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Championship prices ignore economic reality

No one disputes that counties have bills to pay, but pricing policies for Championship cricket too often put off all but the most hardened fans

Tim Wigmore

April 29, 2013

Comments: 13 | Text size: A | A

Work continues at Old Trafford ahead of the Ashes, Old Trafford, April 2, 2013
With such steep prices for Championship cricket, Lancashire are building a ground rather more successfully than they are building an audience © Getty Images
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On a gloomy April day with an unrelenting wind, Lancashire began Division Two life against Worcestershire. The price, even for those arriving at 3pm after half a day at work? That'll be £17 for adults please.

Lancashire might be extreme offenders, with a pricing strategy for adults both oblivious to today's economic realities and their own position in Division Two, but they aren't the only ones.

Hampshire, who charge adults £20 on the day - plus a cool £8 for parking - also seem rather oblivious to their Division Two status; and the combined price for an adult and junior at Essex, £26, is double that of Surrey.

Perhaps Warwickshire, as the champion county, have a little more excuse for charging adults £20, a £5 increase from 2012. They point to the advance price - but this is still £15, and involves fans both having to gamble on the English weather and grasp with the vagaries of online booking. Oh, and pay the £1 booking fee.

No one disputes that counties have bills to pay, but pricing policies too often put off casual fans. And there are a lot of these to be won, in an age when over five million people are un or underemployed while the population ages. It is almost as if counties have lost so much faith in Championship cricket that they would sooner attempt to squeeze more money out of existing devotees than win new ones.

It's hardly difficult to say what a sensible ticketing policy for County Championship cricket would look like. Charge no more than £12 for a full day's play for adults, and only a couple of quid for juniors, with a sizeable discount at lunch and free entry after tea.

Some counties already display such common sense. Northants charge only £10 for a full day, falling to £7 after lunch. Chief executive David Smith said that the shortfall in ticketing revenue was largely made up for by spectators spending more: unsurprisingly, when fans don't feel they have been ripped off, they are more inclined to buy food and drink. And they are also rather more likely to come in the first place: someone I spoke to at Old Trafford said that, after paying £17 for half a day's cricket, he was changing his plan to come the following day too.

Most counties do at least appear to recognise the need to engage children in an age when they can't stumble across Test cricket on TV - Glamorgan offer completely free entry. But five counties still charge £8 or more with Yorkshire demanding £10 for a one-off visit from their young fans.

Lancashire are at least a good deal more enlightened when it comes to juniors. For £15 they can get into all Championship and YB40 matches. It is just the parent who accompanies them who needs deep pockets.

A growing number of counties seem to recognise the benefits of offering people free admission after tea. But, too often, this remains a well-kept secret: Surrey and Warwickshire both offer it without appearing to mention it on their websites. It's a wasted opportunity: with a little more imaginative marketing, people might be tempted to have their post-work drinks at the cricket.

In January there was uproar, and a partial boycott, by Manchester City fans over the price of their fixture at Arsenal, for which no away tickets were available for under £62. County cricket might understandably feel that, in comparison, it represents excellent value. But too many counties display a depressing combination of short-termism and inflexibility in their ticketing policies.

By producing cricket as compelling as Warwickshire's draw at Taunton, the players are certainly doing their bit to engage new fans. Sadly, too few county administrators can honestly say the same.

Good Week

Northamptonshire:
A seven-wicket win at Bristol means that Northants have already won two games - and it would have been three out of three without rain at Cardiff in the opening round. They are a squad of unobtrusive players - although David Willey is a strong England Lions contender - with their qualities exemplified by Steven Crook. Buccaneering with the bat and deceptively quick with the ball, Crook has claimed 18 wickets at 13 so far this season to go with 149 runs, including two half-centuries, for twice out. Glamorous he is not - but signing of the season, he just might be.

England players:
When England players return to county cricket they are meant to perform like international players. And, this week they certainly did: James Anderson bowled with typical skill for Lancashire; Stuart Broad rediscovered his penchant for destruction with 4-6 in 17 balls in Nottinghamshire's win; Nick Compton scored a fifty and century for Somerset; and Matt Prior enlivened a turgid Oval draw with a typically peppy 62.

Then there was Joe Root: England's No 6, returning to opening the batting for Yorkshire, hit a magnificent 182 as they chased down a record target of 336 at Chester-le-Street. There was further cheer from players on the periphery - players who England will need over ten Ashes Tests. Tim Bresnan took a wicket with his first ball and looked to have become reacquainted with that elusive nip. Chris Tremlett even avoided injury on his Surrey return.

Bad Week

Worcestershire:
Something seems amiss at Worcestershire, who have suffered consecutive heavy defeats against Glamorgan and Hampshire, where they lost by an innings. They are over-reliant on a few players - Daryl Mitchell, Moeen Ali and Thilan Samaraweera with the bat; Alan Richardson and, well, Alan Richardson with the ball. In mitigation their first three games have been away from home but, as skipper Mitchell admitted after the Hampshire game, things need to change. And fast. No one could blame Moeen, whose contract expires after this season, for considering his career options.

Dig-In of the Week

Rikki Clarke and Oliver Hannon-Dolby:
For their match-saving 127-ball partnership against Somerset, Rikki Clarke and Oliver Hannon-Dolby deserve to share the Dig-In award. Clarke, who batted almost three hours, shows he is a far more adaptable batsman than the cavalier he is sometimes made out as.

Fixture of the Week

Glamorgan v Lancashire, County Championship, Division Two, Colwyn Bay, Wednesday

County cricket at its best - Jimmy Anderson and Glen Chapple bowling by the North Wales sea in the season's first outground fixture. And the game should have spice, too - after two Old Trafford draws, Lancashire need a win to establish their promotion credentials. Glamorgan are also better than widely assumed - going back to last season, they have won four of their last nine Championship fixtures.

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Posted by Nathan_a on (May 4, 2013, 11:31 GMT)

Can someone provide Philip Kotler's Marketing management book to those determining the price.The 4Ps (product, price, promotion and place) analysis will help them. Product : Live Cricket is no longer available in free to air TVs.Unless the next generation gets to watch the game, the product will be killed. So a lower price is needed to attract them and keep the product attractive. Price : Would it not be better to keep the prices such that they bring in atleast a 1000 people rather than keep the price high and attract just a 100 people ? Service is a perishable commodity and empty seats are just not acceptable. Promotion : Why not offer buy one get one free. At least you can bring in new fans to the game. Place : The grounds could be improved but sometimes I wonder why multi million pounds are being spent to increase the seats by 2000 (see the latest plan by Lords)

Posted by   on (May 1, 2013, 18:57 GMT)

Great article and spot on. I went to Old Trafford last week and was astounded as an old age pensioner to be asked for £17 on the door,but that wasn't the end of it apparently if I wanted areasonable seat somewhere neat the cricket there was apremium price of £19, for £17 all that was offerred was an uncovered seat well away from the cricket with no elevationand all this to see SECOND division cricket on a building site with drilling and hammering gong on all day.no proper catering for non-members,directed towards the overpriced Burger Van,and what;s more requiring to have my ticket scanned in and out of every stand and different parts of the ground. A total disgrace and those in authority seems oblivious there was any problem.All I spoke with were unhappy with the arrangement and agreed not for the first time Lancashire CCC had lost a grip on reality. I'll not be rushing back in a hurry.

Posted by StoneRose on (May 1, 2013, 17:26 GMT)

"Free admission is determined at the discretion of our Operations team on the day of the match. Because of this. we cannot confirm if free admission will go ahead, but, if it does, free entry usually begins after four o'clock". YCCC

Posted by   on (May 1, 2013, 10:57 GMT)

Being free over the weekend, I emailed Lancashire to find the cost of the last day (Sat) v Kent, and they replied £17.

So I didn't bother. They could have had £10 + food + drinks which would have taken them well above the £20 mark...but they got nothing.

Posted by Lancastrian on (April 30, 2013, 16:17 GMT)

I think this is an excellent article. Part of the problem is the erratic county calendar. The Yorkshire Bank 40 and T20 seem to be priorities for the counties with the County Championship a distant third. I'm a purist and my love of the three/four day game was cultivated during my schooldays. If you look, nowhere near as much County Championship cricket is played outside of term time. Lancashire have tried pricing initiatives, but only in the domestic one day competitions and famously on the last day of the 2005 Ashes Test. Much like Hampshire though, they have a healthy membership roster added to a lucrative naming rights agreement for the home ground. They are both hosting Australia in ODI's and Lancashire has a Test Match too. Neither county is currently looking at the County Championship with any importance. I think, much like Orange Wednesdays at the cinema, all counties need to look at engaging the public at a time of austerity and recession.

Posted by siltbreeze on (April 30, 2013, 12:38 GMT)

@Charlie Sayer - The reason Championship matches generally start on a Weds is that the CB40 (or whatever it's called this season) one-day matches, which attract bigger crowds, are played mostly on Sundays. Which leaves Saturday as the only weekend day available for CC, with no guarantee of the match going into a 4th day. Although this week is a classic example of confusing scheduling, with 3 matches starting on Mon, one on Tues, three on Weds and one on Thurs. Not a great way to sell the game.

Posted by thebeardedblunder on (April 30, 2013, 9:55 GMT)

Well done Northamptonshire, nobody minds paying ten pounds, surely. In fact i'll be going up on Sunday for Northants v Notts and that'll be my third day as a paying customer this season. Under 16's free too! Bargain!!!

Posted by   on (April 29, 2013, 19:09 GMT)

Surrey can afford to be cheap; a pretty much guaranteed sold-out Test each year and the members who come in to get the Test tickets give them a solid funding base. It's good to see them doing things like the school's day though. 5,000 kids in for a championship match can't be bad.

Posted by TripleCenturian on (April 29, 2013, 18:59 GMT)

I agree that a reduced price for entry after lunch and tea makes sense and allows workers and even school kids to see at least a session. Knowing I could only get to half a day but had to pay full price has often put me off. So well done Northants for a common sense policy that others should follow.

Of course if you want proper value or obey then you should become a member of the club.

Posted by TheLiltMan on (April 29, 2013, 18:45 GMT)

Your article fails to mention the 4-day pass that Lancashire had available for me to purchase at £36 for the recent Kent match. A comparable £9 a day. Whether the attritional cricket which followed was value-for-money is another subject.

Posted by   on (April 29, 2013, 16:18 GMT)

Have really enjoyed a couple of days at the Oval this year, went on the first weekend with a couple of cricket hardy mates and dragged even more along this weekend after we all got nicely sunburnt and gently drunk for only £12. You would probably pay £10 cover to see a decent pub band or comedian (in London), and this is more than comparable.

It's just a pity we couldn't roll along on the Sunday as well. I'm sure there's some eminently sensible reason, but why won't they start games on a Thursday/Friday and play the bulk over the weekend? Most people can't take the time off work, and I'm sure everyone would prefer it if the ground wasn't 90% empty.

Posted by siltbreeze on (April 29, 2013, 14:18 GMT)

Very nice article - completely agree that more imagination needs to be used. I know plenty of people who are not great cricket fans, but who, with the promise of free entry, a decent bar, a seat in the sun and a little entertainment, would really enjoy the experience. Lancashire's prices surprise me- they have to recognise the drop off in quality from Divs 1 to 2. I went to first day of Surrey v Somerset for £12 (£10 if I'd booked in advance) - with the prospect of seeing Graeme Smith, Trescothick, Petersen, Compton, Buttler, Kieswetter, Dernbach, Meaker, Davies, Solanki etc. Seemed like very good value.

Posted by emmersonne on (April 29, 2013, 13:37 GMT)

Hampshire is terrible - I was a member for 5 years, but parking is still extra, and it is £20 to upgrade guests to the member facilities! Apparently having friends is discouraged. Oh, and you can't sit THERE, that's for executive club members. Even if you pay all the blooming extra, the stewards (the Gestapo obviously weren't hiring at the time) will check your pass EVERY FIVE MINUTES. It is actually cheaper to buy a Sussex membership and go in under the reciprocal agreement the south coast counties have.

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