The ECB has been forced to delay its plans to finalise the commercial terms of the new-team T20 competition after key aspects were rejected by the first-class counties.
The ECB recently circulated a framework agreement for the tournament in the hope it would be signed by now, but feedback from several counties suggested they felt the goalposts had been moved significantly since they agreed to support it. As a consequence, the ECB chairman Colin Graves, wrote to the counties on Friday to reassure them he was "very aware" of the "legitimate questions and concerns" they had raised and to inform them the ECB was "dropping the deadline" for feedback over the agreement to allow a longer period of consultation.
That means counties will be asked to tender to host the matches without an accurate idea of the costs or revenues involved.
The ECB will distribute tender documents to the counties (and the MCC) on Tuesday for the allocation of major matches from 2020. It will be followed by a presentation period in January - an opportunity for the grounds to show what they can offer - with the allocation set to be announced on February 14. There will, as ever, be significant winners and losers from the announcement with the decision over which clubs will host the new-team T20 competition and the 2023 Ashes series especially intriguing.
Central to the delay in agreeing the commercial terms of the new-team T20 competition is a divide between those clubs likely to host it and those that will not. While some of the hosting clubs feel the financial rewards are inadequate, some of the smaller venues are concerned they are too generous and will put their own clubs at a significant long term disadvantage. The current plans would see the hosting clubs receive an annual fee of 150,000 and 30 per-cent of their own gate revenues. The first-class counties have already been guaranteed 1.3m a year each for lending their support to the new competition.
Some of the hosting clubs are also uneasy that the ECB's demand for 'clean grounds' during the tournament will incur huge costs and damage their own commercial agreements. A clean ground, as defined by the ICC, means the hosting club cannot use it for games (or, potentially, conferencing purposes) or retain any of its own sponsorship agreements visible in the stadium for the entirety of the tournament. Effectively, therefore, clubs would have to move out of their own grounds for five-weeks in mid-summer. They are also concerned that the offer of 30% of gate revenues is nebulous until the ECB establishes the price of tickets. Previous comments suggest they will be priced low to attract as wide an audience as possible.
There are also concerns that new competition will not, in the short term at least, offer the increase of funding to grass roots cricket that was anticipated. While there is an appreciation that the new competition - and a partial return of free-to-air broadcast coverage - will provide the oxygen of publicity the game has long required, it was also initially suggested that 10% of the new-competition revenues would go to grassroots cricket. But the framework agreement makes clear that figure will come from "net revenues". Many (though not all) insiders do not expect the competition to make a profit in its opening years due to set-up costs, so the benefits to the grass roots game may be less tangible than originally hoped.
Managing such expectations may be a recurring theme at the ECB in the coming years. Having secured an impressive-looking broadcast deal - 1.1 billion over five years from 2020 - they have raised hopes for increased funding across the game. They are now finding the demands for that money, not least in terms of player salaries, is going to require careful negotiation and planning.
Meanwhile, the ECB hopes to finalise the composition of the board that will run the new-team T20 competition before the end of the year. The board, effectively a subcommittee of the full ECB board, will comprise two directors elected from the county game and five independent directors.