June 27, 2014

Headingley's challenge to get the crowds back

22

Sri Lanka fans added colour to the Test but where were all the locals?
Sri Lanka fans added colour to the Test but where were all the locals? © PA Photos

My home town isn't exactly a teeming urban metropolis, and the surrounding countryside could hardly be described as densely populated. But my local cricket club still manages to put out four sides on a Saturday, another midweek, with enough volunteers left to run a range of junior teams from Under-9s through to U-18s.

The main league that the club plays in has eight divisions, almost a hundred teams, and is only one of a number of leagues that operates in the area. Our local newspaper might be increasingly dominated by adverts, but it still finds space for match reports that cover 2nd XI games between villages you'd struggle to locate on a map. And when an international or domestic game is being televised, my local pub will normally be showing it on its large screen to an audience ready to tell you, from the comfort of their bar stool, exactly where everyone is going wrong.

Yet if I'm honest, where I live has always been more of a rugby league area. By Yorkshire standards, at least.

But then anyone who saw coverage of the recent Headingley Test could be forgiven for thinking the entire region was only interested in other sports. Certainly the two days I spent watching from sparsely populated stands didn't marry up to the interest in cricket I know exists in Yorkshire. Somewhere along the line a gap has opened between interest and attendance.

It might be that the gap is limited to Test cricket. The next game at Headingley - a domestic T20 clash with traditional local rivals Lancashire - was announced as a sell-out while England and Sri Lanka were still playing in front of a sea of empty blue seating. An indication that the Yorkshire public still love cricket, or confirmation that they remain stubbornly parochial, depending on your point of view.

It's tempting to suggest that the poor attendance for the Test was in part down to dissatisfaction with an unsuccessful national side and a management set-up that hasn't exactly endeared itself to the public in recent months. But in reality, attendances at Headingly Test matches have been disappointing for a number of years, long before England fell apart like a backfiring clown car in Australia this past winter.

Last summer's Test against New Zealand saw an especially small crowd; although this year's attendance feels more disappointing given the presence of three Yorkshire players in the England side, and crucially, a significant reduction in ticket prices.

It's hard to see what more Yorkshire could have done. The message has been broadcast long and hard to the wider Yorkshire cricket community that the club is in serious debt and needs income from international games to secure its financial future. And from a spectator point of view this was certainly the best staged Test I've attended at Headingley. Perhaps all that's left is for prices to be dropped even further.

The fact that crowds were slightly higher this year might suggest that Headingley's lowest ebb has already been reached. But when Yorkshire's current staging agreement with the ECB runs out in 2019 there needs to have been a significant improvement for the right to host international games not to pass to other counties with better facilities, ambitious management and local populations hungry for a chance to see Test cricket on their own doorstep.

Headingley might have history on their side; hundreds, possibly thousands, of committed local clubs like the one in my town within its borders; and famous ex-players to trumpet its cause in the media. But no one has a divine right to host international games.

My heart tells me that Yorkshire will find a way to get the crowds back, that they will keep international cricket at Headingley, and with it the financial means to help Yorkshire out of debt. But after spending another few days in the half-empty stands of a Headingley Test match, my head is struggling to work out just how that'll be achieved.

Dave Hawksworth has never sat in a press box or charged a match programme to expenses

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on June 29, 2014, 14:29 GMT

    England fire their genius talent and leading all time run scorer and take cricket off free to air tv and wonder why people arent interested. Am i missing something?

  • on June 29, 2014, 12:44 GMT

    Any soccer match involving Suarez, and any cricket match involving Pietersen, will sell out instantly. Equally, people won't pay big money to watch cart-horses and trundlers. You have to learn to handle the genius nutters ... they're the people the pubilc will pay to see! The worldwide public will queue up to watch McEnroe or Bubba Watson ... they won't queue for Tim Henman and Justin Rose!! [no disrespect to the last two].

  • Insult_2_Injury on June 29, 2014, 3:47 GMT

    It's never one thing, which is why 'fixing the problem' is the wrong way to approach an issue which isn't just restricted to one English county. This is happening world wide. You have noticed - in cricket mad Yorkshire - exactly what I noticed 12 months ago at the MCG - in cricket mad Victoria; bays of empty seats on days 2/3 of the Boxing Day Test.

    To me the symptoms are obvious. The national team garners best support in the most rabid location, but when performing poorly, spectators won't part with exorbitant entry, food & concession stand prices. They may attend the 'occasion' day (Boxing Day) but the ensuing days are left to the cricket fan (not the event spectator). When the team is continually under performing it is even a stretch to get all cricket fans to choose the paying option as opposed to the more difficultly quantifiable TV option. More finishes like the last Test are the solution. Spectators want guaranteed excitement while cricket fans want Test Matches, no quick fix!

  • Udendra on June 28, 2014, 18:07 GMT

    It happens. Specially when the home team is about to embrace defeat and has been having a very bad tour.

  • LillianThomson on June 28, 2014, 12:35 GMT

    We saw a similar thing in New Zealand almost two decades ago when Glenn Turner purged Chris Cairns and Adam Parore.

    Ultimately, box office is box office. If England don't wake up and recall KP they will find that Lords Tests are the only ones that they can sell out.

  • on June 28, 2014, 7:22 GMT

    First time I have missed a test at Headingley. Why? - no KP, a useless captain. I'm a Yorkshire lifetime supporter and we supplied three players. A sad day for me. England should have selected Jason Gillespie - the best coach in England and asked Gayle to captain the side. Right now English cricket is boring and defeatist. Moores and Cook a pair of losers in the quality cricketing brain category. The pair are just LOSING support and the last time I watched live cricket was at Lords for the Middlesex - Yorkshire match. Young Joe Root skippered but at least we saw some interesting cricket. We should NOT have lost! Sorry Headingley you have lost me...

  • gr_wgtn_j8 on June 28, 2014, 6:04 GMT

    I wanted to see NZ play at Headingley last year but the ticket prices were prohibitive when you add travel and accommodation. Not sure how many NZers live in Yorkshire but it must a lot less than in London or Scotland. I think the cheapest seats were in the Barmy Army stand which somehow didn't appeal very much either.

  • Herath-UK on June 27, 2014, 22:10 GMT

    Parking is a significant issue when I parked last time to see the Sri Lanka's ODI,had to walk back a significant distance. I do not think you can have a good crowd in Test matches in the early summer games whoever the opponents as the weather is unpredictable & dismal & who in right mind would buy tickets in advance. For the summer games locals will come in droves to enjoy the sun whoever the opponent & whatever the result going to be. In Sri Lanka's case they now cannot hold the lame excuse of not competitive having been thrashed in all forms of the game this time. And then this is the time cricket has to grapple with football world cup (Olympics,Wimbelden etc) & if you listen or watch any media broadcast, all are full of them & how little attention cricket get. ECB is not doing its PR good except for the Ashes.

  • Pyrahtechnics on June 27, 2014, 20:21 GMT

    It wasn't that long ago Yorkshire had a membership package which included all international cricket. Maybe this is where the problem lies, especially when 92% of Yorkshire members did not attend last years test match against New Zealand.

  • on June 27, 2014, 17:47 GMT

    Perhaps if northern grounds were treated to the prestige test matches routinely allocated to the Oval and Lords it'd be a fairer comparison. Why they are given these games without question is beyond me. Could it be anything to do with the cricketing establishment being made up of Surrey and MCC members?

    It's this London-centricity that frustrates us north of Birmingham the most.

    When Headingley updates the Rugby Ground end it'll be a different proposition. Look how the feel of Old Trafford has changed for the better.

  • on June 29, 2014, 14:29 GMT

    England fire their genius talent and leading all time run scorer and take cricket off free to air tv and wonder why people arent interested. Am i missing something?

  • on June 29, 2014, 12:44 GMT

    Any soccer match involving Suarez, and any cricket match involving Pietersen, will sell out instantly. Equally, people won't pay big money to watch cart-horses and trundlers. You have to learn to handle the genius nutters ... they're the people the pubilc will pay to see! The worldwide public will queue up to watch McEnroe or Bubba Watson ... they won't queue for Tim Henman and Justin Rose!! [no disrespect to the last two].

  • Insult_2_Injury on June 29, 2014, 3:47 GMT

    It's never one thing, which is why 'fixing the problem' is the wrong way to approach an issue which isn't just restricted to one English county. This is happening world wide. You have noticed - in cricket mad Yorkshire - exactly what I noticed 12 months ago at the MCG - in cricket mad Victoria; bays of empty seats on days 2/3 of the Boxing Day Test.

    To me the symptoms are obvious. The national team garners best support in the most rabid location, but when performing poorly, spectators won't part with exorbitant entry, food & concession stand prices. They may attend the 'occasion' day (Boxing Day) but the ensuing days are left to the cricket fan (not the event spectator). When the team is continually under performing it is even a stretch to get all cricket fans to choose the paying option as opposed to the more difficultly quantifiable TV option. More finishes like the last Test are the solution. Spectators want guaranteed excitement while cricket fans want Test Matches, no quick fix!

  • Udendra on June 28, 2014, 18:07 GMT

    It happens. Specially when the home team is about to embrace defeat and has been having a very bad tour.

  • LillianThomson on June 28, 2014, 12:35 GMT

    We saw a similar thing in New Zealand almost two decades ago when Glenn Turner purged Chris Cairns and Adam Parore.

    Ultimately, box office is box office. If England don't wake up and recall KP they will find that Lords Tests are the only ones that they can sell out.

  • on June 28, 2014, 7:22 GMT

    First time I have missed a test at Headingley. Why? - no KP, a useless captain. I'm a Yorkshire lifetime supporter and we supplied three players. A sad day for me. England should have selected Jason Gillespie - the best coach in England and asked Gayle to captain the side. Right now English cricket is boring and defeatist. Moores and Cook a pair of losers in the quality cricketing brain category. The pair are just LOSING support and the last time I watched live cricket was at Lords for the Middlesex - Yorkshire match. Young Joe Root skippered but at least we saw some interesting cricket. We should NOT have lost! Sorry Headingley you have lost me...

  • gr_wgtn_j8 on June 28, 2014, 6:04 GMT

    I wanted to see NZ play at Headingley last year but the ticket prices were prohibitive when you add travel and accommodation. Not sure how many NZers live in Yorkshire but it must a lot less than in London or Scotland. I think the cheapest seats were in the Barmy Army stand which somehow didn't appeal very much either.

  • Herath-UK on June 27, 2014, 22:10 GMT

    Parking is a significant issue when I parked last time to see the Sri Lanka's ODI,had to walk back a significant distance. I do not think you can have a good crowd in Test matches in the early summer games whoever the opponents as the weather is unpredictable & dismal & who in right mind would buy tickets in advance. For the summer games locals will come in droves to enjoy the sun whoever the opponent & whatever the result going to be. In Sri Lanka's case they now cannot hold the lame excuse of not competitive having been thrashed in all forms of the game this time. And then this is the time cricket has to grapple with football world cup (Olympics,Wimbelden etc) & if you listen or watch any media broadcast, all are full of them & how little attention cricket get. ECB is not doing its PR good except for the Ashes.

  • Pyrahtechnics on June 27, 2014, 20:21 GMT

    It wasn't that long ago Yorkshire had a membership package which included all international cricket. Maybe this is where the problem lies, especially when 92% of Yorkshire members did not attend last years test match against New Zealand.

  • on June 27, 2014, 17:47 GMT

    Perhaps if northern grounds were treated to the prestige test matches routinely allocated to the Oval and Lords it'd be a fairer comparison. Why they are given these games without question is beyond me. Could it be anything to do with the cricketing establishment being made up of Surrey and MCC members?

    It's this London-centricity that frustrates us north of Birmingham the most.

    When Headingley updates the Rugby Ground end it'll be a different proposition. Look how the feel of Old Trafford has changed for the better.

  • jamiedow on June 27, 2014, 17:44 GMT

    Yeah. Yorkshire is passionate about cricket, but although in total it has a large population, it's very spread-out (unlike, say, London or Birmingham). To my mind, it's really important for the ECB to stage test matches in the North as well as the South, and Headingley needs to be on the circuit.

    So, how can it be done, to play test cricket at Headingley in front of packed stands? Answer: only take test matches there that involve opposition that will excite local crowds. That means especially Pakistan and India (significant local populations from that heritage), and - of course - Australia, since they are the old enemy, and any England cricket fan will be interested in Ashes series.

    If you are only looking at matches against SL and NZ, then it shouldn't be a surprise to find the ticket sales a bit sparse. It will take smarter thinking than to take test cricket all around England.

  • on June 27, 2014, 16:16 GMT

    The comments so far seem to confirm that it is pointless trying to keep Headingly as an international ground. As we have too many such grounds this is as good a time as any to reduce the number.

  • bumbles11 on June 27, 2014, 15:08 GMT

    If it was at the Oval, Lords, Trent Bridge or Edgbaston it would have sold out or pretty much near full capacity. Yorkshire fans go on about how well they support cricket but time and again internationals are not sold out.

    We also never win at Leeds - lost to aussies, indians and SL now and years since we won at Headingly. It might be cost but other grounds seem to do better. I would say SL ODI series was poorly supported but probably more to do with team.

  • TripleCenturian on June 27, 2014, 12:36 GMT

    I have parked outside Headingley for over 25 years and never had a problem with any trouble. Headingley has a perfectly good train station less than 5 minutes walk away and there are any number of buses that go through Headingley from Leeds Centre. This years Test was well priced, well publicised, well organised and at a time of the year that was better than before. New seating plans also encouraged people to try the West Stand in an area that suited their personal preference. The reason for the poor attendances by the Yorkshire public are a total disconnect with Team England, who are viewed as the devil by most loyal Yorkshire fans for the way they treat the county game with contempt and utter disrespect. Until the England camp recognise the need to remain connected with the counties the lack of attendances will continue to be an issue in Yorkshire.

  • Aroundthelegsgoogly on June 27, 2014, 11:35 GMT

    I often try and get tickets at Lords or at the Oval. But I am greeted with a request for £80 a day. I am not paying that sort of money for a day's cricket. As I would have to drag someone with me for companionship as well. Making it £160. Its sad. But I cannot afford it.

  • on June 27, 2014, 11:08 GMT

    The fun police at Headingley dont help either. I looked into booking tickets. They were overpriced, and worse they discouraged large groups and said fancy dress could only be worn in small areas of the Western Terrace!! Im all for family areas and non alcoholic areas in certain areas (thats where i will take my kids when they are older), but the Western Terrace 'fun' is a big part of the Headingley draw for a day out. Add to this not allowing you to take food or drink in, that means £4 for a pint and £10 for Fish and Chips - it becomes an expensive day out to then get told where you can sit and what you can where!! Ive been to Old Trafford and Trent Bridge in the last few years, enjoyed them much more and found transport to be easier. By the way - I live in Yorkshire!!

  • RichBaker on June 27, 2014, 10:39 GMT

    Sticking your car on Beckett's Park doesn't seem that risky to me. It's hardly a high crime area and has some stewards patrolling

  • RichBaker on June 27, 2014, 10:37 GMT

    No offence to SL & NZ, but an early season test against them just doesn't draw the crowds. Especially at the prices being asked. The right to host international games seems to have already passed, except for the leftovers which aren't dished out to the southern grounds. The state of the current team also doesn't help in my opinion. The weekend attendances weren't too bad. Taking a day off plus admission is obviously a bit too much for most

  • on June 27, 2014, 10:31 GMT

    Lord_Flashheart - my thoughts exactly - it's a logistical nightmare to get to Headingley and nowhere to park. I'm from Sheffield and now watch virtually all my cricket at Trent Bridge - county as well as International.

  • yorkshirematt on June 27, 2014, 10:19 GMT

    Location of Headingley in terms of transport, disconnection with the England team and the ECB, ticket prices (although these were a lot more reasonable this time), 'unattractive' opponents, local cricket commitments.

  • on June 27, 2014, 9:33 GMT

    Headingley 2013: Jonathan Trott 76 off 164 balls whilst England were well ahead and should have been crushing New Zealand. Why would any self respecting Yorkshireman pay good money to watch that kind of thing (unless it was Sir Geoff doing it)? I'd much rather pay to watch Yorkshire than England at the moment - and have been doing. The Friday start didn't help either - it wrote off days 4 and 5 for pre-sales rather than just Day 5.

  • Lord_Flashheart on June 27, 2014, 9:23 GMT

    The problem is Headingley itself. It's got virtually no parking and is difficult to reach by public transport. Leaving your car on the street or in a park for the day feels like you're asking for trouble. It doesn't feel as bad for the shorter timeframe of T20 matches.

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  • Lord_Flashheart on June 27, 2014, 9:23 GMT

    The problem is Headingley itself. It's got virtually no parking and is difficult to reach by public transport. Leaving your car on the street or in a park for the day feels like you're asking for trouble. It doesn't feel as bad for the shorter timeframe of T20 matches.

  • on June 27, 2014, 9:33 GMT

    Headingley 2013: Jonathan Trott 76 off 164 balls whilst England were well ahead and should have been crushing New Zealand. Why would any self respecting Yorkshireman pay good money to watch that kind of thing (unless it was Sir Geoff doing it)? I'd much rather pay to watch Yorkshire than England at the moment - and have been doing. The Friday start didn't help either - it wrote off days 4 and 5 for pre-sales rather than just Day 5.

  • yorkshirematt on June 27, 2014, 10:19 GMT

    Location of Headingley in terms of transport, disconnection with the England team and the ECB, ticket prices (although these were a lot more reasonable this time), 'unattractive' opponents, local cricket commitments.

  • on June 27, 2014, 10:31 GMT

    Lord_Flashheart - my thoughts exactly - it's a logistical nightmare to get to Headingley and nowhere to park. I'm from Sheffield and now watch virtually all my cricket at Trent Bridge - county as well as International.

  • RichBaker on June 27, 2014, 10:37 GMT

    No offence to SL & NZ, but an early season test against them just doesn't draw the crowds. Especially at the prices being asked. The right to host international games seems to have already passed, except for the leftovers which aren't dished out to the southern grounds. The state of the current team also doesn't help in my opinion. The weekend attendances weren't too bad. Taking a day off plus admission is obviously a bit too much for most

  • RichBaker on June 27, 2014, 10:39 GMT

    Sticking your car on Beckett's Park doesn't seem that risky to me. It's hardly a high crime area and has some stewards patrolling

  • on June 27, 2014, 11:08 GMT

    The fun police at Headingley dont help either. I looked into booking tickets. They were overpriced, and worse they discouraged large groups and said fancy dress could only be worn in small areas of the Western Terrace!! Im all for family areas and non alcoholic areas in certain areas (thats where i will take my kids when they are older), but the Western Terrace 'fun' is a big part of the Headingley draw for a day out. Add to this not allowing you to take food or drink in, that means £4 for a pint and £10 for Fish and Chips - it becomes an expensive day out to then get told where you can sit and what you can where!! Ive been to Old Trafford and Trent Bridge in the last few years, enjoyed them much more and found transport to be easier. By the way - I live in Yorkshire!!

  • Aroundthelegsgoogly on June 27, 2014, 11:35 GMT

    I often try and get tickets at Lords or at the Oval. But I am greeted with a request for £80 a day. I am not paying that sort of money for a day's cricket. As I would have to drag someone with me for companionship as well. Making it £160. Its sad. But I cannot afford it.

  • TripleCenturian on June 27, 2014, 12:36 GMT

    I have parked outside Headingley for over 25 years and never had a problem with any trouble. Headingley has a perfectly good train station less than 5 minutes walk away and there are any number of buses that go through Headingley from Leeds Centre. This years Test was well priced, well publicised, well organised and at a time of the year that was better than before. New seating plans also encouraged people to try the West Stand in an area that suited their personal preference. The reason for the poor attendances by the Yorkshire public are a total disconnect with Team England, who are viewed as the devil by most loyal Yorkshire fans for the way they treat the county game with contempt and utter disrespect. Until the England camp recognise the need to remain connected with the counties the lack of attendances will continue to be an issue in Yorkshire.

  • bumbles11 on June 27, 2014, 15:08 GMT

    If it was at the Oval, Lords, Trent Bridge or Edgbaston it would have sold out or pretty much near full capacity. Yorkshire fans go on about how well they support cricket but time and again internationals are not sold out.

    We also never win at Leeds - lost to aussies, indians and SL now and years since we won at Headingly. It might be cost but other grounds seem to do better. I would say SL ODI series was poorly supported but probably more to do with team.