ECB under fire for financial policy January 23, 2008

Leicestershire chairman attacks county inequality

Cricinfo staff

Upwardly mobile: Stuart Broad has migrated from the lower-income Leicestershire to the high earners of Nottinghamshire © Getty Images

The chairman of Leicestershire, Neil Davidson, has criticised the England & Wales Cricket Board for turning first-class cricket into a football-style "money game" and believes that financial inequality is seriously affecting the future of English county cricket.

In a damning report, Davidson says that the county game is divided between the haves and the have-nots. He has identified an Upper Income group which consists of the six counties that host Test matches - Surrey, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Warwickshire, Nottinghamshire and Durham - plus the three highest income non-Test counties - Hampshire, Sussex and Kent.

Leicestershire, meanwhile, are in the Lower Income group which also features Essex, Middlesex, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Worcestershire, Glamorgan, Northamptonshire and Derbyshire.

No club at the bottom end of the financial scale has won the County Championship since Leicestershire themselves in 1998, and Davidson attributes this to the ECB's inequitable policy decisions of the past eight years. "All major ... decisions implemented since 2000 have worked unfairly to the detriment of the Lower Income Group," he said. "Those counties within that particular group have had a raw deal."

A table of finances from the ECB's "FCC's and MCC Financial Report 2006" backs up Davidson's contention. Of the £24.2 million increase in total income reported by all counties since the year 2000, £17.6 million has flowed to the Upper Income group with only £6.6 million going to the Lower Income group. Surrey alone benefited to the tune of £4 million.

"It is little wonder that the Lower Income group of counties are struggling to compete," said Davidson. "Clearly, something fundamental has occurred in the competitive environment since 2000 for the Lower Income group of counties to be so hopelessly uncompetitive in the County Championship."

Davidson cited Leicestershire's recent loss of the England Test bowler, Stuart Broad, who joined their richer neighbours, Nottinghamshire, as evidence of the problems caused by the inequality. The introduction of central contracts has given priority to the needs of the England team, but it is only the clubs with the biggest budgets who can create squads large enough to cover for such losses.

"This has created a migration of players to the richer, not necessarily better counties," said Davidson. "The Upper Income group are retaining bigger squads to fill gaps left by England players and therefore they plunder the Lower Income group. What is the point of producing more Stuart Broads if they immediately get poached?"

The introduction of a two-tier county championship has also adversely affected the poorer counties. "In 2007, there was a near perfect correlation between Championship division and income," said Davidson. "The Upper Income group in Division One and the Lower Income group in Division Two. Two anomalies - Notts and Worcestershire - were promoted and relegated respectively after one season 'out of place'.

"No Lower Income county has played in the C&G/Friends Provident Final since 2004," added Davidson, "suggesting that domination by the Upper Income group is extending into one-day cricket. The Lower Income group are being marginalised into the shorter forms of the game (Pro40/Twenty20 Cup) where they have fared better, but for how long will that be the case."

Davidson also argues that the introduction of the Performance Related Fee Payments in 2005 has hit the Lower Income group, describing it as a "regressive tax" on those counties within that group. The payments were introduced in response to the Kolpak ruling in 2003 and are ostensibly a bundle of five measures designed to encourage counties to nurture future talent.

"In reality, however," said Davidson, "the largest PRFP, Performance Analysis, which accounts for over 60% of the total, contains a £25,000 tax on every additional non-qualified cricketer above two that a county chooses to play across the season.

"The Lower Income counties are disadvantaged in two ways," he said. "If they try to play by the rules with nine England qualified cricketers, they cannot afford the better quality players. Play more than two 'not qualifieds' and they get whacked disproportionately."

In the interests of fairness Davidson has demanded that those Lower Income group counties be compensated for lost income as a result of the ECB's policy decisions over the past eight years. "The ECB Board has a duty to rectify matters, not only structurally to create a level playing field but also financially. "It is time for fairness to be re-introduced into county cricket for the good of the game before untold damage is done to our cricketing infrastructure."

Davidson's report was published shortly before a meeting of the first-class chairmen in Loughborough where they were presented with a five-year financial strategy and the ECB hit back at Davidson's claims.

"There are several inaccuracies in Mr Davidson's paper concerning the decision making process in respect of two division cricket, performance related fee payments and team salary payments," said the ECB. "These were all decisions taken by the first class forum and not, as suggested by Mr Davidson, by the ECB board. All of these decisions taken by the first class forum were incorporated into cricket's strategic plan Building Partnerships.

"Mr Davidson chose to ignore in his press release, issued immediately prior to a scheduled meeting, that KPMG had independently reviewed and concluded in 2007 that the international grounds did not obtain financial benefit after taking into account facility and operating costs from international matches."