Updated: Dec 30, 2021
2019 was a golden summer for English Cricket. The heroics of Ben Stokes won England the World Cup by the barest of margins. Scarcely a month later he followed it up by snatching victory from the jaws of defeat with a nerve-defying, instant classic of an innings at Headingly. For the first time since 2005, it felt like Cricket was the center of the sporting universe, attracting ever more new fans.
2020 was ordained as the moment that Cricket would finally capitalize on the momentum it had too often squandered in the past. The centerpiece of the summer was due to be the latest format of limited overs Cricket, THE HUNDRED. However, as Robert Burns astutely observed more than two-hundred years ago the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
COVID-19 has caused chaos across society and in a purely sporting sense Cricket has risen to the challenge. It was the first recreational sport to return to the UK. It delivered the first post-lockdown international fixture in any sport globally, when the West Indies arrived in July. And experts and fans alike agreed the standard of Cricket was excellent, despite the lack of atmosphere usually provided by refreshed fans.
However, the quality of the bio-bubble summer cannot mask the difficulties the sport is facing, with the reality of job cuts and the potential of reduced sponsorship and broadcast deals.
Firstly, the counties were already heavily reliant on centralized ECB funding prior to COVID-19. The financial lifeblood of the game comes from lucrative international fixtures, that prop up the rest of the sport. Whilst spectators are not allowed in-ground the ECB is hemorrhaging millions in ticket sales. Not to mention the vast amount of funds, thirsty fans put into the coffers of the ECB, with an estimated 60,000 pints of beer and cider and 12,000 bottles of champagne consumed across a five-day test match at Lords.
Then there are the broadcast and sponsorship deals. With the majority of the English Cricket summer taking place in Manchester and Southampton, Emirates (Old Trafford) and Ageas (Bowl) are probably no doubt delighted with the level of exposure they have received, in the circumstances. However, on the flipside, you must wonder how Emerald are feeling about their partnership with Headingly or Kia with the Oval. Not to mention the numerous secondary level partners, who have been unable to activate all summer and who are crucial to this financial ecosystem.
In March the ECB announced a £61m package to help cricket withstand the financial impact of COVID-19. However, this month new ECB Chair Ian Watmore confirmed the national cricket network will have a guaranteed shortfall of £100m to £180m this year. This led to the difficult decision of having to cut 62 jobs.
With fresh COVID-19 restrictions already in place, ahead of what is likely to be a challenging winter, we are all bracing ourselves for more uncertainty. This summer was the first year of the ECB’s latest five-year financial cycle. If everything reverts to relative normality, then the ECB has four years to recover from the impact of COVID-19. However, if the same problems persist next summer, then Watmore admits that ‘a two-year problem to be recovered over three years is much more serious.’ Likely leading to a shrinking of the game at all levels. The knock-on effect this could have on broadcast and sponsorship revenue could leave the sport in crisis for a generation.
There are very few things I would like more than to be sat in Lords next summer, sipping a cool beverage in warm weather. I sincerely hope for both selfish reasons and for the good of the game, this becomes a reality.