Last week it was revealed that The Hundred was to be postponed until 2021 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While many celebrated this news, it got me thinking about alternative ways the ECB could fulfil the goals set out in the mystery "Hundred Research" paper while not re-creating the wheel or wasting a huge amount of cash. A caveat here is that the Hundred will still go ahead, we all know that, the ECB have invested far too heavily in it for them not to give it a go. I also don't think it's right to celebrate the postponement of the Hundred, as many players lost a good source of revenue, most notably a lot of the female players.
One of the main goals for the Hundred was to engage new fans around the country...by having a similar format to T20 in similar locations to where the current first-class counties play. That doesn't make a massive amount of sense to me. Outside of the free-to-air TV contract, you still may struggle to engage certain fans in certain parts of the country. I'm based in Norfolk, so if I want to see some first-class players...I need to travel to London or Chelmsford.
How many casual fans know of the MCCA Knockout Trophy? A knock-out one-day competition that has been running since 1983. Unless you're a huge fan of your minor counties, I don't imagine you'll know a great deal about this. How much exposure does it get? Barely any. The MCCA Knockout Trophy is a superb way for minor counties to get their hands on some silverware, so you don't want to dilute this. However how many of these minor counties would love to get a crack at a Yorkshire? Or a Surrey? Or a Kent? It adds drama and it engages fans in the area. I'm embarrassed to say that I never go to watch Norfolk, but if Surrey were in town, or if Essex were in town, I'd be there in a shot.
By that same measure, it's also a lack of exposure. Minor Counties are given absolutely no coverage. They get no column inches in newspapers or magazines, they get hardly any social media exposure, they get no TV coverage and barely any online video coverage. You've got an established network of cricket clubs, some of whom have been active for well over 100 years, and you're doing absolutely nothing to engage their fans and their demographics.
There are 20 minor counties and 18 first-class counties. So we have 38 counties which cover the length and breadth of the country. If you run this from a pure knock-out perspective you've got a competition that could be easily run over a relatively short period of time. I think it's hard to argue that if you have a vested local interest, you're more likely to tune in and engage with the game. Norfolk have been one of the more successful minor counties in terms of knockout cricket, they've won the MCCA Knockout Trophy 5 times, but I guarantee you that a lot of people in Norfolk won't have a clue they exist. That's not the fault of the club, they do absolutely everything they can with the budget they have, but they're really not helped by the ECB.
I think there is a huge amount of work to be done by the ECB to raise the awareness of the minor counties. If you want to engage more people, generate more revenue, and spread the reach of the game, why are you ignoring 20 minor counties? Why are you re-treading the same areas, going from the surrounding area to the city (where games are played anyway) isn't going to revolutionise participation, revenue and engagement. Spend money trying to bring these counties up, better players, more exposure = more participation, which starts the cycle of interest, revenue and eventually a more consolidated game.