English county chiefs were told on Monday the new Twenty20 tournament will help cricket compete with football to be the country’s no 1 sport as the game gears up for its most radical overhaul in generations.
Officials from the England & Wales Cricket Board, backed up by presentations from one day captain Eoin Morgan and England director Andrew Strauss, outlined their vision for the future of English cricket in a meeting with all 18 counties and the MCC.
Those at the meeting have revealed to Telegraph Sport the message was the new Twenty20 league can help cricket be the top “challenger” to football and attract a new audience to cricket. Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, said the tournament will “future proof” cricket. “It is very clear we are not currently talking to as big an audience as we should be, because our tournaments are not as relevant as they should be," he said. "We have to think differently if we're going to be successful at attracting family audiences to our competitions. We need to change our thinking on that to be relevant to a new generation that responds to big box-office occasions.”
Telegraph Sport can reveal details of the meeting included marketing experts using the comparison of BMW cars with cricket to show counties how the sport can sell its tournaments to different audiences. County chairmen were also shown a video designed to shock them into realising how cricket has failed to attract new audiences. School children were shown pictures of England cricketers. One thought Strauss was a football manager, another that Alastair Cook worked in Waitrose (who until recently were the team sponsor).
It was all designed to gain consensus on the way forward with the new Twenty20 tournament set to become a reality in 2020. On Tuesday, the ECB’s board will trigger a vote on the change to its constitution which will allow it to repeal existing conditions which state all competitions must be open to the 18 counties. A postal ballot of the ECB’s 41 members needs 31 to agree to the change. When that happens the new tournament can be sold to broadcasters. The counties won a concession over the change to the constitution which Harrison confirmed will be limited to just the new competition. It is a move that ring fences the championship and Natwest Blast from future change.
The identities of the eight new teams, where they will be based and the name of the tournament are still to be decided. The ECB has contracted Futurebrand, a marketing company that worked on the 2012 Olympics, to help with that process.
Futurebrand told the chairmen how they can differentiate between their competition with fears that the new Twenty20 will swallow the existing Natwest Blast and county championship.
The analogy with BMW was put forward. BMW was traditionally a car bought by men. To change this BMW bought Mini to appeal to female drivers and then Rolls Royce to buy into the luxury market. It is the same car company using different brands to widen its reach. The message was cricket can market its different tournaments to separate audiences to grow its support base.
Strauss told the meeting he believes the new tournament will help produce England Test players. With only eight teams, and three slots in each of the 15 man squads filled by overseas players, competition for a contract among England’s 300 professionals will be fierce. Players that miss out initially will have to perform in county cricket to try and win a contract, which will encourage them to improve, and Strauss believes, this will help them become better players.
Morgan gave a “passionate’ presentation about playing in the IPL as the ECB rolled out one of its big names. He revealed how battling with players like Jacques Kallis in a short tournament where every match matters helped his development. “We wanted to give a number of different perspectives, and it was definitely valuable to have the perspective of a player who has experienced the leading T20 competitions around the world. He’s a passionate English cricket fan,” said Harrison.
The change to the constitution should be a formality for the ECB. All 18 counties have now signed over their media rights to the board (the last agreed only at the end of last week) allowing the ECB to negotiate a rights deal for a domestic competition.
Each county will be paid a minimum of £1.3m annually for five years in return for allowing their players to play for the new teams.
A players draft will take place with the players split into six bands and teams taking turns to make their selections. The new teams will be owned by the ECB and not be franchises in the hands of external investors. They will be run on a not for profit basis.
The tournament will consist of 36 matches played over 38 days and Harrison hopes at least eight will be shown live by a free to air broadcaster. The tournament will run at the same time as Tests which will preclude the likes of Ben Stokes and Joe Root being involved although they will be allocated to teams via a separate draft.
Harrison spoke to the media between meetings with the county chairmen and the non first-class boards. He was flanked by Mike Fordham, the Twenty20 project director, poached by Harrison from his old company IMG. Fordham worked on the launch of the IPL and was involved in the last attempt to bring franchise cricket to England when IMG produced a document entitled ‘Project Victoria’ that envisaged an IPL in England and was supported by several counties. It was crushed by then
ECB chairman, Giles Clarke, who eventually became embroiled in a legal dispute with IMG. Relations with the counties have not been quite so fraught this time with opposition falling away in recent months.
“Counties have been incredibly successful having an audience that is obsessive about the game but our county brands are not cutting through so this is all about creating brands that are relevant to our target audience of families and children. We have to connect to their very busy world,” said Harrison. 'It's been a very good day and we've consolidated a lot of our thinking. It's not been a huge unveil but more of a significant update on where we've got to. This has moved us from development to the bill stage. We've had the hard conversations and reached the point where everyone is comfortable about this.”