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May 29, 2000
More and more counties are abandoning their festivals and playing all matches on their main county grounds. The main reason is finance as often the cost of setting up grounds to satisfy the modern day requirements of first class cricket cannot be covered by the income generated.
This is true of Bath particularly as the Recreation Ground is not a cricket ground for all but one week of the year. Marquees, stands, loose seating, electricity and water supplies, mobile kitchens, barriers, ground equipment such as rollers, portacabins, telephone lines, mobile toilets to name a few have to be imported and set up.
The outfield and particularly the square require careful preparation on which to play first class cricket and this needs regular visits from the Taunton groundsmen. In all it costs around £50,000 to set up and this is a lot of money to recoup with just one National League game and one County Championship match.
If these games were played at the County Ground in Taunton there would be no setting up costs. Usually Corporate Hospitality is good at Bath and so are gate receipts - unless, of course, the weather is bad when the County Club would be facing a huge loss. However even with good weather the festival just about breaks even. The Festival is therefore a financial risk.
The Bath Council are very helpful providing for example, cleaning services free of charge and the club's local Bath and Wiltshire Area Committee is very active in fund raising, which is matched pound for pound by the council. Local companies such as the Bath Spa Hotel help with administration costs.
So why play at Bath?
There is a strong case for taking cricket to the people to promote the sport and encourage spectators who would not normally travel, say 50 miles to Taunton, to watch a four day match. Somerset has a vast catchment area, from Cornwall and Devon to Bristol and Bath, from Dorset to Wiltshire. The North of the County is the most populated area and the populace will continue to support Somerset providing the County Club shows it's face once a year. Only 13 miles from Bath is another County Ground which is far easier to reach than Taunton.
The club membership in the North of the county is strong and although Taunton is probably central for the whole of the county I feel that the club would lose support by restricting all of their matches to Taunton. It is up to the local people of Bath to show their faith in the festival by attending the matches and to the businesses of Bath to also give their support as a week's cricket does help the local economy.
Festival cricket is unique in it's atmosphere and when played at a beautiful ground such as Bath it really becomes an attraction. Gone are the days of two three-day matches and two one-day games spread over one week. Let us hope the number of matches played in a first class season are not further reduced otherwise that would be the death knell of the festivals.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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