One cannot doubt that there is a natural correlation, a symbiosis, between cricket and statistics. Back in the day before statistics became de rigueur in professional sports cricket was awash with all sorts of figures that could be digested and gorged upon to one’s mathematical heart was more than content. Other sports have naturally caught up but cricket’s various formats have provided a growing list of statistics that can be trotted out ad nauseum without any care for relevance or timing. This is the digital age in which the sport now exists.
And yet, some statistics in the cricket world very much remain in the analogue age. During the early years of the twenty-first century the mandarins behind the UK Top 40 music chart changed the dynamic behind how the statistics were collated. Rather than simply counting the number of physical sales each week the charts also began including internet downloads, an acknowledgement that the industry was changing and the collation of a weekly chart needed change accordingly to reflect how the public was now purchasing their music.
In contrast, county cricket still retains a rather outdated method of collecting the statistics on attendance figures. Unlike other sports, policies seem to vary and the process is rather murky. Theories abound that members are not counted in the overall attendance for a day’s play, immediately distorting a true attendance. Imagine a football club not counting its season ticket holders amongst the attendance. Perhaps such a policy is deliberate, another method of maintaining that the age old competition is not popular. Whatever the reality, county cricket, and the manner in which its attendances are now collated is as outdated as the method previously used for the UK Top 40 chart almost two decades previous. The organic method needs an upgrade in line with how supporters now enjoy the competition.
Some would proclaim that the notion is simple: count how many people are actually sat in a seat in a particular ground, although even that seems difficult in some quarters. County cricket is largely different to other major sports though. Largely played during the week in daylight hours and over a four day period as opposed to eighty or ninety minutes, one could conclude that it would be foolish and inaccurate to use the same method of collating attendance figures as sports mainly played at the weekend or during the evening and over a set period of time. Play Premier League Football matches at midday on a Wednesday over a regular period and one would question whether attendances would prove as impressive as at present.
Counties themselves have begun to recognise that supporters are not just those able to take a pew in the ground each and every day. Official live streams are now part of the landscape, Middlesex the latest county to offer the service. Many supporters may not be able to attend in person due to the unsociable hours of many county championship matches but watching part or all of a day’s play via a live stream offers an alternative, just as internet downloads offer an alternative for those purchasing music. Admittedly, the notion isn’t perfect and would require a little thought so as to arrive upon a consistent method of counting whilst the thorny issue of whether paying attendees and non-paying viewers should be counted in the same breath would need to be addressed. But, county cricket’s almost unique scheduling surely requires a unique set of data collection. The format is more popular than illustrated by those sat in the seats at the county grounds. Perhaps a different policy would illustrate just how popular.