County news September 9, 2016

Non-disclosure agreements cloud T20 debate

30

Plans are afoot for a city-based T20 competition that would see smaller counties compensated for not taking part © Getty Images

Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) lasting for 10 years are preventing progress on the debate over the future direction of domestic T20, according to county officials.

The ECB insisted that the agreements were signed before counties could be shown plans for a new competition. But now the counties - most of which are owned by their members - say they are constitutionally, morally and perhaps fiducially obliged to consult them before coming to any conclusions. Several clubs, who are unwilling to be named for fear of being seen to have broken their NDAs, state they would need to hold Special General Meetings before progressing.

While the ECB claims the non-disclosure agreements are due to the "commercial sensitivity" of the discussion, some county executives fear they are an attempt to stifle opposition and present plans for a new tournament as a fait accompli.

It is true that the ECB is anxious to end an argument that has rumbled on for several years, with occasional outbreaks of cricket. The board has told the counties it wants to "reach consensus" on the shape of the proposed new tournament at a meeting on September 14.

But some of the counties say that this timeframe does not allow discussion with members, or any other cricket lovers, or further examination of the consequences of their decisions. They point out that, while sponsors, broadcasters (some broadcasters, anyway), players and the counties have been given details of the potential options, spectators have been informed only by media reports. They also point out that many questions about the new competition remains unclear.

The last time the ECB conducted a consultation process into domestic T20 - the Populous survey of 2012 - it suggested that spectators preferred a predictable schedule that didn't demand too much of their time or their money in the space of a few days. It increasingly looks as if the new competition will see games played every day of the week in a July block.

At this stage, though, there is no official preferred option. The ECB presented five options to the counties for discussion: these range from the 'no-change' option that almost nobody favours, to proposals for a new-team, city-based competition. Increasingly, option four - featuring a city-based competition co-existing with the current NatWest Blast T20 - has emerged as the frontrunner.

Packaged as a compromise - or a wolf in sheep's clothing, depending on your view - it has won over a number of counties (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and, perhaps, Sussex) that might otherwise have resisted a city-based tournament and seems to have an even chance of gaining the two-thirds majority required to see it adopted as the shape of the season from 2018. The ECB is promising the counties a minimum of £1m each if they do so. It is clear that, officially or not, this is its preferred option.

There are, though, huge questions to answer before anything can be confirmed. What other cricket will be played in the July window while the city-based competition is on and is it not a concern that the quality of the Championship (or Blast competition) will be diluted? What evidence is there that audiences in England and Wales will warm to new teams? Can the money promised really be considered new if it comes at the expense of a watered down Blast (with fewer 'name' players, less interest from broadcasters and sponsors and the sense that it is a lesser competition) and can the money even be guaranteed even if broadcasters subsequently fail to deliver on the estimates that the ECB has received or if they fail to reach their audience target?

The ECB hopes to drum up bids from broadcasters to televise a new competition © Getty Images

Furthermore, won't the gap between the Test-hosting counties and the rest grow if a city-based competition is held only at the bigger grounds and there is no distribution of non-cricket income (bar receipts, for example)? Especially if they are benefitting from the supply of players from smaller counties, without further compensation. Equally, it seems odd that all hosting grounds would be paid a flat fee (far below the amount some sides make for hosting Blast matches) whatever their capacity or hospitality facilities.

It is understood that the ECB has also been asked to provide assurances that the 'independent' broadcast experts utilised to provide information on the likely value of tournaments do not stand to gain should the city-based tournament win favour. The ECB has a close working history with Sky and appears to have valued the existing competition far below comparable events.

Premiership rugby, for example, a sport with similar supporter numbers as county cricket, receives something approaching £40m for its broadcast rights. The ECB currently ascribe a nil value to county cricket and seems to think the Blast is worth as little as £7.5m a year. That's less than it can expect to earn from gate receipts. A city-based competition, despite lasting less than a month and not being offered exclusively, is said to be worth up to £40m.

In the longer-term, the ECB has also been asked whether the international schedule will be cut to make space for the new city-based competition - and to allow England players to take part - and what the cost implications of that might be. Again, if it diminishes the money gained in the next broadcast deal, it would be wrong to view the city-based revenues as new rather than replacement. It seems unlikely that England players will be made available in 2018.

But most of all the question remains: why is the ECB not interested in the input of those that, indirectly, pay the wages of the administrators, the media, the players and the broadcasters? One day, and it may not be a distant day, the spectators will tire of the £6 pints, the soggy chips, the slack over rates that short-change them of their £90 Test tickets and spend their money elsewhere. The ECB disrespects them at its peril.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • masterstumper on September 12, 2016, 17:28 GMT

    Unfortunately no one in the ECB wants to listen to people who follow all forms of county cricket. The non-playing on a Saturday proved this because they like THEIR Fridays for T20. The survey ( about 3 years ago) to rid Saturday of county cricket didn't listen to county members. The ECB asked A) people who watch cricket B) people who USED to watch cricket and C)people who don't watch it but are thinking about watching cricket. Out of those 3, who do you think they listened to. YES, the latter 2 neither of whom poor any money into the game whatsoever and category A) they completely ignored. So, they made that decision based on people who do not watch cricket so they sure aren't going to listen to us now on this new subject. Also, I cannot see a bidding process for players like the IPL as no county has that sort of money to lay out in the first place.

  • PJtheBarbarian on September 12, 2016, 11:52 GMT

    @Etterby1

    I fully support your post.

  • PJtheBarbarian on September 12, 2016, 9:17 GMT

    Very interesting article George.

    It always seems to me that the ECB misunderstands the intrinsic social value of cricket in England, which has deep roots in the counties and among their memberships.

    Even though it might make commercial sense to shorten the championship, have a city-based T20 etc., it is probably the very opposite of what the majority of the said memberships want.

    In addition, with all the change they are proposing, one gets the impression they're trying to fix something which already works. The England side, both white-ball and red-ball, is full of more top-class players than I can ever remember.

    I'm not even impressed by day-night cricket in England (unlike say Australia). Have a nice finish to the match in the (sunny) early evening, giving people time to go to the pub afterwards or make their way home calmly, without having to sit in chilly grounds late into the evening,

  • yorkshire-86 on September 12, 2016, 0:43 GMT

    July = probably the best cricketing weather in the year. Less teams = less professionals playing cricket. What are all the non T20 specialist players gonna do through July? A city-based competiton will provide first team top level professional Cricket to 90 domestic professionals. The current CC, 50 over and T20 Blast provide first team top level professional cricket to 180, 180 and 162 respectivly. (assuming 2 Foreigners for T20 and 1 Foreigner in other comps). So half of the professional cricketers in the country are going to be sat at home watching TV for the best cricketing month of the year.

  • masterstumper on September 11, 2016, 13:44 GMT

    SIRVIV1973 You might be right, I never thought of it like that but that also makes me think that this has even less chance of working. I cannot imagine a Yorkshire based city team being cheered on by locals if it was full of Essex, Middlesex and Surrey players. No one is going to convince me that this could be a success and I cannot see why people who would like to see this competition, can be so convinced that it cannot fail. Support for cricket in the U.K is unlike anywhere else and I do wonder if the people at the ECB who want this, have ever been county supporters, turning up on awful days with packed lunch, etc. That is what you are dealing with and although it may be old fashioned and a bit 'Square', it is the reality of trying to change things every season to try and suit people who are not county fans from having T20 on Fridays to stopping virtually any cricket on Saturdays.

  • SirViv1973 on September 11, 2016, 10:05 GMT

    @masterstumper, I don't think it would be a case of counties merging and selecting a team from players who are contracted to those 2 counties to form a city team. It would more likely to follow the model of the other major franchised leagues where players are grouped together and then auctioned off, so in theory at least you could have a birmingham franchise without a single Warwickshire player.

  • countjimmoriarty on September 10, 2016, 14:36 GMT

    cricfan42923283: 'Free of charge' as in free to air, non-subscription TV.

  • cricfan42923283 on September 10, 2016, 13:14 GMT

    CandD-ski - i might have misunderstood but i read 'free of charge' as 'of no commercial value'. Unless the players play for free and there is absolutely no ambition from the counties to survive into the next decade let alone attract and or develop skilled and talented players or interested spectators then surely that is a major issue.

  • CandD-Ski on September 10, 2016, 12:23 GMT

    I am surprised that none of the comments, or George's excellent article, mention the importance of at least some cricket being broadcast free of charge. Greatly widening the audience is the way to enthuse youngsters into taking up the game. Without the oxygen of publicity the game will surely continue to whither away.

  • cricfan42923283 on September 10, 2016, 11:53 GMT

    Aus has had sheffield shield for 100 years. It stands to reason you wouldnt know that because it pulls a crowd of about 100 people per game across four days. Now there's 40k going to watch the "sydney sixers" in their bright pink kit. ECB and counties could have a product on its hands that would make the IPL look like what the Australian A-League (football) does in comparison to the EPL. If the counties are smart they'll jump on it rather than have some arabian prince come in and make it happen and take all the profit.

  • No featured comments at the moment.