Wisden Cricketer / Features

August 2006

A false start

In 2004, after a 53-year absence, Warwickshire returned to Swan's Nest Lane, Stratford, next to the river and the theatre. "Precisely the sort of scheduling that can encourage newcomers to watch county cricket, confused American and Japanese tourists even

Paul Coupar

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In 2004, after a 53-year absence, Warwickshire returned to Swan's Nest Lane, Stratford, next to the river and the theatre. "Precisely the sort of scheduling that can encourage newcomers to watch county cricket, confused American and Japanese tourists even," cooed Wisden. Two years on it was over.

"People who went were impressed," says Warwickshire's cricket operations manager, Keith Cook dolefully. "It just didn't do the job financially." After a dull draw against Lancashire in 2004 the 2005 Championship match lasted only two days, Hampshire batting badly against good swing bowling. All Friday's corporate hospitality was lost, including a visit from the council delegation who were underwriting the match. They ended up with no sandwiches or champers and a bill for £30,000 - a bigger loss than the previous year.

Despite quantifiable benefits for local hotels and restaurants Cook says: "We made nothing and it tied up an enormous amount of manpower and resources." And a vociferous minority of members based near Edgbaston whinged that it wrecked their routine.

So could it have been made to work? Even with very good crowds for all four days Stratford would have come only "very close" to breaking even, says Cook. "The key is the corporate market. You have to have people buying tables in marquees. And you need to build up repeat business. It has to be established as an annual event in people's minds. But there's only so many years you can take the hit."

Still, it was surprising the county pulled out so soon, because the level of (un)profitability outgrounds need to match is not high. "It costs you money to host county cricket," says Cook. "If you can get four days [on an outground] that break even, there's something to be said for that." But, he added, of a possible return, "no sounds are being made here."

Paul Coupar is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer and will be covering the first two Tests for Cricinfo

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