Warwickshire to be Birmingham Bears in T20
Twenty20 gets a revamp for 2014 as the NatWest T20 Blast becomes the latest incarnation of the original domestic T20 competition. But Warwickshire won't be playing in the tournament. Rather, Edgbaston will play host to the Birmingham Bears.
A new tournament, spread across the season in a regular Friday night slot, is a fresh opportunity for Warwickshire to spread the appeal of T20. The club have their eyes on the inner-city population, many of whom packed Edgbaston to the gunwales during the Champions Trophy and gave the ground a different feel from an England fixture.
The change of branding was the idea of Birmingham City Council, from whom Warwickshire received a £20m loan for their ground redevelopment. Both parties are keen to drive the different demographics seen at the Champions Trophy to Edgbaston on a regular basis.
"We have an extensive relationship with Birmingham City Council and they've seen quite a lot of benefit from the Champions Trophy this year and the work we've done with the local communities," Warwickshire chief executive Colin Povey told ESPNcricinfo. "They asked us to consider playing T20 under the Birmingham banner rather than the Warwickshire banner. It's clearly quite a big move for us but we saw it as a good opportunity.
"It gives us a chance to tap into local schools and clubs in Birmingham, both the male and female business community and some of the Asian communities who have been here quite a lot this year with India and Pakistan."
Edgbaston hosted India and Pakistan twice each during the Champions Trophy and a livelier club brand is designed to change the perception of the county game and tap into a cricket-loving population on the doorstep of the ground. It takes only 2% of Birmingham's population to fill Edgbaston.
"We thought it was a good way to get behind the new competition and work even more closely with the City Council and the fans closest to the ground," Povey said. "Something like three-quarters of the fans who come to our games live in a Birmingham post code, within 20-40 minutes of the stadium. T20 is a short format game with early evening starts, so 'Birmingham' fits quite well.
"Other counties have changed their names a few times. They've been experimenting with different brands, particularly in T20. We felt it was a good opportunity to try and get people to reappraise county cricket and especially T20."
Derbyshire were originally the Phantoms, Surrey once upon a time the Lions, and Glamorgan the Welsh Dragons. But the recent trend has been away from gimmicky nicknames, with the latter two counties having dropped their monikers completely. Hampshire have become the latest club to revert back to being a one-word county in limited-overs cricket, ending what was at the time billed as an earth-shaking link up with the Rajasthan Royals IPL franchise.
But the Bears, along with Leicestershire Foxes, has been an established handle long before it was formalised. Matching that with 'Birmingham' is hoped to freshen up the club's image.
"What is true of most counties is if you look at the membership it's by and large white, middle-class and relatively aged," Povey said. "Within the inner city here we've got a million people, 25% of which have no ethnic background - they're second or third generation Brummies. Maybe that old Warwickshire County Cricket Club label isn't their space but they love cricket and enjoy good times at Edgbaston; we saw that last summer.
"Hopefully we can get a handle on that type of audience and drive some new interest. The City Council are very keen to leverage the relationship particularly with the young multicultural audience in the heart of the city and that plays well with the new audiences we're trying to get to the ground and more frequently.
"We of course don't want to walk away from our heritage and history, we're very proud of that. But in the same way we had to move on with the new stadium we think this is a good opportunity to take a step forward. Let's give it a go and see what we can make of it."
Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo