reflection of the growth of the mega cities like London (of course), Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds and the rest. The old counties (48 of them) are referred to as “ceremonial counties” and some have little or no administrative responsibilities. I live in a “county”, Middlesex, which is little more than a postal region – oh, and of course, a Cricket Club!
In cricket there are eighteen “First Class” counties and a further twenty “Minor Counties” – so 38 historic county clubs covering most of the country. Cricket is the only sport which has professional and semi-professional sport based on counties. Other major team sports such as Rugby (both codes) and of course Football have town or city teams. This is in part a reflection of growing urbanisation and partly a fact of commercial realties. The big teams tend to be in the big cities, build stadia in them and relate especially to the population conurbation of that city. With football, of course, most of the big cities have more than one big team – there is the demand and the financing to sustain this.
Warwickshire County Cricket Club have jumped the gun a bit in creating a city brand for their T20 team but I think they have been prescient. That is because I think that it is inevitable that franchises will come to domestic T20. There is a variety of models which could be considered for this – my preferred one would be something like this:

The Invitation to tender

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) invites tenders for a new T20 competition to involve eight teams and to be played during an allocated time period in the summer and with a Final at Lord’s. The tender would cover an initial period of three years. The eight teams would be divided into two groups of four and within each group each team would play the other on a home and away basis. That’s a total of 12 Group stage matches in each group (24 in all) to be followed by  by Semi-Finals – winners of First Group play Runners Up of second Group and so on. That would be 27 matches, each of them significant. The competition could be fitted into a maximum of three weeks during which there would be no other cricket. Interest and attendances would be high throughout.

Who could tender?

In theory any commercial entity could tender. They would have to submit a financial bid, confirm which stadium they would hold the home matches at and the broad details of their operation. The open tender would not be confined to existing County cricket clubs although many would no doubt wish to bid. Warwickshire, for example, could propose the team (the “Birmingham Bears”), the venue (“Edgbaston”) etc. Another bid might be from Manchester United Football Club which would propose a  team a venue (“Old Trafford cricket ground”) and would have formed a commercial partnership with Lancashire County Cricket Club to make this possible. The power of that brand (the “Manchester Red Devils” perhaps?) would be considerable! Similarly in London Chelsea FC might bid jointly with Surrey bringing their brand (the “Chelsea Blues” ?) and financial clout together with Surrey’s ownership of The Oval. Another more out of left field possibility would be West Ham making a bid to use the Olympic Stadium as a venue as well as the home of the team (The “London Lions” perhaps). The venues would not have to be existing cricket grounds, providing the pitch dimensions (etc.) met the necessary standards.
One would expect that England and Wales’s major cities would all have teams, though as we have seen not necessarily based at existing County cricket grounds. The long list locations would probably be London (2), Birmingham, Bradford/Leeds, Cardiff, Manchester/Liverpool, Newcastle/Durham, Nottingham, Bristol and Southampton. The eight chosen would be mainly those that could offer the ECB the highest income.


If a County bid one would expect its T20 player squad to be comprised mainly of its contracted  players. Where the bidder was not a County then the squad would comprise players signed on a short term contract for the duration of the tournament – or IPL style bidding could be used. Overseas players  could be included up to (say) four in any squad and three in any match team. The attraction to overseas stars would be considerable as the matches would be held in the English summer, and for a limited duration, with few if any clashes with other cricketing commitments. The tournament could expect to include the world’s best T20 players adding to its inherent appeal. An appeal that would extend, of course, beyond British spectators and viewers to overseas media, sponsors etc.

What about the Counties?

The counties would benefit in three ways. Firstly as the owner of a franchise team – if they chose to bid. Secondly as the owner of a venue for which they would charge the franchisee. Thirdly as the recipient of income streams from the ECB – if that is what the ECB chooses to do with the income generated from the tournament. It is crucial to emphasise that this event is not a County tournament and is not part of the Counties’ programme. It is quite separate, with different teams and uniquely different brands. As I said at the beginning Warwickshire could be the innovators of this change – and I rather suspect that deep down they know this!


Higgik said...

Great idea, well thought out, but I think that playing 8 T20 matches per team over 21 days could be increased slightly. I would suggest that each team played one match against every team in the other group, giving a total of 10 per team, followed by semi finals and finals. This would mean better value for the 'star' players fee, and would give teams time to return from a bad start. With only 6 matches, 1 or 2 losses, would ruin a season and would potentially lose revenue from crowds.

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