County cricket in the internet age: how can it generate an income?

The first part of this article looked at how county cricket is followed in the internet age. Let’s now consider the consequences.

Pay to view

People watch football. That is the main way in which the sport is ‘consumed’. The column inches and phone-ins are also part of the way people enjoy it, but they are essentially add-ons. They can be tolerated because they serve as advertisements for the main money-making focal point, which is the match itself.

People may pay for tickets or for TV subscriptions or by watching ads during a broadcast, but in one way or another the matches generate revenue and the clubs profit. This doesn’t apply in county cricket. Put simply, there is no real reason to watch a game.

Information is free

It’s not that people aren’t interested. It’s just that there’s no real need to actually witness the events to follow the story of that season’s County Championship. If the scorecard says the batsman edged a seam bowler to the wicketkeeper, that’s as much as we really need to know. The problem for county cricket is that this information is free.

Scorecards are free, match reports are free, opinion columns are free, YouTube clips are free. All this engagement with the competition and not one penny to show for it. We can follow the entire season and enjoy it immensely without ever once attending a match. Shouldn’t the clubs be able to profit from us all somehow?

Merchandise

If people are so engaged, maybe they’ll buy stuff, eh?

Not really. Replica shirts fail because cricket isn’t tribal in the same way as football. County cricket fans follow the story as much as they follow the club and they’re also less likely to be the kinds of people who think replica shirts look good.

Advertising

The problem here is that the clubs don’t control the means by which the story is conveyed. They can’t plant sponsors’ names in match reports, forum threads and the like. They can ask that anyone publishing scorecards uses the official name of the tournament, including the sponsor’s name, but that is just a fragment of the conversation. You can’t accurately measure the level of interest in the County Championship by scorecard views alone and much else is out of their control.

Web pages and newspapers feature advertising, but they fund the publication, not the sport and there is rarely sufficient income to achieve even that.

TV rights

As has been established, people don’t really watch the County Championship, so the TV rights have reduced value. Broadcasters can add value and attract interest by repackaging the action into highlights programmes, but even then people can live without them and that’s the nub of the problem.

Any suggestions?

It seems to us that the only thing county cricket followers actually need is information and unfortunately for county cricket clubs, information is free. Arguably, the scorecards are the most valuable commodity, but the fact that they are freely available is the means by which the game draws interest in the first place.

It seems bizarre that a sporting competition could make such a dent in people’s lives and yet have such little financial value. However, that seems to be the lot of county cricket in the internet age.

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42 Appeals

  1. The sequencing of these two articles has thrown me right off. How dare you mess with our heads in this way.

    • King Cricket

      April 10, 2013 at 12:50 pm

      Yeah, maybe that was a mistake. Okay, we’ll switch them around (which will create further confusion).

    • They are good pieces though. Is your conclusion to the money problem that there is no solution?
      One way of fixing it would perhaps be filtering more money from the national team down to the counties. But then you take away funding from England, and the reason England have been so successful over the last ten years is because the ECB realised they have to put the national team first in every way.

    • King Cricket

      April 10, 2013 at 12:58 pm

      We don’t think funding from England should really be necessary, but you’re right that we don’t offer a solution. We thought we’d ask you guys instead.

    • Maybe ticket prices should increase incrementally based on your earnings.

      Someone on £15,000 a year would pay a fiver for a ticket. Anyone earning more than £100,000 a year pays £500. To offset the anger of the fat cats, they get a free novelty pencil and a radio hat at the start of every season.

    • The trouble with that Sam, is the list of people who attend County Championship matches:

      Students
      OAPs
      Actors between jobs

      On a sliding scale of ticket prices with income, the counties would in fact have to hand over a fiver with every ticket.

    • I was thinking more about international games

  2. Well surely the solution is unseemly but obvious. The ECB should set up an in-house betting company, and deny all other bookmakers in the country the rights to take bets on county matches. People still wouldn’t need to watch, only to follow the results and predict, based purely on the numbers, what would happen next.

  3. Maybe the ECB could find a multi-millionaire ponzi scheme owner to provide lots of money and fondle the players wives?

  4. Scandal alert – I’m pretty sure Gareth Berg is doing a nazi salute in this picture:

    http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/image/629115.html?page=1

    I am contacting the Daily Mail as we speak.

    • Good god you’re right! He’s even going for the Hitler moustache with his left hand. It’s a good job Toby was there to reach out and stop him.

  5. All Domestic Cricket live free on ITV 87 – 94 and the internet.

    It is pure scientific fact that men will watch any sport live on TV if it’s free. This is because they have seen every single Top Gear and World at War episode 20 times and have started to venture into dangerous areas like Living TV.

    This broadcasting lark must be cheap as chips by now and almost free online.

    A quick poll of the office indicates that 95% of males have watched an IPL game at the weekend purely because it is not Cash in the Attic. Now they know all about Max Mobile, Hero Honda, Pepsi!?, and that Steel company that (allegedly) poisoned all those villagers.

    You could watch it at work! Before you know it everyone will love it, trust me.

    • Good point. As someone on Twitter pointed out earlier, it’s hard to understand why the ECB don’t at least place a single locked-off camera at every county ground and stream the footage online.

  6. [This comment is only available to KingCricket Premium® subscribers]

  7. Maybe income from a shortened version of the game can be used to subsidise first class cricket?

    This shortened version could be more accessible and be shown on TV and maybe families could go to the games. This equals more ticket sales and advertising. The governing bodies could also reorganise the traditional teams into brands and perhaps look at selling these entities to the highest bidder.

    • King Cricket

      April 11, 2013 at 7:29 am

      We get what you’re saying, but we’re not asking how county cricket can fund itself, we’re wondering whether there shouldn’t be a way of capitalising on the interest in first-class cricket that does exist.

  8. Get rid of first class cricket. Play single innings games floodlit on evenings, and weekend afternoons. Play a game over two “days”, 4 hours per day. Split those single innings into alternating groups of two wickets and play 6 days a week, every week between April and September. Wear coloured clothing and give the teams exciting branded names.

  9. hmmm. how about exclusive merchandise signed by the internationals featuring in first class through lottery for people attending the actual matches. Or even better, online bids/auctions for the same. Also, get some kind of vote your favorite players into the team option?

  10. Short term solution but how about a county all star game twice a year. Get that televised, make money, simple.

    • King Cricket

      April 11, 2013 at 10:52 am

      There’s certainly a need for some sort of centrepiece. When a match becomes ‘an event’ people are more likely to want to tune in live.

  11. If County cricket followers dont wear replica shirts, perhaps they will wear the County’s tie.

    So what is needed is more ties?

  12. You can only capitalise on something when someone wants it.

    • King Cricket

      April 11, 2013 at 12:28 pm

      There are many people who do want the County Championship and there is a surprising level of interest in it. It’s just that the interest isn’t reflected in attendances, because that’s not how people follow the competition.

  13. Everything you say is true. You keep changing your objective though. Is it attendance, interest or cash you are after?

    Attendance is tricky: Cricket is different because it is the only sport played when you are supposed to be at work. last time I popped to lunch at Lords I had to take a half day.

    Interest (as you say) is different): As sport is about the action, following it on Cricinfo or the BBC leads to the disconnect so often echoed in these pages.

    The internet (and maybe tv?!) offers an opportunity which is not understood by the old duffers in charge. This is because it provides another method of access which captures the essence (dare I say excitement) of the competition.

    Cash follows demand. Once there is more interest, then it can be capitalised upon.

    Sorted.

    • King Cricket

      April 11, 2013 at 2:45 pm

      Cash does not follow demand where needs are met by free sources of information. This is very much our point.

      We believe there IS interest but that it doesn’t produce revenue because conventional sources of revenue – ticket sales and TV rights – don’t reflect the way people follow the County Championship (and to an extent, cricket in general).

    • On the subject of TV rights, perhaps they’d be improved if there were a different vendor. I don’t mind paying for cricket, but I do object to giving my money to Rupert Murdoch.

    • Ritesh Banglani

      April 12, 2013 at 1:49 pm

      You would be surprised to know how little money Cricinfo makes. If cash followed demand, Cricinfo would be India’s richest website (at least).

      In fact the only people who make money off cricket worldwide are BCCI and its sponsors.

  14. The product is scorecards. The problem is that the method of producing those scorecards is labour and resource intensive. Indeed, the basic process hasn’t changed since scorecards were first produced in 1890.

    A radical rethink is required. It’s time to shift into the cloud. Relying on physical cricketers and grounds is the cause of the overheads that push scorecard production into the red.

    Perfectly reasonable software simulations of cricket matches now exist (I favour Graham Gooch’s World Class Cricket, but other alternatives exist – requests for tenders can be put out and the software contract can be awarded to the lowest bidder).

    For small amounts of prize money, people can play to represent their counties (indeed, many players may be prepared for free), with the added advantage that only one player is required per county. Matches can be streamed online (a further advertising opportunity) for those that are interested, and for journalists to write match reports on, but the important thing is that scorecards can be produced for these games.

    The grounds can be sold for housing developments, providing much needed cash flow in the short term as the counties transition to this exciting new system.

    • People can get the football scores by the same methods. But they still own sky.

      The point is the expanded audience.

  15. Just to change the subject for a minute – this is Kevin Keegan speaking today about being England manager in a press conference:

    “You know you will get a couple of easy ones to start with. But you know a bouncer is coming and then a googly.”

    The horror.

  16. just had to share this with someone… this headline completely threw me at first, thanks to one utterly redundant capital letter… i literally read it thinking “hang on, some poor bastard called fuller got glassed in a cricket match and they’re being that casual about reporting it?!”

    • King Cricket

      April 12, 2013 at 7:39 am

      You’re in the right place. Poor use of upper case letters has a cost, people.

  17. Now that sponsoring the names of the competitions and grounds has been such a success, the next logical step is to sponsor the names of the players.

    “Trego bowls to Hamilton-Brown and there’s no run” = zero revenue

    “Hero Honda Trego bowls to Pepsi Hamilton-Brown and there’s no run” = £££

  18. “…and here comes Snickers Sidebottom, he runs past umpire Moonpig Mallender, bowls…and Sainsbury’s Shah is forward, driving through the covers and it’s fielded on the boundary by KFC Key.”

  19. Very good articles KC. I follow the county scorecards all day, but do also own a replica shirt or two. However I don’t think the county game will really maximise my, or anyone else’s revenue, until we have lighty up stumps. Money will follow lighty up stumps for sure.

  20. funny thing is – i used to follow the county games religiously when i was growing up in the 80s, albeit vicariously (via my dad’s grauniad)… and to a lesser extent in the early 90s… and now i try and keep up with somerset, where i grew up; but otherwise could barely tell you who plays for whom, even though far more information is available to me now than back then. i still follow international matches, especially tests, very closely – so i’m not entirely sure what happened… hmmm.

    (yes, i only clicked on the “gloucs glass Fuller” link the other night to see what the hell they were talking about)

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