England news November 19, 2014

ECB hit by fall in participation numbers

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Participation levels in recreational cricket across England and Wales have fallen over the last year according to figures released by the ECB. The number of players aged between 14 and 65 dropped from 908,000 in 2013 to 844,000 this year, with more than 5% of games conceded because at least one of the clubs was unable to field a side.

The figures were obtained through 37,500 responses from recreational cricketers to this year's National Playing Survey together with detailed analysis of more than 1.2 million scorecards.

While there is some mitigation - 70% of amateur cricket is played on Saturdays and only 15 Saturdays were rated "dry" in 2014 compared with 20 in 2013; there was also a football World Cup in 2014 - the figures will fuel the suspicion that the game is losing relevance and popularity in England and Wales.

The results come weeks after it emerged that the average attendance for the relaunched NatWest T20 Blast had fallen despite a marketing drive designed to double spectator numbers. Crowd figures at the Royal London One-Day Cup were hardly overwhelming, either.

These new figures may also increase pressure on the ECB and Sky to review the current broadcast arrangements for professional cricket. The ECB's strategy over recent years has been to compensate for the lack of cricket on free-to-air TV by investing heavily in grassroots scheme and development programmes. The survey results would suggest that method is not working as planned.

The last broadcast deal covered the period up to the end of 2017 and provided Sky an option for a further two years. As part of current discussions, the possibility of some cricket being shown on free-to-air TV or free of charge on the internet is believed to be gaining traction. It is probably relevant that, during the last Ashes series in 2013-14, Sky showed some coverage on their free-to-air Pick channel, which has traditionally been used to promote new shows.

While several counties believe the TV issue is crucial to the declining participation numbers, there are probably many factors involved.

The relative lack of success of the England team - the significance of a winning England side was at the centre of many of the reforms at the ECB in the era of Lord MacLaurin - could be an issue, along with anecdotal evidence suggesting further disillusionment as a result of the Kevin Pietersen debacle, as well as high ticket prices and an international schedule that prioritises quantity over quality. In short, the period in which the benefit of short-term decisions can be felt has now expired.

Equally, the demands of time made on club cricketers may be incompatible with modern society, where men are expected to take a more active role in family life and where working patterns more often encroach on weekends.

Further analysis of the survey's findings revealed that:

  • 247,000 were "core" players who play at least twelve weeks of a 26 week summer season.

  • 405,000 were "occasional" players who play between three and eleven weeks of a 26 week summer season.

  • 192,000 were "cameo" players who play one or two weeks of a 26 week summer season.

Males represented 93% of the participation base, with 7% female - the same gender breakdown as in 2013. The survey also revealed that 30% of grassroots cricketers are drawn from ethnic minorities and 53% of cricketers would like to play the game more often.

"The ECB recognised the participation challenges that have been facing all team sports and we were determined to gain a greater insight into those issues and find long-term solutions," the ECB's chief operating officer, Gordon Hollins, said. "To do that the ECB changed the way in which it measured participation last year and introduced the new National Cricket Playing Survey as part of our wider efforts to gain a greater understanding of what drives grassroots cricket participation.

"Thanks to an excellent response, the ECB now has a much clearer picture than ever before of who plays recreational cricket, what type of cricket they prefer to play, when they want to play it and we are now setting about finding ways in which we can best address their needs going forward."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 23, 2014, 7:06 GMT

    Plus when i first started playing local cricket there were hundreds of teams around and i know most of it was friendly cricket but it was still cricket. There were many works teams, every village had teams, Bedford itself had many teams operating out of it and there was a lot of local interest. Perhaps times change of course and kids no longer have the attention spans?

  • Dummy4 on November 23, 2014, 6:33 GMT

    Cricket not on free to air television is a massive factor...more than anyone realises. The huge moments that kids and families sat and watched such as Botham '81 and Ashes '05 will never be seen again on terrestrial TV and this is crucial to generating interest. The decline will continue, perhaps irrevocably, with many more teams folding over the course of the next five years.

  • Jason on November 21, 2014, 16:16 GMT

    @BerkoCricketer, I strongly disagree, if you have a small pool of players to pick from you limit the competition for places. this makes people strive to be better and to earn selection, rather than it being handed on a platter, the same happened with cricket in the 90's too many overseas players in county sides prevented talented youngsters from playing regular games.

    Compare that to almost every other countries FC system, Australia especially they don't allow overseas players in the Shield and have been one of the strongest teams for the last 30 years, with a couple of blips as the old guard changed.

  • Peter on November 21, 2014, 16:05 GMT

    Great point @yorkshire-86, wish I'd said it! :-)

  • Chris on November 21, 2014, 13:30 GMT

    So there's no connection between the £millions football clubs receive from Sky and the large number of foreign players in the Premiership? The Clubs' need to stay there reduces their incentive to develop their own players and instead buy "off the shelf" foreign players as a short-term fix to keep receiving the Sky cash for longer. What concerns me is that cricket's use of the Sky millions doesn't seem to be helping interest in our game either as the ECB seemed to think it would.

  • Jeff on November 21, 2014, 13:12 GMT

    There is a BIG difference between a household having Sky and a person having Sky. Sure most *households* have Sky, but the remote control is usually in the hands of the bill payer not the kids who we are wanting to expose to cricket. If the bill payer of a household with Sky is not a cricket fan (and those that are usually push the game into their kids anyway) then the kid (who will only have regular channels on his own TV) has no access to live cricket. Even my mum, who has no interest in cricket whatsoever, watched the 2005 Ashes - because it was just there on a main channel. For her, and hundreds of thousands of cricket loving kids without cricket loving parents, this is the last cricket they ever saw.

  • Peter on November 21, 2014, 9:49 GMT

    @delboy - you are missing the point. If kids don't watch cricket when they only have free to air TV then they won't pick up any interest in it. The ECB made the wrong decision to sell all coverage to Sky. Even though they've pumped the money back into clubs at grassroots it only takes effect for those showing an interest in the first place.

    The bulk of the money is going into the bigger town based clubs, too, meaning that the clubs really suffering are the one or two team clubs with no throughput from a colt system. Even for us bigger clubs - mine has full coaching for in the order of 300 youngsters - there are only literally 5 or 6 coming out of the other end with any interest and the time for keeping playing as young adults. See @jb633's comments below for an excellent explanation of why.

    @YorkshirePudding - The standard of both cricket and football is raised dramatically by the best foreign players being here. English players who play have to meet that to be there, so disagree.

  • Martin on November 21, 2014, 9:39 GMT

    Ummm, I wonder if cricket fading from the nation's consciousness might just possibly have anything to do with there being no cricket on terrestrial television and so 75% of the population never get to see cricket?

    In 2005 when interest in cricket had reached a new level in this country, the ECB decided to sell our beloved summer sport down the river. Can there ever have been a body in charge of a sport that has done more to damage the game it is in charge of?

    Get cricket back on telly. Get cricket back in the public consciousness. Re-ignite interest in this great sport. Allow children to see it and fall in love with this wonderful game.

  • Dummy4 on November 21, 2014, 9:22 GMT

    There is so much competion today to get our kids attention that if cricket in a country like the UK does not use Free to air TV as a marketing tool, it is clear cricket is going to become a 2nd level sport. Look at how kids get easy access to the internet & play stations and this from the confort of their own homes. If we hide cricket on Pay TV it is clear that the game is not going to get the exposure necessary, we cannot compete. Secondly ; there needs to be a clear drive to recruit via grass roots. Look at the efforts that football is making around the world to recruit then we as cricketers have clearly got something to worry about. I live and work in France and have extensive experience in promoting cricket to the French ; Generally they love the game for many, many reasons, but our main problem is they dont get to see it on TV. How can you start playing a game that you dont see around you? I love Sky, they have modernised cricket watching, but are they gettinng the publc?

  • Derek on November 20, 2014, 21:03 GMT

    If you cannot afford Sky why not join your local indoor cricket league during the winter and take to playing cricket in the park when the weather is good.

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