England news November 23, 2015

Cricket hails record domestic crowds

Large crowds in south London lapped up the NatWest Blast - including this attempted catch by Kumar Sangakkara © PA Photos

Cricket's determination to reassert itself as England's national summer sport has received a fillip with the release of record attendance figures since the ECB was founded 18 years ago.

Professional cricket in England, at both domestic and international level, attracted 2,328,000 spectators in 2015 - and much of that impetus has come from a rejuvenating county system which has returned record attendances across all three formats since ECB records began.

In county cricket more than 1.5 million people attended LV=County Championship, Royal London One-Day Cup and NatWest T20 Blast matches combined and all three competitions recorded increased total attendances year-on-year. For the first time, more spectators watched T20 cricket than England internationals.

International attendances were also up - by 75,000 on 2014 - despite all five Investec Ashes Test matches finishing inside four days - in a summer also enhanced by an attractive New Zealand side and sell-out Women's internationals.

Such optimistic figures come while debates continue over the restructuring of the county game with the intention of making it more relevant to modern-day needs, financially more stable and able to equip England with a steady supply of international cricketers who can succeed across all three formats.

England and Wales will stake the 2017 Champions Trophy and the World Cup two years later and the tournaments are regarded as critical in bringing the sort of lift to the game that was experienced in the 2005 Ashes series.

They come, too, with negotiations underway for the next round of TV contracts, with BT expected to be a big player alongside Sky, but with the BBC looking more financially-strapped than ever when it comes to sporty, so reducing options in the free-to-air market.

The growth in attendances on England's professional circuit will also persuade traditionalists to argue for the retention of the 18-county format. Change in county cricket does not come easily - unlike tinkering - and the counties have won assurances that there will be no major changes ahead before the new TV deals come into being.

But a deeper analysis of the figures will, perhaps inevitably, reveal winners and losers - suggesting that if revolution is off the agenda, for the moment at least, evolution is quickening. The fact that only 11 of the 18 first-class counties achieved gains in T20 attendances provides further proof that the financial gap between the Haves and the Have Nots may be widening and that England's professional circuit, by enabling the best to flourish, might eventually deliver a successful elite capable of winning the TV deals that are vital to the game's financial health.

One of the big losers was Durham, who are struggling to attract big crowds to Chester-le-Street for internationals and county fixtures

Much of the recent domestic growth is being driven by the increasingly powerful Test match counties - Surrey, for example, in the NatWest Blast, where big crowds at Kia Oval provides the sort of atmosphere that can be marketed worldwide or Yorkshire, where two Championship wins in succession have reawakened loyalties towards first-class cricket's oldest competition.

Hampshire are claiming that they are one of only two counties to record an increase in all three domestic competitions in 2015, Yorkshire being the other.

Of the seven countries whose T20 crowds did not increase with the overall trend, three counties - Somerset, Sussex and Essex - have been playing to capacity crowds for some time. Glamorgan suffered by having an inbalance of home fixtures in May. Northants are known to be in financial disarray. One of the big losers was Durham, who are struggling to attract big crowds to Chester-le-Street for internationals and county fixtures.

The story was not just about the international grounds, however, with Kent also showing notable signs of stirring after many years ion the doldrums on the back of a vibrant, young T20 side.

The commitment to ground improvements over the past decade might have put county finances under strain - collective debts are estimated at £170m - but it has delivered venues, both big and small, more able to meet modern needs.

Tom Harrison, ECB's chief executive, said: "Across the summer attendances grew for each of the county competitions as well as the international games. These figures reflect a big effort by the counties, our international venues and partners to enhance the match-day experience, improve facilities and make our cricket grounds as fan-friendly and accessible as possible.

"They are all good signs and there are big opportunities ahead. We know that there's more that can be done to draw people to watch and play cricket and further improve standards across the game."

England crowds at the cricket
Year International Domestic Total
 1997  498,916  1,207,103  1,706,019
 1998  453,365  1,130,074  1,583,439
 1999  788,623  1,074,488  1,863,111
 2000  525,108  1,025,758  1,550,866
 2001  713,455  1,012,095  1,725,550
 2002  556,304  1,030,169  1,586,473
 2003  630,213  1,266,962  1,897,175
 2004  710,096  1,148,183  1,858,279
 2005  693,321  1,363,685  2,057,006
 2006  787,402  1,363,093  2,150,495
 2007  809,430  1,222,897  2,032,327
 2008  737,306  1,369,787  2,107,093
 2009  716,187  1,121,880  1,838,067
 2010  577,587  1,419,065  1,996,652
 2011  849,302  1,452,109  2,301,411
 2012  697,124  994,868  1,691,992
 2013  790,475  1,398,409  2,188,884
 2014  709,643  1,382,942  2,092,585
 2015  785,030  1,543,734  2,328,764
Note: County members are counted on attendance only, with some first-class counties now using digital access systems to make records more efficient.

David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps