Little is expected from England's cricketers in the world cup. The economics of county cricket is to blameby David Owen / March 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
The county ground, Northampton, early September. One of the world’s best bowlers, Anil Kumble, is tying the green-helmeted Worcestershire batsmen up in knots. I have paid ?2 for the privilege of watching.
The weather was lousy and only about three hours of play was possible. But it still seemed remarkable value to see Northamptonshire’s Indian leg-spinner wheel away for 17 overs. Especially when I had the run of the sodden Northampton ground. There were, I guess, 200 other spectators.
How can this be good for English cricket? How can county cricket clubs survive on the meagre proceeds that sessions such as this produce? Players’ comparatively modest wages have something to do with it-?20,000 is about the norm for a season’s work. But the answer lies mainly in the large payments all counties receive from the Test and County Cricket Board, which runs the English professional game.
Each of the 18 counties receives about an equal share of the money the TCCB earns from test matches, sponsorship, broadcasting rights and the like. For a county such as Northamptonshire-which last year received about ?600,000-these funds amount to some 50 per cent of income. “If that money did not exist, not a single county could survive,” says Stephen Coverdale, Northamptonshire’s chief executive.
The trouble with the current system is that it eliminates most financial incentive for the club to do well on the field of play. In Coverdale’s words: “Success makes relatively little difference in financial terms.”
This situation is unlikely to foster competitive cricket at county level or to help in the development of players of test match calibre. Many would argue that England’s international record over the past 20 years bears this out.
How could the system be reformed? The key is to encourage keener competition on the cricket pitch by establishing a link between the hefty TCCB susbsidy-a last bastion of Soviet-style economics-and performance.
The amount counties get should be linked to their finishing position in the county championship and performance in the domestic knockout competitions. The element of financial uncertainty that such a reform would bring in its wake-combined with the need to pay for good players-would encourage counties to concentrate on maximising income from other sources, notably sponsorship and gate money. It would not be good enough for games to unfold in front of a couple of hundred subdued spectators on a Thursday afternoon.
With any luck,…