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Cricket News & Views

Neil Carter's value soars again

THE SUCCESS of Neil Carter in becoming the Most Valuable Player of 2010 is an extraordinary turn-up at the age of 35 three years after his Warwickshire career seemed to have nose-dived.

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The MVP award, sponsored by FTI Consulting, is based on a league table of points gained from performances in all three county competitions through the season, and Carter's 80 wickets and 1,270 runs took him well clear of the field, with Yorkshire all-rounder Adil Rashid finishing second.

Carter is an awkward left-arm seamer and a clunky left-hander who can launch an innings with a biff in one-day cricket. That might have applied more in past years, as this season he scored 617 runs as a lower order bat in the LV Championship, averaging a very respectable 36.29, to add to his 51 wickets.

Yet back in 2004 the powerful Carter was unsure whether he would be offered another contract. His form returned and he rated 2005 as his best season, but within two years he seemed certain to leave Edgbaston until he was belatedly offered another year. Chief executive Colin Povey commented in August 2007: "The club are unlikely to offer Neil another contract and would not stand in the way of an approach from any other counties at this stage. Everyone wishes Neil all the best." But Warwickshire changed their minds with the departure of Mark Greatbatch as coach. By then Carter certainly felt he still had some good cricket in him and he proved that with a very productive 2008, culminating with a loan to Middlesex for the Stanford series in Antigua that October.

Move the clock on to 2010, and the player who so often seemed 'about to leave' Warwickshire was voted the Professional Cricketers Association player of the year and finished top of the MVP table, twice winning the monthly award. Born in Cape Town and raised in South Africa, he was naturalised too late to consider international cricket. Rashid finished well behind Carter in the MVP stakes, though he topped the LV Championship rankings. Alfonso Thomas, of Somerset, was the leading wicket taker with 109 across all competitions for third place overall.

Speaking on his achievement Carter said: "I won the first FTI MVP monthly award in April and felt that was a great achievement, but I never imagined that I would stay top for the rest of the season. It's a real honour to come out on top. It's a massive incentive for the players, as I think they all realise that it is a true reflection of your performances throughout the season."

The monthly awards in 2010 went to Carter (April and July), Ryan ten Doeschate (May), Chaminda Vaas (June), Marcus Trescothick (August) and Moeen Ali (September).

Posted by Charlie Randall
25/09/2010 12:31:24

Worcs swimming against the tide

JUST as Worcestershire are wondering how they can pay for their £15 million hotel and development plans at New Road their chief executive resigns and the captain stands down.

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Mark Newton ended his tenure as chief executive this week after 10 years, to be replaced by his assistant and former player David Leatherdale, and Vikram Solanki handed on the captaincy to Daryl Mitchell as a disappointing season in Division Two was drawing to a close.

After the financial disaster caused by the deep flooding in 2007, Worcestershire continued to suffer. Losses in 2009 stacked up to £118,439 after a £350,000 profit in 2008 that followed the £693,000 loss in the 'Atlantis' summer. Each year county clubs receive a pay-out of about £1.3 million from the ECB. Mediocre results on the field last year did not help the atmosphere at Worcester. At the start of 2009 the club invested heavily in a squad of 20 contracted players, including 10 with international experience at full, Lions or Under-19 level.

The chairman Martyn Price disclosed at last winter's annual meeting that for the first time cricket expenditure rose above the £2 million mark, and Championship relegation in 2009 was an unexpected blow. "We all felt the squad would be strong enough to compete in the Championship and challenge for one-day titles," he said. "Unfortunately it was not to be, and as the season progressed it was clear that a change of direction was required as some senior players chose not to extend or see through existing contracts and others were released."

Apparently players were not easy to attract for a county with no indoor training facilities on site. And the club might be regarded as a cricketing backwater -- all too literally during the flooding that ruined 2007 and affected 2008. The coach Steve Rhodes was landed with an unenviable task, though he had money to spend after a clear-out of players saved the club £491,000 in salaries, with £214,000 re-invested for 2010.

The scheme to build a 120-room Premier Inn hotel as part of a ground redevelopment met with opposition from conservation groups who complained that the bland design did not suit the environment at a ground renowned for its beauty and cathedral view. The plans were amended -- for example, one storey was wiped off -- and Worcester City Council gave the go-ahead, but the Worcester Civic Society, English Heritage, the Inland Waterways Association and the city’s advisory body on conservation areas remained doubtful. The hotel, they said, looked too "modern" and "simplistic" and out of keeping with the surroundings. The council’s own conservation officer admitted the design was "one-dimensional" and needed "more animation".

In a letter to the Worcester News , the chairman of Worcester Civic Society’s development committee, Richard Lockett, described the designs as "characterless". He wrote: "Budget constraints should not be allowed to dominate on a site where only highest-quality design is acceptable".

The city planner John Wrightson rejected the criticisms, saying that the use of "quality materials and a contemporary design" would preserve and enhance the character of the riverside. The proposed new hotel should rise above the flood plain in time for the start of the 2011 season, assuming financial deals are completed. The first phase of new building, the £2 million Graeme Hick pavilion, opened in May 2009 and has been well received.

It was a tough 10 years for Newton, and the challenge will be no easier for Leatherdale, though Rhodes' position as coach looks more secure with his former team-mate in charge.

CHARLIE SAYS: The New Road frontage, as planned, looks ordinary at best, but this area of the ground has always been less than imposing. An iconic building would presumably not fit the budget. A great shame.

Posted by Charlie Randall
13/08/2010 17:43:36

Mark Nicholas and his magic wand

THE former Hampshire captain Mark Nicholas, now better known as a television commentator, believes it would be *no shame" if some counties lost their first class status. He is a man who cares deeply about the game, but his words have been penned for the Magic Wand School of Thinking, an institution that serves no real purpose

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Writing in the July issue of The Wisden Cricketer magazine, Nicholas believes that the battle among counties for financial survival is self-serving and damaging the game's resources. "It would be no shame for some counties to relinquish their first class status. Derbyshire, Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire – to name four of six or seven – exist for no obviously justifiable reason."

Nicholas continues: "County clubs should be centres of excellence, but too many are not, employing mediocre cricketers from elsewhere. They stumble along the breadline, sustained by money from Sky. The argument made on their behalf by the chairman of the ECB, Giles Clarke, is equally self-serving."

A Nicholas blueprint would see six counties removed to leave a 12-team competition playing a season of 11 four-day Championship matches, a 50-over league/cup competition and a Twenty20 competition with semi-finals and a final.

Based on a series of radical alliances and mergers Nicholas puts forward the idea of a new Premier League structure. "Imagine nine Test-match grounds in eight major cities creating a Premiership of Durham, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham, London North and South, Southampton, Cardiff. Add three from Bristol, Brighton, Canterbury and Chelmsford and eureka, 12 – job done."

Unfortunately this is not a practicable solution, so that Nicholas's thoughts can never be anything but hot air. The words 'self-serving' implies criticism that is remarkably dismissive, and he would have been better off trying to think up something that can be done and which might work. Starting from scratch is not really an option.

The number of counties, 18, is the same ratio per head of population to cricketing states in Australia. Sport in the United Kingdom should be able to support this number, and with the advent of 20-overs cricket the ECB might well be able to reduce hand-out funding in the foreseeable future.

While it is true there are not enough players of the right calibre for a full-time professional circuit, there is no disgrace in signing up has-beens or foreigners to make up the numbers, provided this is not expensive. After all Surrey have hit lean times with few home-grown players in the first team, but no one would suggest they should become extinct.

Rather than reduce the number of counties, amalgamation with minor counties might be a more logical way forward, reducing administrative costs. Where feasible for travel, indoor schools and professional coaching staff could be shared. Gloucestershire -- goodness knows why Mark Nicholas thinks that this important county should disappear -- could amalgamate with Wiltshire and even Oxfordshire.

To some extent Middlesex have already formed a natural alliance with Hertfordshire by relocating their training base from Lord's to Radlett, which has the advantage of widening their player cachment with a logical pathway after age group cricket. Seemingly an obvious choice for the cut, Derbyshire, could join with Staffordshire, tapping into Birmingham resources. Perhaps Somerset could join up with Devon. All this would mean the ECB could create a sensible cost-effective second tier out of the existing Second XI and Minor Counties competitions. This is a more pressing problem than 'too many' professional counties.

There is a strong argument that Twenty20 cricket should be fought between amalgamations in order to utilise the major grounds more often for greater revenue. The smaller counties should gain extra revenue from this, but this is another debate.

Posted by Charlie Randall
22/06/2010 13:22:47

New ECB split format goes on trial

A NEW one-day format is to be tried out in county cricket this summer, with each side splitting a 40-over allocation into two chunks of 20, the ECB confirmed today in announcing the draw for the 2nd XI knockout competition.

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Just as significant will be a trial of pink cricket balls and white clothing. The ECB said: "This is in order to understand more about the performance of pink balls in our local conditions, along with how they combine with white clothing."

A team's innings is to be continued with no more than the normal 10 wickets in hand, the second phase picking up from the point at which the first phase ended. The ECB said there would 20 overs of powerplays, 10 of those in the first 10 overs. The other 10 powerplays would be split into two blocks of five, one taken at the fielding team’s discretion, the other at the batting team’s discretion.

Special provision has been made in the playing conditions for the reallocation of overs in interrupted matches to take account of the two-phase nature of each innings.

2nd XI 40-over Competition

Lancashire v Yorkshire or Durham, Derbyshire v Nottinghamshire, Worcestershire v Warwickshire, Glamorgan v Somnerset or Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire v Leicestershire, Surrey v Middlesex, Essex v Kent, Sussex v Hampshire.

Posted by Charlie Randall
25/03/2010 14:17:22

ECB predict cricket's apocalypse

ENGLAND'S cricket authorities have told the Government they believe that reserving the Ashes series for terrestrial television would cause a "devastating collapse in the entire fabric of cricket in England and Wales from the playground to the Test match arena". Anyone might wonder after reading those words how cricket survived before Sky Television took the monopoly in 2006.

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And there is more rubble foreseen. The ECB calculate that a "probable" £137.4 million will be wiped off their television revenues for the 2014-2017 period, a drop of 48 per cent. This, they say, would threaten the existence of "many" first class counties and cut investment in the grass-roots sector by half. Another gloomy point is that Test cricket would be ill-equipped to halt the march of Twenty20 cricket and that players could abandon the long form in droves. All the ECB need to do is to announce they would have to cut biscuits from their coffee break budget at Lord's and the horror will be complete.

Interestingly within days of ECB's projection Surrey announced record pre-tax profits of £752,000, a jump by almost a third after strong performances in the previous two years. The county said their turnover increased by £1.5 million to £25.5 million largely due to the twin successes of hosting at the Brit Oval another Ashes-winning Test match and the ICC World Twenty20. They are one of the 'haves' along with Glamorgan, newcomers to the table. Kent, one of the 'have not' counties, announced losses of more than £802,000, despite big increases in match receipts. Essex reported a loss this week of £216,000, despite increased membership and higher Twenty20 attendances.

Television has great significance as terrestrial broadcasters will pay nothing like the amounts that Sky have invested, especially as the BBC have blown their budget on Formula One, locking up well over £200 million for the rights plus a significant wedge of coverage on-cost. In fairness to the ECB, the BBC's absurd policy on sport has taken a bidder out of the market and hit the nation's No 1 summer game. As ECB chairman Giles Clarke has said, who in this country 'plays' Formula One? Cricket is the UK's second-biggest team participant game, after football.

If Sky were to reduce their investment in cricket, it is likely that jobs will be lost at the ECB and elsewhere, including coaching outreach. But while there is so little on terrestrial television, cricket will remain almost a non-sport. Rugby union realised that their sport disappeared off the nation's consciousness after Sky were given exclusive Twickenham rights and all club rugby. The same error of judgment has not been made again.

There is an irritating ploy in the ECB submission against the 'crown jewels' recommendation in the Davies Report. The ECB list all the achievements during the Sky era, including the Ashes success of 2009, strong women's performances, wider grass-roots participation and so on, and it is implied that all this will end if Sky lose their broadcasting monopoly.

So on March 19 2010 the ECB submitted their response to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's consultation document on the review of free-to-air listed events. This followed the report of the Davies advisory panel that the Ashes should be listed for free-to-air television and all other cricket removed from the B list that covers terrestrial highlights.

The ECB said that in recent weeks they had received contact from bodies across the sport, including first class counties, county boards, the Professional Cricketers Association, Minor Counties Cricket Association, Premier League clubs, representatives of women's and disabilities cricket, the Lord's Taverners, Chance to Shine, the governing body of the world game the International Cricket Council as well as other national cricket boards expressing their great concern at the impact listing might have.

The ECB summarised key parts of their submission so that everyone in the game had an "accurate understanding of the findings of the economic impact assessment". The ECB commissioned independent advisors Oliver & Ohlbaum, a sports marketing consultancy, National Economic Research Associates and the accountants Deloitte, who reviewed the impact there would be on cricket's grassroots infrastructure.

What was said to the Government

The ECB said: "The independent economic impact assessment, based on a conservative assessment, demonstrates a probable loss of £137.4 million for the 2014-2017 domestic broadcast contract. This represents a drop of 48 per cent in expected revenues from our domestic broadcast rights for the same period. These figures already take into account any expected revenue 'upside' through listing the home Ashes Test match series, most notably any additional sponsorship income, calculated to be up to £4.8 million.

"The evidence demonstrates starkly that placing the home Ashes Test match series on list A would bring about a devastating collapse in the entire fabric of cricket in England and Wales from the playground to the Test-match arena. The evidence submitted to Department for Culture, Media and Sport sets out how an impact of this magnitude would dramatically reduce investment in cricket's infrastructure leading to less successful England teams (men's, women's and disability), threaten the future of many first class counties and reduce by more than half the ECB's investment into the grassroots of the game. It would also impact on the regeneration we have seen in recent years in links between schools and clubs including those that our 1,330 focus clubs have made with 5,355 schools."

The ECB summary continued: "Cricket in England and Wales has undergone a rapid transformation during the period since the ECB has been able to obtain a true "market rate" for its broadcasting rights resulting in the following positive outcomes:

a) unprecedented progress at the recreational level of the game, with our 39 county cricket boards providing a focal point through which the amateur game can flourish in England and Wales. Externally audited figures show that the ECB spends on enthusing participation and excellence (the category which reflects investment in the women's, disabilities, age-group and recreational game) in 2009 was £19.4 million; 22 per cent of total expenditure across the recreational and professional game.

b) greater financial security for our first class counties through increased central payments, enabling them to provide both a centre of excellence for cricket in their individual region and act as a sporting, social and community hub for cricket. There has also been a transformation in facilities at all of the first class county grounds, with our major Test grounds now investing in facilities that match the very best in other sports.

c) investment into our England (men's, women's and disabilities) teams, including central contracts, sports science and coaching support and the National Cricket Centre, with resultant success including all three teams winning their respective Ashes series last year.

"The ECB has also set out how listing would reverse the progress which the ECB has made in increasing participation as a direct consequence of the extra income generated through our domestic broadcast rights. The latest Active People figures from Sport England (published this month) recorded the highest-ever figure for the number of adults now playing cricket at least once a month, an increase of 12.5 per cent on the figure recorded in 2005. Cricket ranks as the second most popular team sport after football.

"Our focus clubs represent the best indicator to measure the direct impact of investment by the ECB. Recent figures collated by the ECB and verified by independent analysts show that since 2006 the following increases have been recorded by those focus clubs:

71% in participation

26% in club membership

40% in those involved in coaching roles

18% in those involved in volunteer roles

"A specific area where the ECB has made significant progress in the development of the grassroots game is in the women's and girls' game. In 2003, there were only 93 cricket clubs with women's and girls' sections, by 2009 that figure had risen to 505.

"The submission also sets out the advice we have received from sports right experts that listing could be the determining factor in an irreversible demise of Test match cricket and lead to less coverage of county, club and women's cricket as the game faces the challenge of Twenty20 saturation or even a Packer 'mark two'.

"The ECB has been advised that there is a risk that a decision to list the home Ashes Test match series might cause pay-TV broadcasters to walk away from all or some of our broadcast rights. The ecology of the international game of cricket, already under strain as a consequence of the rise to prominence of Twenty20 cricket, and specifically the ability of governing bodies to properly ensure the continued primacy of Test match cricket could also be harmed, probably irreparably.

"The ECB has informed the Government that it is not inconceivable that the funding shortfalls created by listing would precipitate a mass exodus of players from the international game and their contracts with national cricket boards, to play instead in tournaments designed specifically to appeal to pay-TV broadcasters.

"Sky Television, in particular, has also played a key role in promoting domestic (first class county), club and women's cricket through their commitment to showcase coverage of these forms of the game and to introduce popular magazine programmes promoting cricket at all levels. These are not commitments we would expect FTA broadcasters to be willing, nor able, to match should pay-TV broadcasters decide their investment is better made in other sports or cricket products.

"In its submission the ECB has reiterated its proposed innovative and positive solution to DCMS which is to strengthen the B list thus ensuring that highlights are broadcast FTA at family friendly times (between 7.15pm and 8.00pm), and that all Tests, not just the Ashes, are on this list.

"Our approach guarantees that moments of national resonance are broadcast and has the added benefit of ensuring that Test match cricket over four years is available to the widest possible audience whilst protecting the fragile infrastructure of the sport.

"The ECB is encouraged that in recent weeks both Ben Bradshaw, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and Gerry Sutcliffe, Minister for Sport, have said that they attach great importance to assessing the impact the proposals will have on the financial strength of the game. We are confident they will review this evidence carefully and will provide them with any further information they require."

CHARLIE SAYS: My gut feeling is that the Ashes series must go terrestrial. In other words the ECB must divide up one year in four between Sky and terrestrial. Yet the ECB claim revenue would decline by £130-plus million. Figures don't mean much unless the starting point and options are made clear.

Sky offer a special deal with cricket clubs, a very good idea, but due to bundling of other programmes into the subscription Sky Sport costs more than £400 a year for most viewers.

Posted by Charlie Randall
22/03/2010 12:44:36

Glamorgan joy and Kent gloom

THE loan of "several hundred thousand pounds" by Kent chairman George Kennedy to his county club after their horrendous loss in 2009 underlined that the gap between 'haves' and 'have nots' was widening in the recession.

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This week Glamorgan, after their first season as a Test county, reported that an £822,000 profit from hosting Australia at Cardiff in 2009 had turned a loss into a healthy surplus. Their turnover rose by an incredible 71 per cent, though they were one of the counties who suffered from dwindling interest in the Twenty20 Cup.

The Kent Messenger newspaper disclosed that Kennedy decided to step in to ease the burden of bank charges afer Kent's  second successive loss, this time more than £800,000. "I hope that members and supporters see this as a sign of my absolute commitment to ensure the future success of the club," he said. The deficit was worsened by losses of £190,000 on two summer pop concerts at Canterbury  -- "a major blow" -- £150,000 paid out in staff settlements and £140,000 from earlier years, including bad debts and VAT payments.

Kennedy, in his second year as chairman, said: "The three are non-recurring debts and are unlikely to happen again, so would bring the loss down to around £300,000, which is half the previous year. So from a trading position going forward, I am actually quite bullish, and feel we are in reasonable shape."

Glamorgan reported a surplus of £338,000, the third consecutive year they had managed to stay in the black. But they would have lost money without the Ashes party in town for the first Test, and the turnover £11.6 million was four times greater than 2007, as a measure of how far the Sophia Gardens redevelopment had taken the county.

Alan Hamer, the chief executive, said: "The financial importance of staging an Ashes Test match, can be clearly seen. Despite the recession, we are delighted to have been able to report a record operating profit. We have every reason to look forward to the future with confidence. We are now an established Test match venue and have been awarded international matches through until 2016."

Nevertheless hospitality sales were badly affected by the recession, with take-up for the Test match much lower than expected. County match-day income was disappointing, especially from low attendances for Twenty20 Cup matches. That seemed to underline that cricket lovers limited their spending after the historic first Welsh Test match.

Posted by Charlie Randall
11/03/2010 11:09:17

Sad Kent 'rocked' good and proper

KENT have disclosed that they lost £190,000 in staging two pop concerts at their St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury during the 2009 summer, shocking news for a county already under financial stress.

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Kent learnt the hard way that involving themselves in rock music was not an automatic cash tap. The medicine would have tasted even more bitter for the club staff with the realisation that receipts from cricket matches rose impressively by almost £150,000 after a marketing push.

The income and expenditure account showed a post-tax deficit of £802,452 for the year ended Oct 31, a bigger loss than the £691,722 in 2008. Simon Philip, the county treasurer, described the figures as "very disappointing", with the results dragged down by the concert losses and delays in the club’s recession-wrecked hotel redevelopment scheme. "The most difficult trading conditions for generations wreaked havoc on our finances," he said.

Philip made little comment about the losses from two concerts on two consecutive June days headed by Sugababes and then James Morrison, a venture that was considered controversial with a much lower chance of success than the lucrative rock concerts at Old Trafford in the metropolis of Manchester.

The choice of Sugababes was curious in that their appeal was more to young teenagers than to the broad spectrum of rock lovers likely to venture on to the outfield at night-time. This female trio, lightweight in music terms despite chart success, attracted a crowd of only about 5,000 when a break-even figure would have been something like 10,000, a level which even Morrison's appearance failed to achieve. A concert by Elton John at the ground in 2006, attended by 20,000, made a £49,000 profit for Kent, but here was a megastar almost guaranteed to attract an audience, weather permitting.

Take That performed for five nights at Old Trafford in 2009, attracting 250,000 fans at a substantial undisclosed profit. Three concerts by Robbie Williams raised about £150,000 for Lancashire in 2001. In past years Bruce Springsteen, Oasis, David Bowie, Morrissey, Foo Fighters, REM and Radiohead and the Arctic Monkeys have performed, and in 2010 the Test ground is due to host Green Day on June 16 and Muse on Sept 4. As tickets will cost more than £40, the events are big business. The little provincial town of Canterbury is poorly placed to emulate this.

Kent billed their events as "prestige concerts". Sugababes were supported by DJ Ironik and the 16-year-old singer/songwriter Alex Root, from Bromley, while Vagabond and folk-pop singer Lisa Mitchell appeared on Morrison's bill. During the build-up to the week Kent’s director of operations Jon Fordham said the club wanted to make their venture into a big success. ‘We have worked hard to create the perfect evening for both Friday and Saturday," he said. "We have attracted some fantastic acts and I genuinely feel that the people who come along will get value for money." Unfortunately for county finances, even with tickets priced at about £24, not enough people wanted to give the evenings a try-out.

The treasurer's report said the overall revenues grew by almost £500,000 or 11 per cent, although this figure is inflated by the inclusion of the concert receipts before adjustment for the high costs. Match receipts rose by nearly 28 per cent mainly due to the home Twenty20 Cup quarter-final, the England Lions game with Australia, much better weather than in 2008 and an energetic effort by the marketing department. The ECB central distribution increased by just over 20 per cent.

Philip said: "Receipts from the concerts conceal a significant drop in commercial income, which derived from the reduction that businesses made in non-essential spending, such as corporate hospitality and marketing, during the worst recession for decades. Our commercial income was down by over £235,000 or 28.3 per cent - a huge blow, mitigated by switching the focus of the marketing team to maximising attendances."

He continued: "The two concerts incurred losses of over £190,000, which was an acute disappointment, given that our budget was predicated on very significant returns. This led to budgeted costs being set at too high a level. We also increased the marketing expenditure, only for the recession to bite subsequently. Marketing expenses are inflated by the costs of staging and promoting the concerts.

"Additional costs relating to redundancies and staff settlement amounted to £150,000. In addition, a number of items have been identified, amounting to £140,000 and relating to earlier years, which we have to accept are now payable or irrecoverable. These include bad debts and certain VAT payments.

"On the asset side, we commissioned Strutt & Parker to revalue our freehold land, which previously stood in the accounts at only £6,621. The new valuation ensures that we have a balance sheet that more accurately represents our true financial position and will strengthen our ability to raise funds.

"Lessons clearly need to be learned from the sorry tale of the past few years. Firstly our budgetary and management accounting processes have been overhauled and we now have a far higher level of insight into the performance of the business and where we are spending our money. Further cost savings have been identified and considerable management focus, across all aspects of the business, is being given to ensuring that every pound spent secures the maximum possible value. We are also able now to identify, much more quickly, areas of the business where sub optimum performance is occurring and take corrective action.

"When constructing the budget for 2010, the committee and our executives faced a very difficult balancing act. Cricket management has painstakingly built a team to be proud of, which is highly competitive every time it takes the field. The easiest way to cut our losses would be to dismantle the team and replace our much valued, high performing players with cheaper, less talented alternatives. This is a route that nobody wished to entertain."

Philip concluded: "Given the horrible economic conditions of the past 12 months, never have we been so grateful to those sponsors who stuck with us, when budgets were being cut and priorities reordered. Particular thanks should go to our main sponsor, Shepherd Neame, but every sponsor at whatever level should be recognised. We are also very excited about our new partnership with Canterbury City Council, whose faith in the Club and the redevelopment is reflected in their proposed loan of £4 million. We will be working closely together over the coming years and we are much stronger for their support."

The AGM at the St Lawrence Ground on March 29 promises to be stormy. Kent's sad financial story will be running for a few seasons yet.

Posted by Charlie Randall
08/03/2010 18:58:32

Obstructive ECB came under fire

THE 'crown jewels' debate seemed to head against the terrestrial lobby in February, and pressure has grown to keep Test cricket off the A list of events reserved for terrestrial television in the public interest. But the pro-listing MCC have already questioned the ECB's gung-ho attitude to this issue, an insight into their strained relationship.

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At a presentation in July 2009 to the panel chaired by David Davies the MCC, always independent of ECB central funding, showed more than a hint of hostility to cricket's governing body in the submission by chief executive Keith Bradshaw and lawyer Peter Leaver.

The MCC reckoned greater flexibility was required by the ECB in reaching broadcasting deals and more research was needed before forming policy. And surprisingly the MCC, self-funding owners of Lord's, disclosed they were prevented by the ECB from holding their own money-making matches. For example, no profit was allowed from the twenty20 match between Middlesex and the 2009 IPL champions Rajasthan Royals, which attracted a 22,000 crowd.

The MCC said to the Davies panel: "The match was broadcast live to India and accidentally so here in the UK because the ECB had not read the paperwork. Such matches are for the good of the game, but generally the ECB’s approach under the Staging Agreement is to make things as hard as possible. Games must be for charity and use ECB approved broadcasters."

Not enough research, the MCC implied, had been done by the ECB into the advantages or otherwise of terrestrial coverage and the effect on youth cricketers. "To understand which business model works best for cricket one would need to undertake a comparative study of Australia – with free-to-air cricket -- and coaching schemes and of England – with no free-to-air cricket -- and coaching."

Other points made by the MCC for the Davies Report included concerns that satellite television was too expensive and that cricket awareness was being damaged.

>Access to Test match cricket on free-to-air television greatly exercised MCC members, who were particularly worried that people – and young people in particular – were missing out because they could not, as opposed to would not, pay for premium sports channels.

>MCC concerns had been confirmed by an e-mail exchange with a cricket coaching school. Because of the way in which cricket is played in schools, youngsters coming to coaching schemes didn’t know that two batsmen played were at the wicket at the same time because they had never seen a real game of cricket.

>The MCC had therefore set up a Working Party to look at the issue. As a result the MCC discussed with the ECB a number of possibilities that would have increased the 27 packages on offer to broadcasters to incorporate a degree of free-to-air coverage of Test match, one-day and T20 cricket. But the ECB still proceeded on the basis of the same 27 packages in selling the rights last time round.

>The MCC stressed it had no animus against Sky, which had done a great job in broadcasting cricket. Its concern was the ECB’s broadcast rights policy and the question of access, and its view was that the ECB had not achieved the right balance between exposure and commercial exploitation.

>The MCC also had concerns about the impact of the way in which the ECB spends its commercial revenue. The MCC, which does not have a county cricket team, does not share in the broadcasting revenues. It therefore has to cover the costs of Lords Test matches from earned income. This means that ticket prices rise and fewer people see cricket either at Lord's itself or on TV.

>The Home Ashes series is always an event of national resonance. Series against South Africa, India and Pakistan are important, but do not have that iconic status.

>The MCC believed that terrestrial broadcasters would still be interested if the price was right, especially as there was a greater number of channels that overcame traditional scheduling difficulties.

>The MCC did not dispute the ECB’s participation figures, but did not think that the growth was down to the ECB alone. The MCC and others did an awful lot to increase children’s participation.

>Highlights appeared not to be an adequate substitute for live coverage. They worked for football, but not for cricket.

>Overall the MCC’s key message was that greater flexibility was needed when the ECB put together broadcast rights packages so that some cricket remained available on free-to-air television.


Channel 4 representatives declared themselves in favour of the 'crown jewels' and made the point that it was for the longer-term interest of sport and and was good for viewers too. They broadcast Test cricket for four years to the end of 2005, the renowned Ashes series, but ended their association because the experience had not been financially viable and they could not match Sky on price..

They said: "Securing the rights to England’s home Test matches had been a piece of pure counter-intuitive C4 opportunism. It had never been a commercially driven decision, but it livened up summer schedules.

And in the case of series involving the West Indies, India and Pakistan, C4 would also mesh with a wider multi-cultural offering, which served its wider public service broadcasting remit and brought in new audiences. The juxtaposition of cricket and Big Brother had also been commercially very valuable to C4.

Channel 4 added: "C4 was glad to have done it, and tried to share the 2006-09 rights with Sky, but the ECB went with Sky. C4 did not bid for the current rights. There was no doubt however that cricket was now much less in the public consciousness. C4 felt a little let down by the ECB as it did a lot for cricket. They were not precious about that, but the ECB went for the money because of the need to support a financially ailing county cricket structure.

"Digital switchover might increase the number of qualifying free-to-air channels theoretically able to bid for listed events but they would be small and have small budgets. The greater value was probably in having the additional scope to schedule live events away from the main channels for example, on BBC3 and BBC4."

Posted by Charlie Randall
25/02/2010 14:34:59

Roger Mosey, the BBC cricket villain

A LETTER warning of dire consequences of ending the Sky monpoly of cricket has been circulated to Essex members as part of the general drive by the ECB to stop Test matches being added to the list of broadcasting 'crown jewels'.

======STOP SUMMARY=====

The debate on forcing certain sports events such as The Ashes to be shown on terrestrial television is due to be wound up in March this year. If Test cricket were to be listed, the income from Sky for exclusivity -- about £300 million for four years from 2010 -- will be reduced. Sports governing bodies such as the ECB have to balance income with increased exposure, and it is a tricky task.

The ECB, claiming poverty for several years, have conspicuously failed to achieve a television balance since the first Sky deal in 2006 and have spread a sob story over the media like a thick coating of strawberry jam. Ball sports such as tennis, golf and even rugby union and football know that the BBC offers greater value than can be measured in cash terms. But the real villains are the BBC and their disgraceful attitude to the national summer sport.

Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, said that the BBC again refused to bid for last year's renewal and claimed that there was no feasible way of dividing coverage between terrestrial and satellite. The BBC clearly felt their public service remit did not extend to cricket, having spent a rumoured £200 million on five Formula One seasons from 2009. The public purse is saddled with this deal until 2013.

But the BBC wheel deal is a horror story. That contract money, about £50 million more than paid by ITV for the previous five years, was agreed without any competition from another broadcaster. Without competition... the scenario that is supposed to drag prices lower not higher. And add to those millions the astronomical cost of covering Grand Prix races around the world, and one can see why Roger Mosey has much to answer for. It becomes clear why the BBC have never confirmed their price and why Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One rights holder, was "delighted" with the deal.

Mosey, an Oxford University graduate and Yorkshireman, is BBC director of sport -- soon to take charge of 2012 London Olympics coverage -- and has no real sporting background. No doubt a capable administrator and pleasant person, he has made a massive misjudgment with his spending.

Mosey does not seem to know that thousands and thousands of people play cricket in the fresh air during summer months, and millions are interested in this traditional game -- yes, even 'cool' people. So it is hard to fathom why Formula One, a very expensive international sport with only a handful of driving participants -- even allowing for two successive British champions -- is regarded as public service material often transmitted at strange times of the day from overseas.

Certainly Formula One has mass fascination, the right word. Genuine fans are far less numerous, and the viewing figures for motor racing are far from beguiling. The Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in March 2009 attracted a peak 3.7 million breakfast-time viewers at the closing stages. Those figures were very similar to the Boat Race on a Saturday tea-time, a much less costly British sporting event even if many of the student oarsmen were foreigners... Naturally the morning transmission time explains the low Melbourne figure, accentuating the poor value for BBC expenditure.

It is not only cricket lovers who must pay exhorbitant 'bundled' Sky charges to watch their sport or not at all. In football the BBC declined to spend a small sum on the rights for Scotland's European Championship qualifying campaign, which culminated in 2008 with an important match against Italy.

The ECB are trying to make out that a reduction in Sky money will have a catastrophic effect on the game, and they will make sure that the recreational game suffers most, if past history is a guide.

The Essex letter said: "Counties play a vital part in the continued success of cricket in England and Wales, and any financial pressures on this vital pillar in the national summer game would almost certainly lead to a terminal decline in standards and possible decay of cricket in England."

Note the word 'terminal'. Less satellite income might be read to mean the end of cricket, though this is only a "possible" outcome.

Essex continued: "We pride ourselves on our community engagement. We support our thriving sister organisation, the Essex County Cricket Board which is charged with the recreational and developmental aspects of cricket in the county. Our disability cricket programme has been nationally recognised and a robust plan to further develop women's and girls cricket is well advanced, and in partnership with Essex County Council and the DCSF we have a well established Playing for Success Learning Centre on site which provides a vital educational service to local schools and colleges." Threat: The disabled, schools, underprivileged and youths will bear the brunt. The emotional card.

"At Essex we installed floodlights at the Ford County Ground in 2003 - only the second permanent installation at that time. But any future investment is threatened by the recommendations of the flawed findings of the David Davies Advisory Panel report into Free to Air Listed Events." Threat: Future upgrading might be put on hold... or might not.

"The recommendation that live coverage of the Ashes home Test series is protected for free to air broadcasters is not a scenario that anyone wanted - not cricket, nor any of the terrestrial broadcasters. Yet it has become a recommendation, made without consideration to the financial implications, which could damage cricket's delicate eco-system." That is not true. There are many people who would like Ashes to be reserved for terrestrial.

"Without the income levels we receive from ECB then the county staffs, the county investment and in some cases the county existence would be put at risk. There has been much nonsense written about county cricket wages. The average for a county player in the domestic game is less than £47,000 a year - the sort of wage a player would be paid per week at some Premiership soccer clubs. The amount of income spent on players' wages is around 27 per cent which again is not comparable with other sports. The counties are also 18 centres of excellence which offer cricketers the chance to better their careers." The mention of Premier League football is a reminder that football matches are spread around through satellite and terrestrial.

"The potential damage of listing the home Ashes Test series is incredibly serious for the health of our sport. Initial indications by independent rights consultants have suggested a reduction in ECB income of at least £100 million over a four-year period." This can only be a ballpark figure, independent or not, but there will be financial damage. It underlines the failure of the BBC under Roger Mosey.

Posted by Charlie Randall
25/02/2010 13:27:43

ECB push away the armchair

THE points system in the LV County Championship has been revised for 2010 and the use of the heavy roller after the start of a game has been banned. Increasing the value of a win is a welcome step not just because brighter play will be encouraged. More robust pitches should help the England selectors identify the best batsmen with greater certainty.

======STOP SUMMARY=====

Too many easy armchair runs have been scored on moribund strips for too long in recent seasons. Flat pitches have meant that the best bowlers rise to the top, with England benefiting, but the batting is weak in comparison to the major nations, most notably Australia. A return to uncovered pitches must be out of the question as nobody gains from a selection point of view. The reduction in heavy rolling should be a good compromise.

The ECB announced today that 16 points would be awarded for a win, rather than 14, and three points for a draw, rather than four.

Bonus points are to remain unchanged, with a maximum of five batting points and three bowling points available during each side's first innings. The threshold for achieving them has been reduced to 110 overs from the 120 overs allowed before. In the early era of the four-day championship, which started in 1993, a draw and defeat were both worth nil points until it was recognised that this defied sporting logic when the level of intensity needed maintaining as long as possible.

The ECB said that the changes had been approved in an effort to "encourage and incentivise positive cricket throughout the season" as well as promoting good cricket pitches. The England selection advantages were not mentioned, but that would be a key to the decision.

Spectators at county games are likely to see more varied cricket.

LV Championship

Maximum points victory: 24pts (22pts in 2009)

Maximum points draw: 11pts (12pts)

Posted by Charlie Randall
11/12/2009 14:15:33
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