World T20 won't repeat mistakes of World Cup
Steve Elworthy, the ICC's tournament director, believes that the allure of international competition will enable the forthcoming World Twenty20 to rise above the fears of overkill that are currently circulating in English cricket, but warned that the ECB will have missed a trick if they fail to use the three-week event to attract a new audience to the game.
Speaking to Cricinfo on the eve of the tournament, Elworthy admitted that the game's administrators had learnt their lessons from the disastrous Caribbean World Cup in 2007, and were also mindful of overloading the calendar with too many marquee events. But regardless of the hype and glamour of the recently completed Indian Premier League, he insisted that tickets for the World Twenty20 were proving extremely popular in what he described as a "unique summer" for the ECB.
"The key point with any product is the exclusivity," said Elworthy. "You want people walking away at the end of a match wanting more, you want them to say: 'I can't wait for next season because I can't wait for the next Twenty20 competition'.
"[It's true that] there've been a couple of very big competitions in a fairly short space of time, but it'll settle down. It is a massive summer of cricket for the ECB, but it's a unique summer. It doesn't happen very often to get the Ashes and a world event in the same year and hosted by the same board."
Elworthy was appointed to his role by the ECB back in January, having successfully overseen the inaugural World Twenty20 in September 2007 in his native South Africa. That tournament was won in a thrilling final by India, who chose to return to the country to stage last month's IPL, when the competition was forced overseas by the unstable political climate in the subcontinent.
"The IPL is a fantastic domestic product and its success is widely recognised," said Elworthy. "But this is nation versus nation, and everything we are doing goes back to that pride of pulling on your shirt and representing your country. What's the hook when you're watching the match? It's the fact that you want your country to do well."
According to Elworthy, the ICC is still heeding the lessons learnt at the 2007 World Cup, which featured 47 matches in 51 days, unrealistic ticket prices and some grindingly dull cricket between ill-matched teams. The original World Twenty20 took place just six months on from that event, and was an unqualified success thanks largely to a rock-bottom pricing policy that opened the gates to a whole new audience.
"Twenty20 is deemed a development product," said Elworthy. "It is for attracting new markets and new spectators and fans, who will hopefully go on to play cricket and participate. You've got to be able to get to the youth market, because what you're trying to achieve is dictated to you by your ticket price."
Tickets for the 2007 event ranged from the equivalent of £1.50 for the opening rounds to a top-tier cost of £11 for the final, and even allowing for a stronger UK economy and the knowledge of the event's popularity, those prices are considerably lower than the ones on offer in 2009. This time around, adult tickets will range from £20 at Trent Bridge to £90 at Lord's, even though Under-16s will be able to watch the final for as little as a tenner.
"You can't have an elite ticket price and expect it to be attended by loads of families and kids," said Elworthy. "The structure of our ticket prices there was one of the key successes [of the 2007 tournament]."
While South Africa proved to be an outstanding venue for both the World Twenty20 and the IPL, England has a less auspicious track record when it comes to global cricket events. The last major tournament to be staged in the country was the 1999 World Cup, which was memorable for a fizzer of an opening ceremony and a poor showing from the host nation, who were ejected from the competition in the opening round.
Elworthy, however, is adamant that cricket fans in England will flock to the event, even though the Ashes remain the dominant attraction of the summer. "Twenty20 in this country is extremely popular," he said. "Our first set of ticket allocations went out just under a year ago, and over 100,000 tickets were sold out in 48 hours. There are still tickets available, but we expect 95-98% capacity at the key double-headers, and we are well on target in terms of our goals of over 80% attendance across the entire tournament."
"All the venues have been supportive," he added. "Our ticketing strategy didn't want to alienate the current markets and clientele that the venues have, but we wanted to reach new audiences and get new faces to the ground. All the dug-outs and DJ boxes and dance podiums, those have become part of the Twenty20 brand, and they'll be delivered at all these venues."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo