So I’ll start of by admitting this probably isn’t the most pressing issue on everyone’s minds at this moment but I thought it would be an interesting topic and a way for people to start thinking about cricket again.
A couple of weeks ago should have been the scheduled start to the county season with the first round of Championship matches commencing on Easter Sunday. With the global game ever changing many county fans have been wondering where their format stands in relation to the razzmatazz of shorter formats.
Around the world various first class leagues are nothing more than a development tournament to produce test match players, something the ECB has said it is keen for the County Championship to avoid.
So how do you avoid that possibility becoming reality? I’m fairly certain that almost every county fan would bemoan the fact that the Championship is pushed to the fringes of the season, but in reality there isn’t an easy solution.
With the introduction of The Hundred (promise I won’t mention it again) it did give first class cricket an opportunity to be played during the peak months of the season due to the relatively few red ball players that were involved with the new tournament.
Presumably if you’re a traditional county fan the first thing you would do when addressing the Championship is scrap The Hundred, but that would still leave you with the issue of squeezing red ball matches into June, July and August. The blast and Championship can’t really be played over each other. Can you really sacrifice precious summer holiday weeks on first class cricket?
With the greatest will in the world the championship isn’t going to be show on TV more than it already is with currently one game per year broadcast on Sky. The audience just isn’t there to sustain a live broadcast on Sky for more matches despite being sufficient space in their schedules through a dedicated cricket channel.
It’s not all bad news however with the ever expanding online streaming service supplied by the counties giving the competition more coverage than it has ever had in my lifetime. The viewing figures of the streams would indicate there is a bigger fan base then the empty stands would indicate.
So how do you harness this then and create a more sustainable County Championship? Well there had been rumours for some time about the streaming service evolving into something more than it has been up to now.
Led by the ECB and some of the bigger counties the idea of having manned cameras at either end which could follow the ball into the outfield may happen at some of the bigger matches in division one. Couple this with the radio commentary and you have a fair amount of coverage available online for existing county fans, it might however not be enough to cultivate new fans in their droves.
Other ways to showcase first-class county cricket might have to come from the existing fan base rather than a mainstream media source. A good example of this is the County Cricket Matters magazine which has been recently set up by fans that exclusively deals with all things county cricket.
County fans should take it on themselves to build on what is already being done to try and sell the game in a positive way such as creating their own podcasts, YouTube channels and websites. This is the most realistic way for the championship to engage with a wider audience using various different mediums.
Whilst so far I’ve talked about issues around the game what about actually inside the ground on match days. Day/night cricket was experimented with for a few years in county cricket however as much as I am a big supporter of the concept in test match cricket I’m not sure it’s suitable for the championship.
Due to the age demographic of county fans sat in the stands for red ball matches it makes little sense to play at times that don’t suit them such as later in the evenings.
A real problem for championship cricket in terms of attracting a wider audience is the fact that most matches are played out in front of twenty thousand empty seats per day. This is a real turn off for perspective spectators and a convincing reason why I feel that most if not all red ball county cricket should be played at out grounds.
This would create a friendly warmer atmosphere compared to the frankly odd eerie one that is generated in empty international grounds.
I don’t believe the championship has to go out with a whimper over the next few decades as the sporting product of what the Championship offers is perhaps better then what you see at international level.
The uncertainty about who might be crowned champions and who will be relegated which often may only be decided on the final round of matches is something that unfortunately hasn’t been seen enough in international cricket.
So what (if anything) would you realistically change about the County Championship?
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