Ben Stokes urges pricing rethink as Lord's prepares for empty seats in first Test

MCC defend "premium" prices despite slow ticket sales

Andrew Miller and Matt Roller
MCC members queue outside Lord's, 1st LV= Insurance Test, England vs New Zealand, 1st day, Lord's, June 2, 2021

MCC members queue outside Lord's  •  AFP/Getty Images

Ben Stokes, England's new Test captain, has warned that the sport may need to take a serious look at the cost of tickets, as this week's Lord's Test against New Zealand prepares to get underway with a significant number of seats still available for the first four days of the match.
With 24 hours to go until the start of the first Test of the summer against the reigning World Test Champions, some 16,000 tickets are still unsold, including 9,000 for Sunday's fourth day's play. Of those, the majority are priced in excess of £100, leading Stokes - in his first pre-match press conference as full-time captain - to lend his weight to the spectators' cause.
"The ticket prices is something that I think is going to have to be looked at properly," Stokes said. "What is cricket without its fans? What is sport without its fans?
"We want to be attracting people to come and watch us because of the cricket that we play and how successful we are. But I guess you have to look at how much it's going to cost someone to get into the ground.
"One thing that we have always received as an England cricket team is amazing support. Obviously the Barmy Army are well renowned but even those who don't associate themselves with any supporters group are just fantastic. I don't set the prices, but I think it does need to be looked at."
There are extenuating circumstances for this particular fixture, which takes place across the Queen's Platinum Jubilee weekend, meaning both Thursday and Friday are national holidays. The UK is also experiencing a cost-of-living crisis, with inflation rates at their highest in 40 years, leaving household budgets stretched.
However, despite the fact that most schools are on their half-term break, meaning that this Test could be an opportunity for children to attend during the weekdays, the only concessions available are in the cheapest price brackets, meaning that some Under-16 tickets are on sale for as much as £160 on the first three days of the Test.
On Wednesday, MCC defended setting such "premium" ticket prices for the first of their two Tests this summer - with South Africa also due to play at Lord's in August.
"MCC has undertaken significant reorganisation of its ticket pricing for international matches in recent years, recognising the exceptional demand for tickets that Test matches at Lord's are expected to generate," the club told ESPNcricinfo in a statement.
"With the Queen's Platinum Jubilee double bank holiday weekend also taking place, we have seen a reduction in our usual expected attendance numbers. However, sales remain strong for the opening two days of the match and across our other international fixtures this year, with our India ODI being sold out.
"Whilst we recognise that the top price tickets available are at a premium price, we believe that across the whole ground, this represents good value to watch top-class international cricket at one of the world's most iconic sporting venues, with many pricing points available."
Stuart Broad, who has been confirmed in England's playing XI, agreed with Stokes' stated aim to play the sort of cricket that persuades fans to come back through the turnstiles.
"From the outside, when you see Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes' mindset come together, it's pretty exciting," he said. "To attract the fans, we have to build on that style of cricket and have a style that people want to watch.
"Trent Bridge [the venue for the second Test] has sold out for the first three days, so there is still that support for the team. From the players' point of view, we have to make that commitment that we want to be exciting and draw people through the gates.
"I suppose it's comparative with Twickenham, Wembley - there's a market value," Broad added. "There's a lot going on this weekend [so it's] a strange one to judge: the Queen's Jubilee, a bank holiday - there's a lot of competition for entertainment in London. I'm sure the prices will have to adjust to the cost of living and if stadiums get emptier, people will have to adjust."
McCullum said at his unveiling as England's new Test coach last week that Test cricket would be "in trouble" if his side were not among the top sides in the world "because of the support that the people of England and the UK have" for the format. "No one else really has the same affection and has the ability to make the game sustainable," he added.
Michael Vaughan, the former England captain, told the Telegraph that the ECB should consider reviewing the allocation of two Tests per summer to Lord's. "You can't keep saying, 'we are Lord's, we need two Test matches a year' and then charge over £150 in the holidays, during the jubilee and during a cost-of-living crisis," he said.
"It's scandalous that Lord's thinks it can get away with a ticket price for one day of Test cricket that is the same as what you would charge for a season ticket for the Hundred. We have all these administrators telling us Test cricket is the pinnacle and then they do this."

Andrew Miller is ESPNcricinfo's UK editor. Matt Roller is an assistant editor.