WHERE have all the fans gone? That is the question after a fortnight or so in which the stayaways have been notable by their absence at Headingley.
First, there was the Test match between England and Sri Lanka, watched by an aggregate of 37,500 across the five days. Then there were Yorkshire’s T20 games against Leicestershire (attendance 3,715) and Durham (attendance 5,071), both of which were blessed with good weather.
The problem is clearly concerning. Some £24m in debt, and with the long-term future of international cricket at Headingley up in the air in the face of increasing competition, Yorkshire can ill-afford such paltry numbers. Throw in the loss of their showpiece T20 match against Lancashire due to bad weather, when they were practically guaranteed a 16,200 sell-out and could have sold another 5,000, and it has been a poor few days for the club.
Each of those 16,200 ticket-holders is now entitled to a free day’s play at Headingley this year or at the corresponding T20 match against Lancashire next summer.
It is poor crowds for Tests and standard T20s that is most worrying, however. Yorkshire have warned they need circa 55,000 people to make Test cricket sustainable, around 33 per cent more than watched against Sri Lanka.
They had also hoped for average crowds of 10,000 in the revamped T20 Blast but they have seemed no better than last year.
Yorkshire, however, can do no more. They have a small staff, a hard-working one, and are doing their utmost to get people through the gate.
They have been proactive in terms of pricing and the introduction of T20 season tickets; they have done their best to improve the aspect and environment of Headingley; they have made a concerted effort to engage with the local community, and so on.
Although much of this is a work in progress, it is hard to see what more they can do. Consequently, we must look for other reasons why people are staying away. When it comes to Tests, not only are there too many, but England are not particularly attractive to watch.
Although Yorkshire have made strides to improve the atmosphere at Headingley, the ground is lagging behind in terms of facilities and overly-reliant on tradition and goodwill going forward.
When it comes to T20, the competition remains a poor relation of its global brethren. The move to more Friday nights has helped, but the ECB betrayed what they think of the tournament when they rested England players from last week’s games. Yorkshire are hampered by a lack of floodlights, which they plan to erect this winter, and which would enable them to push back the T20 start time to, say, 7.00pm to enable more people to get there from work.
But the bottom line is this: who wants to watch Yorkshire against Leicestershire in a ponderous competition that not even the governing body is prepared to support?