Reader response: Franchises in England? Never.

Blog Opinion

We published a story this week by regular columnist <b>Freddie Wilde</b>, in which he put forth the case for franchise cricket in England. While some agreed with him, some did not, and loyal reader and Twitter follower, Bob Bamber, responded.

We published a story this week by regular columnist <b>Freddie Wilde</b>, in which he put forth the case for franchise cricket in England. While some agreed with him, some did not, and loyal reader and Twitter follower, Bob Bamber, wrote a piece in response.

Here's what he opined:

English Cricket and Indian Cricket are not the same thing. The actual game may be the same, the rules too; but to compare them side-by-side, you start exposing very significant cracks; differences which make the two brands and countries very different indeed.

Indian cricket is a religion, vaunted by the vast majority of a continent-sized country. That is illustrated no better than by the glamour of the Indian Premier League, where vast sums of money draw big hitters from far and wide. IPL is cricket on steroids, inflated by huge sums of money.

English cricket – it's popular; the national side certainly is. But it's still not football. Maybe it is the number two sport in the country if you want to look at the right metrics, but the popularity and ticket sales do not stretch down the pyramid. The sum of 18 first class counties do not even come close to adding up to the popularity of the national game that we call cricket.

Freddie Wilde wrote this article a couple of days ago on the subject of franchise cricket. I'd highly advise reading it (it's well argued even if I believe ultimately flawed).

The 'tweet' version of the article goes something like this: Replace 18 county sides with 10 city-based franchises, and turn the English domestic T20 into the IPL.

I don't believe this is remotely possible, let alone give it a chance of succeeding, and here is why:

<b>Sky TV</b>

Sky have done wonders for the English game. They've raised the standards of cricket broadcasting to a level I doubt anyone could match. But that has come at a price. Namely, removing English cricket from a free-to-air audience. Viewership of England's recent T20, and first two one day internationals, was less than half a million people, and if you look at the right numbers, last year's IPL final probably reached a bigger audience on free to air television than Sky do with much of England's games.

The point, long story short, is that Sky, while being a juggernaut, does not have the penetration to generate massive interest in the game. Not enough people could possibly watch it to make IPL-like waves. There was a story in 2012, where there was concern over IPL viewership dipping nearly 20% year-on-year when you compare the first six games. Still, over 90,000,000 people cumulatively watched those first six games.

<b>Investment</b>

Freddie suggests opening up franchises to outside investment – 49%. Wonderful, where's my money? I struggle to imagine you'd get any fraction of the take-up you'd get in the IPL investing in these types of franchises. Where is the return?

I'd liken investing in the IPL like investing in a Premier League football team. Sure, you'd like to make some money, but you do it knowing that you can grant exposure to your brand and hope you can cash in on the vast TV revenues available.

There's no real chance of either of those things happening in an English system. Unless BT Sport can convince themselves there's massive value in English domestic cricket, it's hard to imagine a sharp rise in revenue from television.

And even so, if few people are watching on Sky Sports, that number is likely to decrease further on BT. There's just no incentive unless you can find someone who wants to throw money at the idea of winning a tournament with little value, history or exposure… now try and find 10 of them to make a level playing field?

<b>The Fans</b>

I've not been to India, I hope to do so one day but I can tell by reading enough and watching enough that those guys love their cricket. They are fanatics in the true sense of the word. Contrast that with me attending the Oval last week.

A big gate (estimated 16,000 people), and a really good atmosphere. But these weren't fanatics. This wasn't 13,000 Surrey fans and 3,000 Essex fans. There were some, sure, but these were largely people that just wanted to watch a game of cricket.

I class myself in that category, I have an affinity to Surrey because of their proximity but I'm just there to watch high class cricket. I don't believe the creation of 'South London' at the Oval draws anybody in, it's just not an attraction.

<b>The Schedule</b>

Freddie wants an IPL-like schedule. Games on their own, all on TV, one day after the next. Again, I don't think the English audience wants that. The ECB did a massive survey and as a result moved the bulk of t20 games to a Friday night (Which I think is great, but not that my solitary opinion matters here).

The point is, people wanted Friday night cricket. Are the attendance figures showing it? Depends where you look. I can point to a big crowd at the Oval or at Old Trafford for the Roses game, but I can also point to vast swathes of empty seats at both Worcester on Saturday and Gloucester on Sunday (both rain effected, it should be said).

But you cannot write off a format after such a short space of time. Middlesex experimented with a double header format last month, and while the crowd was decent they were hardly turning people away. How much of a mitigating factor Arsenal being in the FA Cup final had on that we will never know. The prospect of the Football World Cup could also have a big impact on the next few weeks, depending on which games fall where on a Friday evening.

But this format really needs time to settle. We've had a system in the past where Sky were showing T20 cricket on every available day last year. You'd need a diary to know when your side were playing, and we even had the laughable situation where Surrey's South London based quarter final was played at 4:30pm on a Tuesday as Sky tried to shoe-horn four quarter finals into three evenings between Test matches.

I could really go on about this subject, but I feel that there's an idea here that just because English T20 cricket isn't as popular as the IPL there must be something wrong. Something to fix.

Can anyone honestly say that even if you can tick every single box Freddie suggests English cricket will be in much better health? Save giving eight first class counties the boot and focusing on a franchise model. T20 Blast might not be perfect, but it's pretty damn good if you ask me.

<b>Bob Bamber (@CricketFanBob)</b>

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