In truth, somebody was going to be unhappy about the announcement. Regardless of the minutiae of said announcement the major match allocation, and the venues for the new T20 competition in particular, was likely to provoke rumblings and mutterings. Such is the nature of this polarising competition. One cannot help agree with the rumblings though. The detail of the announcement was nigh on inevitable. All of which is more than disappointing. Eight test match grounds have been awarded with hosting rights for the eight thus far unnamed teams. Unsurprisingly, many others feel they have been ostracised from the top table.
Contrast such a policy with an equivalent employed during the most recent edition of the Big Bash, the T20 league often held up as the paragon of all that is good in the T20 world. The Australian league has been examined with regard to the proposed new competition in England but one ponders whether the ECB are only interested in cherry-picking the policies that can be quantifiable by a pound sign. Fans from the west-country, the north east and the south east have been left with no crumbs from the new T20 table or face a considerable journey to an alternative venue. Such scenarios could have been assuaged slightly by the adoption of a similar policy to that employed by the organisers of the Big Bash when a selection of matches were taken beyond the traditional big cities to those cricket supporters not fortunate enough to live within a short distance of the main venues.
Such a decision by the tournament organisers is particularly poignant due to the high proportion of the Australian populous that live in the five main cities. Thus, one would not have been surprised if the organisers and team owners elected to play all the matches at venues which could maximise ticket sales. One could argue that the two extra games added to the schedule for the 2017/18 season permitted the up country / out of town excursions but one would also hope that part of the decision revolved around taking the competition beyond the five major cities and spreading the love. With the English equivalent not due to start for another two years there is also time for the ECB to make changes to the number of matches and / or venues if required.
Whatever the rationale behind such a policy the stats proved encouraging. Arguably the most intriguing venture was the mammoth journey undertaken by the Adelaide Strikers and Perth Scorchers (1,500 kilometres and 2,500 kilometres respectively) to Alice Springs, a famous town located in a territory not even designated as a state. Nevertheless, the tournament still provided fans in the town a chance to see the spectacle in the flesh. On the surface the hard numbers don’t appear overly impressive, less than 4,000 watched the match, but one’s opinion is likely to change when one considers that such a number is approximately one sixth of the town’s populous. Tasmania’s Hobart Hurricanes undertook a similar upstate journey, albeit not as far, to Launceston on the north coast of the island. Such a journey doesn’t appear overly far on a map but the distance involved is in excess of 200 kilometres with nearly 2 and a half hours travel time. One fifth of the town’s population (nearly 17,000) rewarded the team’s efforts. Elsewhere 23,000 watched the Melbourne Renegades host the Sydney Sixers in Geelong whilst the Manuka Oval in Canberra was all but a sell out for the visit of the Sydney Thunder and the aforementioned Renegades.
One ponders whether a similar policy would better fulfil the mantra of “growing the game” in England (and Wales) rather than simply increasing the hegemony of the test match grounds. With over a billion pounds supposedly on the table would it really matter if a few shekels were not plundered due to selling fewer tickets at a smaller venue? Of course, the demographic spread of England and Wales is significantly more widespread than that of Australia. Hence, large sections of county supporters have been vocal about being alienated by the more parochial nature of the host venues announcement.
Perhaps the issue is not the lack of non-test match venues being used but, rather, the expressed policy of targeting a new audience. County cricket supporters may protest but there appears to be an ethos of keeping the competition separate from the county structure, the only link being the grounds themselves. Thus, descriptions of a new audience potentially indicate that those county cricket supporters disenchanted (disenfranchised perhaps?) by the lack of a team in their part of the country are not actually part of the equation. The new target audience is just that, new fans to cricket (Or specifically new fans to the night out offered by a T20 match) rather than the existing cohort. As harsh as this scenario may sound to county cricket fans, we may well find ourselves surplus to requirement. Unless the new audience fails to materialise, at which juncture the beleaguered county cricket supporter may well discover that they are being courted to fill in the gaps.