Popularity soars for county-based T20, study suggests

Northants won the 2016 NatWest Blast at a sold-out Edgbaston Getty Images

A new report suggests the popularity of domestic T20 cricket in England rose sharply during 2016.

The YouGov SportsIndex Report 2017 places the NatWest Blast among the top 10 sporting events in terms of public perception for the first time.

The report comes as the ECB executive continue plans to launch a new T20 competition on top of the NatWest Blast in the belief that the county system will not deliver a tournament of maximum impact.

The SportsIndex report analyses the performance of overall recent public awareness and sentiment of news about leading UK and international sports competitions events by interviewing 100 people each day. Respondents are asked: "Over the past two weeks, which of the following sporting events have you heard something positive/negative about?"

It them measures the 'buzz' about each event by defining the net difference between the amount of respondents hearing positive news and those hearing negative news in the previous two weeks. Buzz may also be negative if the event has been subject to a high level of negative publicity.

The report states: "Twenty20 Cricket is English cricket's 2016 success story, with efforts to re-position and market the game as an all-round entertainment spectacle seriously paying off and contributing to its much-improved buzz score."

The 2016 Olympics was rated as the top event, with the Paralympics third and the Six Nations fourth. Wimbledon (tennis) was second with the Tour de France rated fifth. The Premier League (football) was rated sixth with the NatWest Blast in seventh position. Test cricket was ranked eighth. The NatWest Blast competition was ranked 21st in the previous year.

While the NatWest Blast was branded a "mediocre" competition by ECB chairman Colin Graves on its eve in 2016, tickets sales have grown by 63 per-cent over the last four years.

The Blast has been built on the principle of appointment to view - playing games at a predictable time, usually Friday evenings - across all 18 first-class counties, although has been abandoned for 2017 with the tournament taking place in a more condensed midsummer slot.

The envisaged new competition moves away from the long-established professional circuit and will feature games every night of the week and be based in only eight main centres.

It also comes as it emerges that the number of tickets sold for games for the 2016 competition may have reached 950,000. ECB figures exclude all sales from games which are subsequently abandoned due to bad weather and declared a figure of 815,609, down from 827,654 in 2016. There were 15 abandoned fixtures in 2016 and seven in 2015.