What is the EPL?
There’s going to be an English version of the IPL. We’re calling it the EPL, because we’re pretty sure that’s what it’ll be.
England already has a Twenty20 tournament of course. There are three leagues and the best teams go through to quarter finals. For some reason, if this was changed into just a league with no knock-out phase, it becomes massively appealing to sponsors. This is because you get to use the word ‘premier’ and any kind of ‘premier league’ is like an overfruiting money tree. That and the fact that a Texan billionaire’s behind the idea. That helps with the money too.
Counties, regions or franchises?
One question that remains unresolved is who will compete in an EPL. Will it be the current counties or a smaller number of franchises or city teams?
Sean Morris, chief executive of the Professional Cricketers’ Association points to the apparent success of the IPL’s franchises and says this is the way forward.
ECB chairman, Giles Clarke, points to those very same teams, only he sees them as state teams and therefore believes this backs up the county format.
No-one seems to question whether a fortnight is a sufficiently long period in which to gauge IPL success nor whether what’s successful in India might translate to the UK or not.
Too many counties for one league
Whether they go down the county or the region route, we’re sure of one thing. 18 first-class counties is too darn many to have in one league. We spend more time than most reading about cricket and we’re having trouble getting to grips with the teams in the IPL – and there are only eight of them.
If you want to get huge TV coverage and the accompanying sponsorship money, you have to appeal to more people. This means appealing to new people and you aren’t going to achieve this by giving them 18 teams to remember. People need an easy way in.
This would seem to favour the regional idea. Counties could merge and share the profits. Alternatively, the counties could be split into three leagues of six, but we have reservations about that.
Hampshire finished bottom of their Twenty20 group last year. If Hampshire were in the third of three Twenty20 leagues, then Kevin Pietersen would be in the bottom of three Twenty20 leagues and TV and advertisers wouldn’t be happy about that.
But would he be in division three? Would market forces come into play? Perhaps the more successful Twenty20 sides with their extra income could afford to sign the best players from the weaker counties. There are huge ramifications here. If Twenty20 becomes the driving force for counties, it means the richest counties are geared towards that form of the game and players will be produced accordingly. Is this good for Test cricket? Almost certainly not.
The regional concept guards against this. All counties are effectively involved in the top flight and money can be equally distributed. It should also mean a higher standard of cricket. A regional team would use only the very best players from its three contributing counties and foreign signings – who are central to this whole idea – would be spread less thinly as well.
Whichever way they choose to go, the important thing is that the counties start to pay for themselves. England’s counties are not financially self-sufficient, taking millions of pounds that come in from England games. If an EPL in any format overcomes this, the resultant savings could go on a number of things.
Least appealingly for the fans, the money could go on salaries for England players. Cricketers’ priorities seem to be following the cash, so ensuring Test players earn more than domestic Twenty20 cricketers might solidify Test cricket’s position as the number one format.
Or the money could be used to reduce ticket prices at England games or to ensure free-to-air TV coverage of the national team. William Buckland, writing in The Wisden Cricketer, said that the current situation for cricket supporters in England is leading to a game that’s becoming an expensive indulgence for the upper middle classes in London and the shires, like the opera. It would be nice if this trend could be reversed, but would the ECB willingly refuse Sky money for a greater audience?
Or the money could go to grass roots cricket. That’s never a bad idea.