Noise from the debate over the impact of T20 franchise cricket on the sport’s future is becoming difficult to drown out. Former Indian cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar has suggested that opposition to the format and its Indian-led dynamic is tantamount to sour grapes. In a thinly disguised dig at English and Australian administrators, he pronounced that Indian administrators are better equipped to look after the interests of Indian cricket than those who are perceived to be trying to interfere with it.
At first sight, this may appear to be an overreaction and a veiled criticism of the way that cricket used to be ordered. As discussed in previous columns, professional cricket is being disrupted before our eyes. Its future landscape is beginning to shape up, with T20 franchise cricket recognized as the disrupter-in-chief. Gavaskar advises that administrators in other countries should focus on looking after their own interests. This is becoming increasingly difficult to do now that leading players are making decisions about when, where and in which format they will ply their trade. Added to this mix is the possibility that they will be able to choose to which employer — national board, regional board, franchiser — they contract their services.
There is much speculation about who and what will be the casualties of the disruption. Some argue that it will be One Day International (50 over) cricket, while others say that it spells the decline of Test match cricket.
Domestic cricket structures may well experience shake-ups. In England, for example, counties which host neither Test matches nor T20 franchises are likely to struggle, both financially and in terms of their ability to attract top players.
Cricket’s economics have been altered substantially by T20 franchises. A dominant proportion of income for national Boards in India, Australia and England used to be generated at Test matches through ticket sales, at ground sales, sponsorships and media rights. The Indian Premier League has changed that dynamic to the point where the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) no longer relies on Test match income. Nevertheless, it remains an advocate of Test match cricket and knows that other countries depend on Tests with India to generate much-needed income. This gives the BCCI significant advantage in the corridors of power in international cricket.
Despite Australia and England having their own short format franchise tournaments, it is Test matches which continue to generate a sizable proportion of their income. In England’s case, this is as much as two-thirds. On Wednesday, England and South Africa began a three-match Test series at Lords. Ticket prices range widely according to the day of play, location of seat in the ground and age of spectator, with under-16s receiving a discounted price. At the top end of the scale a seat costs £160 ($193) for the first day and £70 at the bottom end of the range. Seats with restricted views are offered in a range of £100 down to £45. Tickets for Day Four are on offer in a range of £140 to £50 and a mere £5 for Day Five.
The owner of Lords, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), was the subject of much criticism earlier in the season over an England Test match against New Zealand. This coincided with celebrations to commemorate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and public holidays to encourage people to celebrate, accordingly. It is rumored that several days before the match started that at least 16,000 tickets remained unsold, mainly priced at more than £100. The ground has an official capacity of 31,000. The MCC blamed the public holidays for the lower-than-expected demand. Observers of cricket were sure that a combination of high ticket prices and a cost-of-living crisis in the UK had caused the drop in demand. The MCC has long appeared to take the view that it has captive market for one of the great sporting events of the English summer and can price accordingly. Perhaps this view is going to be limited in future to matches against Australia and India, although it appeared to be a full house on Wednesday against South Africa, before the rain came to disperse spectators.
A day at a Test match when the weather is good and six hours cricket are played means that a ticket priced at £120 averages out at £20 per hour. Arguably, this is fair value. The price of a member’s ticket to watch Arsenal vs. Manchester City, for example, lies in a range of £69 to £99, equivalent to £46 or £66 per hour. A price of a ticket to watch a Hundred match at Lords starts at £40 for an adult, is £5 for under-16s and free for those aged under-six. One match lasts for two and a half hours. The English Cricket Board, in its reliance on its income from Test matches, is caught up in a dilemma. Fear of a decline in Test match cricket has led it to seek to spread its risk by introducing an additional income stream, the Hundred, now being played simultaneously with the Tests against South Africa.
Set against this dilemma is a clear-cut situation. On Aug. 27, in T20 format, the Asia Cup will begin in the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, with a capacity of up to 30,000 spectators, equivalent to Lords. Ticket prices start at AED 30-75 ($8-$20), rising to AED 250 depending on the match and seat type. The first batch of tickets went on sale online on Aug. 15. Those for the India vs. Pakistan match sold out within one hour.
Gavaskar’s advice is founded on some obvious trends in the game. The BCCI now generates about 70 percent of cricket’s global income. It has monetized and mobilized its massive support base. Indian franchise interests are set to add to this dominance. Although the International Cricket Council sets schedules of ever-increasing intensity for its members, India and its collaborators control the future direction of world cricket. Money, media casters and advertisers are the face of the game, with the boards in thrall.