Troubled Leicestershire take the plunge
News that Leicestershire's captain and chairman are to throw themselves out of a plane might, at first glance, be suspected as a response to the desperate financial position in which the club finds itself after a Twenty20 campaign officially described as "gruesome."
As it happens Matthew Hoggard and Paul Haywood are not jumping out of a plane as an act of despair, but as an attempt to raise money for an impoverished club which is fighting to remain solvent in increasingly testing times.
The pair, plus Greg Smith, Michael Thornley, Josh Cobb and his father, former Leicestershire player and coach Russell Cobb, will undertake a sponsored parachute jump at Langar Airfield on Monday September 17 as part of a benefit year for the club itself.
Leicestershire have endured a Friends Life t20 campaign that their chief executive, Mike Siddall, described as "gruesome." Not only did their defence of the title never really get off the ground - they won just two of their 10 qualifying games and finished bottom of the group - but spectator numbers were hugely disappointing. The club fears that it achieved only around 40% of its budget from the competition.
Such figures will only increase the clamour for a change to the domestic T20 schedule. Siddall, for one, endorses the view of Richard Gould, the chief executive of Surrey, that the competition should be spread across the summer and played, where possible, at a regular time so spectators are able to predict forthcoming games.
"Without a doubt, we need to be playing T20 over a longer period," Siddall told ESPNcricinfo. "We need to have an appointment to view on Friday nights, with one or two midweek games to keep the broadcasters happy.
"We all understand the reasons behind the short window, but they haven't worked. It leaves us at the mercy of the weather and the idea that we might be able to attract the most exciting overseas players has not been borne out by experience."
Leicestershire's problem this year was not that games were abandoned. Had they been, insurance payments would have covered the club for their losses. Instead, it was that matches took place in the sort of gloomy conditions that deterred spectators from attending.
"A typical example came in our game against Derbyshire," Siddall said. "It rained until 2.30pm and, while we eventually had an 8-over a side game starting at 7.35pm, no-one had hung around to watch it. It's hit our catering budget, it's hit our sponsors and it has left us with some very difficult budget decisions to make in the coming weeks. Times are very tough and they're not getting any easier."
After a terrible 2010, when Leicestershire lost over £400,000, they returned to profitability in 2011 with a surplus of nearly £300,000. Much of that was built on some exceptional items: £135,000 in donations; £43,000 in extra hospitality income thanks to their T20 success; £60,000 thanks to a sell-out T20 game against India and an increase in £282,000 from the ECB. There is little prospect of a repeat this year.
"We have little prospect of making up the T20 losses," Siddall admitted. "We have three CB40 games and four championship games to come. All the CB40 games are at a weekend or on a Bank Holiday, which is good for general spectators but not good for corporate hospitality."
The club at least have a fine record of producing players - Stuart Broad, Luke Wright, James Taylor and Darren Maddy are among those to have developed through the club's youth system - and spirits have been buoyed by the recent selection of Ben Collins in England's U19 World Cup squad. Test-hosting clubs such as Hampshire, Middlesex, Surrey and Yorkshire were all without representatives in the squad.
Long term the club have "embryonic plans" for a ground redevelopment that might revolutionise their business plan. In the meantime, however, Leicestershire are overly reliant on the continuing goodwill and generosity of their supporters and initiatives such as this parachute jump. It is not a comfortable position.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo