The pandemic highlighted how important members are, it is down to them to ensure the game doesn't fall prey to financial greed
NICK HOULTCHIEF CRICKET CORRESPONDENT29 May 2021 • 10:56am
County cricket has never been more indebted to its loyal core of supporters and they should earn something in return: a voice.
The pandemic forced clubs closer than ever to its membership base, many of whom donated their annual subs to clubs saddled with debt and grateful for every penny.
At Surrey, it enabled the club to retain £2 million in a year of £1.2 million losses. It saved Lancashire around £300,000 (not a big part of £34 million income but useful) and Somerset earned £448,007 from donated subs. At a smaller club like Worcestershire it may have been the difference between staff keeping jobs or losing them."Members donated £145,000 at New Road, helping Worcestershire turn a head-above-water profit of £21,635. The story is similar across the other counties.
Furlough schemes and money from the governing body kept the lights on but if the pandemic, and the nasty football dispute over the European Super League have taught clubs anything, it is to remain close to your base, the supporters who return year after year. But few feel they have a say in the running of their counties. Many clubs now have nominations committees to choose board members, echoing what happens at ECB level. It does improve governance, with potential committee members chosen for the skills they can bring to the club from their business life, vital in an ever changing digital world.
Either by design or accident, it puts off many members from going through the interview process out of either self-doubt over whether they can impress enough or the fact it’s just too much hassle.
The County Supporters Association (CSA) is trying to rally members to stand for committees and have their say. Fans have a right to representation, especially in a year when county cricket will change forever. The Hundred introduces new teams, without county affiliation. The effect of this will be felt in years to come, by which time most franchises could be run by private investors. The fans will not be members. They will be treated more like football season ticket holders, left without a vote or any influence beyond their wallets.
The CSA is hopeful it can help at Lancashire where they have partnered with the Lancs Action Group (LAG), an organisation formed in 2013 of members who have long been dissatisfied with the running of their county. Eight years ago the club created a nominations committee which vets members who wish to stand. The LAG is campaigning to restore the right of club members to elect two from their membership to the board of directors. A member has not put themselves forward at Lancashire since the nominations committee was formed eight years ago.
“The pandemic has shown just how crucial the members are. For the most part counties are effectively owned by the membership,” says Alan Higham of the CSA. “ When the going gets tough it is the owners who have to stand up to the plate. We are just reminding the fans who pay membership that they are owners. Don’t just sit back and complain. You have a right to take an active part and put yourself forward for election to committees.”
The CSA has helped members to be voted onto committees at Surrey and on Warwickshire but it is a long road. “Is the block just general fan apathy? Or have the clubs unwittingly put a barrier by creating nominations committees? We don’t know yet,” says Higham. “People are starting to realise the franchises are going to completely change the dynamic of how cricket is owned. The ECB owns these teams, and they will prioritise the franchises giving them the best slot in the summer and the best players. The ECB will not only have control of the international summer and who gets what Test matches but also a big say of who plays for who at domestic level. Anyone can pay membership to join a county and have a vote. I don’t see the ECB offering any fan involvement in new franchises.”
Indeed. Cricket is not a sport with the punch of football. It would not have politicians jumping up and down to save it from private investors. There would not be the outpouring of anger like there was towards the ESL if domestic cricket fell prey to financial greed so for the members, if they want to have influence, it is down to them to ensure it happens.