Monday, January 22, 2007

Sit and Deliver

aka - 'The Great Bat & Ball Swindle'

Here’s the ECB programme of international cricket for the upcoming summer.

Assuming you count the two 20/20 games at the Oval as ‘halves’ this means a very healthy 46 days of cricket - though whether or not Mssrs Flintoff, Pietersen and Co will feel ‘healthy’ by the end of it is a moot point…

Now for the gripes - Of those 46 days, no less than 12 are slated for Lords – that’s over 25% at one ground. With the number of international grounds in England increasing almost yearly, is this sort of concentration fair?

Going one step further, 19 out of the 46 days are in London – that’s around 40%. Admittedly, as a Londoner, it’s rather counter-intuitive for me to object to that, bearing in mind both Lords and The Oval lie within a twenty mile radius of the TRSM Towers servants entrance, but I can certainly see why ‘North-South divide’ theorists may be slightly miffed at the geographical concentration of matches in the 'Peoples Republic of Livingstone'.

After geography – let’s deal with the economics. Check out these prices for Test Match tickets. In each case I’ve quoted the cheapest seat followed by the child price in brackets: -

- Headingley 25 (15) Family area, presumably ‘dry’- next cheapest 30 (18)
- Old Trafford 30 (15)
- Durham 27.50 (10)
- Trent Bridge 35 (15)
- The Oval 40 (20)
- Lords (v W Indies) 60 (20)
- Lords (v India) 65 (20)

SIXTY FIVE POUNDS??!!!

That means that Lords is over 50% more expensive than any other ground in the country.

By way of international comparison, the tickets I bought for the MCG in December cost 40 Aussie Dollars each – in each case that was lower tier, twenty rows back from the boundary – a perfect view. At current exchange rates, that’s about 17 pounds each. Before anyone starts muttering about the MCG capacity, guys who went have told me that prices at the other four (smaller) grounds were similar.

My understanding of funding is that all Test Match profits go into the ECB pot and get divvied up around the counties – thus keeping about thirteen of them afloat for another year, but surely that ‘profit’ is after all the grounds have covered their costs for catering and other facilities – and written into that cost must surely be some element of ‘local’ profit, otherwise local caterers and other service providers at Lords wouldn’t bother bidding for the contract. So the sole reason for such astronomical ticket prices is to maximise profit – at the expense of fleecing the average cricket fan.

Yes, even an unreconstructed Socialist like me understands the idea of supply and demand, and that if people are prepared to pay a high price then why not charge it. Also, I’m not quite that much of an anti-traditionalist to accept that there is a certain magnetism about Lords on a Test Match day that everyone should get to experience at least once (plus have the opportunity to go behind the pavilion at lunchtime to marvel that in the 21st Century people still actually behave like that, and play the famous 'hunt the chin' game) but how on earth is everyone going to do that with such high prices?

Why not maximise the profits on the corporate hospitality boxes and use that profit to subsidise some cheaper seats? After all, as we’ve discussed here before, individuals don’t actually pay for those prime location seats – that costs comes out of corporate marketing budgets. Or why not directly subsidise a certain number of seats for each day down to a reasonable level. Don’t forget that once someone is in the ground they’re going to be stumping up for other things – such as food and beer – so the average take per head is much higher than the ticket price.

Quick prediction – by the time the Australians get here in 2009 the cheapest seats at the Lords Test (you know - the obligatory one we always concede at the start of each home Ashes series to get the Aussies off to an unnecessary flyer) will be 75 pounds and the standard price elsewhere will be 100. Don’t forget there’s always a slight premium on Ashes tests at Lords compared to when other teams visit, so the figures could conceivably be higher than that.

One of the four key pillars in the ECB ‘From playground to Test Arena’ statement is

“Enthusing participation and following – especially among young people”

It seems a bit pointless for a kid to be able to pay 20 quid to get in if his Dad can’t afford to get it as well.

One final note – look closely and you’ll see that Edgbaston doesn’t merit a Test Match this summer. On the 2005 Ashes DVD, Mark Nicholas compares the atmosphere at the legendary Edgbaston Test to a rock concert – in contrast to the ‘classical recital’ feeling at Lords. In such a tight game, that supportive atmosphere might just have been the reason for England’s extraordinarily tight victory. For that reason alone, Birmingham deserves a Test Match each summer.

The ECB would say that with seven test match grounds in the UK – shortly to rise to eight when Cardiff joins the list, someone has to miss out – but even my simple maths says 7 grounds into 7 tests this summer goes pretty well – but that’s before you take into account the requirements of the cricket establishment who seem to feel they have a God given right to the lions share of matches leaving the rest to pick over the bones of what’s left.

Bearing in mind all visiting sides tend to raise their game at Lords far more than the alleged home team – thus effectively negating home advantage, why not ask the England team which they’d prefer, an extra test in the ‘neutral’ confines of St John’s Wood, or one in the intimidating atmosphere of Edgbaston – I bet they’d choose the ‘rock concert’ every time.

2 comments:

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Jacko said...

This is a good and thought provoking piece. It seems to raise 2 main questions - cost of test matches, and their location.

On cost - all normal paying punters surely can't disagree. What is driving up costs is clearly demand, and other market factors such as competition. Demand has to be a good thing - although football, Sky TV and the internet have their effect on raising prices too. Football obviously sets a base-line, with the £20/playing hour now being regularly broken at the highest level. Cricket can be forgiven for looking on in envy. Sky tv coverage is seen as being a major factor in changing football pricing. Equally, the lack of live cricket on non-contract telly surely can only have a similar effect. Since the growth of the internet, tickets for just about anything have become increasingly like gold-dust. Nowadays anyone (often dodgy businesses?) can now play tout without ever having to go outside and get anywhere near the venue. Cricket, as I say, just wants it's cut in all this.

I completely agree, however, that there should be cheap seat schemes - especially for kids and their parents - with funding coming from corporate sales

On location, there is more debate. The South East has loved its cricket since the 18th century, if not before. Since then it continues to be where more and more of the nation's population live. Whilst the location of 1st class counties is no real judge of the distribution of cricket fans - nevertheless I calculate that London is the closest current test venue to 7 of the 18. Remember, London alone now contains more than a staggering 15% of England's population. Remember too, that of these 8.2 million people, not all are champagne swilling toffs intent on depriving honest northerners of a chance to see the game in some romantic geographical distortion of the class divide.

Although by my reckoning, Birmingham comes out second on proximity of 1st-class counties (5), followed by Nottingham (3), which may go some way to supporting your case for Edgbaston. The point about it being a place that may help the national side is an interesting one too. I would question whether that is our principal aim in playing host to visiting nations. Some might argue that other countries don't always take such a hospitable approach - but does anyone else really respect them for it? Visiting teams seem to want to play at Lords - we should surely be good hosts in allowing them, but equally just start using our home advantage better to improve our performances and get the results there. If more tests out of London really meant bigger stadia and larger attendances for international cricket I would not hesitate to support this - recent evidence, however, suggest the reverse.

Bring on this Summer's series, wherever they are (although I remain without any tickets for any days whatsoever).

- Jack