YORKSHIRE chief executive Mark Arthur believes that the spiralling success of the NatWest T20 Blast is proof of why we need the new city-based T20 tournament that will run alongside it from 2020.
Yorkshire experienced a 13.6 per cent rise in attendance figures in this season’s Blast, with 64,938 spectators watching their seven home games.
This increase climbs to 17.8 per cent if one discounts the fixtures against Lancashire that are always well-attended, providing a more pertinent barometer of progress.
Yorkshire also played in front of several big crowds away from home, with 19,641 filling Old Trafford for the Roses match and 8,363 watching the fixture with Notts at Trent Bridge.
All the indications are that the Blast continues to go from strength to strength, prompting some to question why we need the new city-based competition in an already crowded schedule.
The financial bottom line is clearly significant; Yorkshire and their fellow counties will each receive an extra £1.3m a year for enabling the England and Wales Cricket Board to push through the change, money that those counties argue will help safeguard their futures and, in turn, the four-day County Championship.
But in addition to providing key financial support, Arthur believes that the wider imperative is to engage a new audience and to spread the game’s appeal, particularly among the young.
“I still feel that we need a competition that bridges the gap between what we’re doing so well at county level and what is happening at international level,” he said.
“I think in any form of sport, when you get the best against the best on a more regular basis, and you get genuine world superstars, that will drive even bigger audiences.
“The ECB, through their All Stars programme, are trying to raise interest and participation in the game, and over the next few years the five-to-eight-year-olds who have come out of that – along with the volunteers who have helped in the process, the mums and dads – will provide a whole new audience.
“The ECB have gained great light from their data to suggest that this is the way to generate a new audience, and, therefore, these people will be heavily targeted to encourage them to come along and see the best versus the best in a new city competition.”
Headingley is likely to be confirmed as one of the host grounds for the new tournament, with Arthur speculating that venue allocation could be announced in April.
By 2020, Headingley’s capacity will have climbed to 18,350 with a new main stand, and although Blast attendances are on the rise, Yorkshire would only likely achieve capacity through a Roses game or home quarter-final.
Arthur is also excited by the potential fillip to women’s cricket, with the prospect of women’s and men’s double-headers such as those witnessed in this year’s Blast, building on the success of the women’s World Cup.
He also insists that the Blast will not become a second-class competition, as some fear, but continue to thrive in its own right.
“You’ll still get the excitement because you’re then playing as a county, so the identity is very different,” he said.
“That competition will take place in the early part of the season, so there will be an early block for the counties and a later block for the city-based competition, so you will get a form of T20 cricket running all the way through the season.
“In Australia, they’ve successfully got a new audience which has adopted very quickly the different identities, and my personal belief is that the T20 Blast will continue to be successful.
“Eventually, I think that the city teams will start to travel around the world and there will be global tournaments.”
Arthur believes that the success of this year’s Blast is also attributable to the decision to move more matches to the school holidays.
“I think that moving it to predominantly the summer holidays has had a profound effect, while we are also seeing the knock-on effect of the ECB’s All Stars programme on the Blast,” he said.
“We were slightly concerned when the Blast was going into the later part of the season that the block effect might have a negative impact on crowds, because if you got, as we did, three home matches within a five-day period, people might pick and choose their games due to the cost.
“But while there might be some impact of three matches in five days, the overall positives have outweighed the negatives.”