OPINION: Football and cricket bosses need to plan better
The revolution in telecommunications and viewing habits '” not to mention the explosion in choice for people with leisure time and money on their hands '” means sport has no choice but to adapt and expand its horizons.
But surely those ideas and plans for the future need to be well thought through before they are adopted and thrust upon the very people sport is trying to engage with and persuade to spend their ever shrinking pounds?
And those future plans are also best worked out behind closed doors — or at least debated through the proper channels within individual sports — rather than played out in newspapers and on websites. Otherwise those proposed changes become a poisoned chalice before they have had a chance to establish themselves and win over the public.
Sadly, someone has forgotten to tell both the football and cricket authorities...
Take plans for the rebranded EFL Trophy — the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy among many other guises – which has attracted much criticism already this summer.
The competition for clubs in Leagues One and Two has been thrown open to 10 academy sides from the Premier League and six from the Championship — many Premier League clubs turned down the last-minute invitation as Trophy matches are scheduled for international weeks (great planning there).
It could be the thin end of the wedge with top-flight clubs long coveting the Football League — sorry EFL — as an ideal place for them to have B teams. On the other hand, many League One and Two clubs think the change could boost traditionally very low attendances in the early rounds.
Whatever the merits of the changes, surely they should have been thought through well before now so that the organisers were not scrambling for academies to take part at the last minute after many Premier League sides rejected the chance to take part?
In fact, if the lower league clubs had known the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and the big two Manchester clubs were going to say “no thank-you”, then they would probably not have voted for the change.
Then came the sensibly regionalised draw for the new group stages — eight groups of four teams, each including one academy side.
Mansfield Town, for example, will play Derby County’s academy side, Port Vale and Doncaster Rovers. Chesterfield will meet Crewe, Accrington and Wolves Academy.
So far so good, but look at Notts County, who must play Sunderland and Hartlepool, and Cambridge, who have been drawn against Middlesbrough and Shrewsbury.
Even worse, Cheltenham face three matches against sides from the north west — Everton, Bolton and Blackpool. Madness for a supposedly regionalised tournament.
Apparently organisers had not realised there was an imbalance of southern sides in Leagues One and Two — or that some clubs had concerns about policing costs for potential local derbies. Again, issues like these should surely have been sorted out months before the trophy draw, not in the final few days?
Cricket has not got problems with the draw for its latest competition — it can’t even decide the format without discussions breaking out into open warfare through the media.
I am talking about the latest plans for England — the inventors of Twenty20 13 years ago — to try to cash in on the popular format of the game.
First the Indian Premier League and then the Big Bash in Australia have cornered the market, attracting the world’s best players and the biggest crowds.
For many reasons Twenty20 has trailed behind in this country, although this season the county-based T20 Blast has proved far more popular than before with many matches sold-out.
Quite rightly the sport’s governing body, the ECB, wants to make more of the format and has big plans for 2018 — but sadly for cricket fans, the ECB’s discussions with the counties have spilled over into acrimony in newspapers.
The ECB wants radical change, a city-based high summer competition running alongside the T20 Blast — even though cricket in this country has always been played by counties, not cities.
Unsurprisingly, the counties have an alternative plan — a two-division Twenty20 league featuring all the counties and lasting all summer.
I can see the arguments from both sides. A city-based tournament might attract new fans and interest, but would involve fewer players and so leave many out of pocket.
On the other hand, a summer-long tournament with promotion and relegation between the two divisions would add to the ever-increasing fan base for the existing counties when they play Twenty20.
What should not be happening when a welcome fresh look at the sport is being considered is for the game’s administrators and top counties to be seen by the public to be at loggerheads.
Cricket can not afford to turn off potential fans. Rather, it must continue to look at ways of attracting more people to watch the game — and that must start not only with creating a new Twenty20 competition, but by insisting that the sport is seen live and more often on free-to-air television.
Until that happens cricket will fail to attract the thousands of new supporters it craves and needs to survive in the long-term.