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Lancashire have expressed hopes that some fans will be able to attend matches this summer as they prepare for the "green light" to stage England fixtures behind closed doors at Emirates Old Trafford.
Extensive plans have been drawn up to play international cricket in 'bio-secure' conditions in recent months, with the ECB accepting that the game's reliance on broadcast revenues means there is a financial imperative to stage as much of the summer schedule as possible, even if fixtures have to be played without crowds.
But Les Platts, Lancashire's acting chairman, said the club remains optimistic of allowing some spectators into grounds later in the summer, potentially with some degree of social distancing still in place.
There is less of a financial incentive to play the T20 Blast behind closed doors compared to international cricket, as the counties make most of their money from it through gate receipts rather than broadcast revenue. And despite government advice published last week suggesting there is little prospect of large crowds being admitted to games this season, Platts said he was hopeful that that fans could yet be allowed access.
"You never know, later in the season we might be having some spectators back in again," Platts said. "It must be possible for us to devise a scheme when we've got a capacity of 23,000 to have some spectators in with appropriate protocols. I'm not guaranteeing it by any means, but we're hoping and planning that we might be able to get some of that in September."
As things stand, all professional cricket in England and Wales has been suspended until at least July 1, and all counties have made contingency plans for an entire season without cricket.
Lancashire are also in dialogue with the ECB about hosting behind-closed-doors games this summer, and have been making plans on the basis that fixtures will take place as soon as July 8. Emirates Old Trafford had been scheduled for an Australia T20I in July and the second Pakistan Test in August, but could be in line for several more games.
As one of two Test grounds with an on-site hotel with sufficient capacity to house enlarged squads and support staff - Hampshire's Ageas Bowl is the other - Old Trafford is well-placed to create a secure bubble, and the club hopes to receive confirmation next week.
The exact details of staging games behind closed doors are still to be negotiated, but Platts confirmed that Lancashire expect to receive compensation for staging costs and for hosting fixtures to aid the club's financial recovery from the crisis.
"I don't think the club and the game would expect us to be profiteering at these difficult times, but there will have to be compensation that's fair for the club," Platts said. "There will have to be cost recovery. If the hotel is being used, there would be a rate… for those using it. There will be income coming into the club that will help the club.
"One of the most important bits about that is that if we get that hotel working for behind-closed-doors cricket, it proves a model for a hotel working in a bio-secure environment that will enable the hotel to start trading in a normal commercial sense thereafter - maybe quicker than hotels elsewhere, because we've proven the model… and therefore people will have more confidence, perhaps, in booking."
Lancashire are one of two counties along with Surrey who have not furloughed any of their players, with the rationale that the club felt "uneasy about using a job retention scheme for elite sportsmen". That said, Platts admitted the government's scheme could be used if it becomes clear that it will not be possible to play any county cricket this summer, and that the decision is being reviewed on a month-by-month basis.
If Lancashire's players are able to return to training, they may have to do so away from Emirates Old Trafford due to clashes with England's use of the ground, and provisions are being put in place to use outgrounds instead.
Lancashire reported record financial returns for a first-class county this week on the back of a 2019 season that included an Ashes Test and an India-Pakistan fixture at the World Cup, and are in a stronger position to recover than most from the impact of the pandemic despite revenue from the hotel and their conference and events business dropping off a cliff in recent months.
"It has provided the platform to help us survive 2020, when otherwise we might have struggled a lot more," said Platts, who has served as the club's treasurer since 2014 and was appointed acting chairman after the passing of David Hodgkiss in March.
"It has put us in a position where we are absorbing the stresses and costs at the moment way better than we would have been able to, but the way that it's going, we still need income to start again. If we don't get cricket and the hotel and The Point going again, we're going to have to take more severe measures. The club will survive one way or another, but if things don't get going again it will be tougher.
"It's a year to take great pride in its results. It's a year that David Hodgkiss himself would be very proud of with those results. He would be very proud sitting here today. It's very sad that he can't be presenting those results to you."