A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b

Part 1c. Expanding the Professional Playing Base

The previous two posts dealt exclusively with the need to allow an expansion of access to the international game. The financial realities of cricket, and indeed most sport, don't support an expanded international competition. The IPL, but more importantly, the ICL point to increasing pressures to expand the club based system.

With the current system of international cricket fixture dominating the coverage and therefore sponsorship and attendances, the total number of players making a living off their games (as opposed to being subsidised by their national team) is no more than a hundred. The system scoops the cream off the top of competitive cricket, and distributes the high earnings to an even smaller set of players: the top dozen players in Australia, England, India and South Africa.

This has ramifications for total potential earnings as well. TV coverage is limited to at most a dozen days worth of cricket footage (world-wide) per week, as are attendances, limiting international cricket to each stadium to less than a dozen days per year. By contrast, each major US domestic sport, operating in markets broadly similar in total size, but with closer to 30 teams competing, has upwards of five simultaneous games per day, and closer to fifty games per week (baseball, cricket's closest equivalent averages close to one hundred). Local fans therefore, get thirty or forty days of sport per year, which makes better use of facilities, allowing stadium expansion, producing several times the revenue, albeit dispersed across more players.

The now defunct ICL recognised this potential, and as became quickly apparent, players outside the big-four test sides were extremely interested in making 5-10 times their existing income playing in a league system. That the venture subsequently failed had to do with two things: the restraint of trade (or threat thereof) imposed on those players by their home boards; and the introduction of the IPL to partly assuage the players needs.

Cricket has long been subject to these types of ventures, and a future attempt is not unlikely unless the playing base is expanded significantly, most likely to upwards of 1000 well paid professionals, in at least three leagues (or conferences in a world league). Those types of numbers mean having around 50 teams playing T20 Domestic league cricket, for a minimum of 16 weeks per year.

That type of system has a number of advantages:

  • It reduces the burden placed on international cricket to fund domestic cricket, allowing fewer and more meaningful international fixtures and competitions
  • It gives fans much greater access to the game, making better use of facilities, and building a narratives around a season that will improve local attendances.
  • It gives scope for franchise opportunities in nations with substandard cricketers, allowing game development in those nations.
  • More players at a higher level will improve the general standard, improving international competition.

The economics of team sports strongly favour close contests and locally based teams that play week-in week-out in the same stadium. Cricket has survived and prospered despite itself, but the advent of T20 means there are both good reasons for making a change, and a ground-swell of public interest in doing so. The international game will not die, and may even prosper, if the ongoing grumbles over meaningless fixtures continue to rumble. The alternative is players retiring earlier from the international circuit, and non-international players shifting loyalties to wherever the money is, which is far more likely to damage the international game, and that would be a pity.

Cricket - Manifesto 23rd November, 2009 13:27:29   [#]