The economy, sport and cricket all face colossal challenges as a result of Coronavirus. Perhaps the most acute challenge will be financial because cash has a unique capacity to affect change. Witness how lack of cash has already wiped out or fatally wounded several institutions we had come to take for granted (Debenhams, Virgin Atlantic?) and has already paralysed countless other businesses and organisations in a matter of just weeks. I believe that cash will also be a fundamental change agent in cricket in the wake of Coronavirus. The game derives the majority of its income from selling its media rights. You don’t need to be a TV mogul to work out that mainstream sports have the virus standing on their windpipes. Unless one can believe that the likes of Comcast, BT, Amazon, Facebook and others are likely to give sport a free pass the inescapable conclusion is that major sport’s media income will be adjusted commensurately with the new reality. Media monies are going to reduce sharply and no doubt the lawyers are now well engaged on the scale and timing of the reduction.
As the new normal dawns on sport so the realisation grows that we are probably going to have to play professional sport behind closed doors for an extended period. Martin Ziegler writes in the Times today that football in England may have to play behind closed doors for the whole of season 2020/21 too and we must conclude that if this does apply it’ll affect all mainstream sport. Leaving aside the negative effect this will have on the game itself - sportsmen everywhere attest to the life giving properties of a vibrant crowd: would Ben Stokes Headingley heroics have been achieved in an empty ground? - the effect of playing behind closed doors on Counties’ international and domestic income would be huge. Membership, gate and corporate income and the money spent by spectators on food and drink before, during and after the match is very significant.
To the gathering “perfect storm” a third front appears in the form that most Counties derive a significant proportion of their income from hosting events other than cricket at their grounds - even a cursory look at the annual accounts reveal just how significant conferences, banqueting, exhibitions, concerts and in the case of Gloucester a gym, are to their revenues. Another example is the pre-match entertaining of Manchester United fans being a significant underpinning of Lancashire’s costs of Old Trafford’s redevelopment.
The threefold confection above adds up to a crushing blow to the income of professional cricket and such is the effect likely to be it can’t fail to have substantial consequences. The effects of the cash crisis that’ll gradually squeeze cricket will reach far beyond the life expectancy of the Hundred which is still dominating the current discussion. Administrators cling to the notion of postponement but any rational analysis of the projected numbers - the cash - will sweep away all activities that are loss making and carry significant risk. As Vic Marks has reasoned in the Guardian the case for the Hundred being a success is a thin one even in times a plenty.
Survival will be the overriding strategic aim for cricket in England for the foreseeable future - and one suspects elsewhere too - and we must brace ourselves to what this may mean for game in general.
There are some very able people in cricket administration and they know only too well the game’s absolute priority for the foreseeable future needs to be on saving as much of International, County and women’s cricket (left stranded by the dual loss of the WSL and now the Hundred) as can be achieved in these unforgiving times. It’s time for all who love cricket to plan for the worst and hope for the best.
Portfolio Chairman, Former ECB Director & Somerset County Cricket Club Chairman, VLM 2019, Hispanophile, Adopted Calgarian, CloudSpotter.