New Twenty20 tournament will ‘future-proof’ cricket, says ECB’s Tom Harrison

Ali Martin
Tom Harrison says the ECB must respond to a generation that enjoys box-office occasions. Photograph: Philip Brown/Getty Images

Tom Harrison, the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, has defended the impending creation of a new Twenty20 tournament from 2020, claiming it will safeguard the future of the game and engage a generation of children that currently spends less time outside per day than prison inmates.

The ECB says it has the full support of the 18 first-class counties and MCC for a competition that will be played in addition to the existing T20 Blast and feature eight newly-created regional teams based at the biggest grounds at the height of the summer holidays. Harrison stated all 19 have now signed deeds to allow the governing body to sell the media rights on their behalf.

The tournament, as yet unnamed, still requires a change in the ECB’s articles of association to allow a domestic competition that does not feature the 18 first-class counties. This process will be triggered at a board meeting on Tuesday and then needs to be ratified by 31 of the 41 members of the ECB via a postal vote. Crucially, the tweak will apply only to this one Twenty20 competition and thus ring-fences the County Championship and 50-over competition.

Harrison said the new tournament will be used to increase participation by tapping a new family audience that is not currently being served by the existing county competitions, referencing a survey in 2016 of 2,000 parents by Persil that suggested 75% of children in the UK spend less than 60 minutes outside per day – below the UN guidelines for prison inmates.

He said: “It is very clear we are not talking to as big an audience as we should be, because our tournaments are not as relevant as they should be. We need to change our thinking on that to be relevant to a new generation that responds to big box-office occasions. We have to think differently if we’re going to be successful at attracting family audiences to our competitions.”

The counties, who are collectively £120m in debt, will be shareholders in the new tournament and will each take £1.3m per year from the broadcasting rights.

Asked why this payment was needed, Harrison replied: “We accept we’re asking them to step back and offer us their players for a month of the season. That is difficult. But what we’ve tried to say is that the deal they get out of that is increased financial sustainability, a strong future for all 18 first-class counties and a strong link to participation. It’s all about future-proofing our game.”

Monday’s presentations to the 41 ECB members – the 18 first-class counties, the 21 non-first-class boards, MCC and the Minor Counties Association – also had the England one-day captain, Eoin Morgan, sharing his experiences of playing in the Indian Premier League and Australia’s Big Bash. These are two global leagues the ECB hopes to rival with the new tournament, which is slated to begin in 2020 and will have 36 matches played in 38 days of July and August. Harrison wants at least eight games shown by a terrestrial broadcaster.

He said: “There’s a desire from free-to-air to partner with us on the new T20. They’re excited about where we’re taking the game.”

The eight teams will all receive a set budget and be made up of 15-man squads that have three overseas players – 13 selected by way of a draft and two “wildcard” picks from the NatWest T20 Blast that precedes it. There are fears the Blast will be cannibalised, along with the 50-over Royal London Cup that will be played by the counties at the same time minus, on average, five of their best players. Test matches will also be played at the same time although Harrison claims there will be no crossover.

He added: “Test cricket is our staple and is something we feel incredibly strongly about. We don’t see the audiences for Test cricket being impacted by the new T20. This is a fantastic opportunity for us to create something that appeals to an entirely new audience.”

The NatWest T20 Blast tournament, won by Northamptonshire last season, will continue but is likely to take on secondary status. Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

What is the new tournament?

A new eight-team regional Twenty20 competition for English domestic cricket that, it is hoped, will rival the Indian Premier League and Australia’s Big Bash League. For the first time it will not include the 18 first-class counties. It is due to begin in the summer of 2020 and 36 games will be played over 38 days in July and August, all televised.

Who is it for?

The England and Wales Cricket Board are looking to unlock a new family-orientated audience and tap into more of the 9.4m people who profess to be interested in cricket. The tournament feeds into the ECB’s Cricket Unleashed and All Stars Cricket campaigns that are trying to increase participation.

If they are not playing in it, what do counties get out of it?

As shareholders of the new tournament the 18 first-class counties are guaranteed £1.3m each per year for the first five years on top of their central payments from the ECB – a fair inducement given the collective debt among them is an estimated £120m. While ticketing and marketing will be done centrally, host grounds will also get a staging fee and all revenues from catering.

What does it mean for the current T20 Blast?

The T20 Blast, a growing success in recent seasons, will continue to be played by the 18 first-class counties from the end of May through to Finals Day in mid-July, four days before the start of the new tournament. While the ECB claims the two will be vastly different and they will continue to build on the Blast, it will naturally be relegated to secondary status and this could mean audiences decline.

Will it be on free-to-air television?

The ECB is yet to secure broadcast deals for the tournament but the current thinking is that there will be a free-to-air element among the packages sold for around eight of the 36 matches. By doing this there appears to be a tacit acceptance that the subscription-only model for cricket, in place since 2006, has not worked.

Who will the teams be?

The eight teams will be entirely new entities, branded along regional lines. They are expected to be based at Lord’s, The Oval, Headingley, Swalec Stadium, Old Trafford, the Ageas Bowl, Edgbaston and Trent Bridge; but additional county grounds could host games, as could the London Stadium. Each team will play four home and four away games, with the extra match being against their nearest geographical rival. The top four will go into a playoff system that sets up a final.

How will squads be selected?

The eight teams will build 15-man squads; 13 players will come from a draft system akin to that of the Caribbean Premier League, with the player pool split by six salary bands, with a maximum of three overseas players. Teams will also get two wildcard picks from the group stage of the 18-team county competition – the Blast – that precedes it. Coaches from the county game will be allowed to work in the competition subject to clearance from their employers.

What happens to England’s Test cricketers?

With Test cricket set to be played at the same time as the new tournament England players will be largely unavailable. They will, however, be allocated to the eight teams via a separate draft, used in the marketing and play when the schedule allows (or if they are dropped).

What happens to the counties while the tournament is taking place?

The draft schedule shows the domestic 50-over competition – currently the Royal London One-Day Cup – will be held at the same time, and at outgrounds for those counties hosting the Twenty20 tournament. They will be shorn of five first-team players each on average.

What needs to happen next?

For a domestic competition to be created without the 18 first-class counties the ECB’s articles of association need to be changed. Tuesday will see a change that is specific to the new T20 tournament will be triggered by the chairman, Colin Graves, at an ECB board meeting on Tuesday, after which the 41 members of the ECB – the 18 first-class counties, the 21 non-first-class boards, MCC and the Minor Counties Association – will have a postal ballot over 28 days to ratify them. The ECB needs 31 of the 41 in favour.

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