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Is English Developmental Cricket In Trouble?

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We don’t tend to think of England as a country that has much trouble embracing cricket. And yet, a recent article about the status of the sport at the local level indicates that some changes may be in order if it’s to remain as popular as it has been in the past. Specifically, the England and Wales Cricket Board is attempting to launch a new T20 contest as a means of keeping young players and fans interested. The country already has the NatWest T20 Blast event, but the proposed new contest would include eight city-based teams and 36 total games over the course of each summer beginning in 2020.

The structure of the new competition would also be engineered specifically to appeal to young fans and to benefit participating counties. By the sound of things, a guaranteed £1.3 million in extra revenue would be heading toward each first class county in the program. And to get the action started (as well as to sustain teams in the future) there would be a player draft at the outset of each season. The league would also feature a playoff system that would be modeled after the Indian Premier League. All in all this makes for a tight, well-organized league system of the sort that’s easy for younger audiences to follow.

In part, however, this all goes back to the idea that T20 is intended to be a more accessible form of the game in general, particularly for those younger audiences. Looking at the sport’s recent history, one article credited cricket’s movement into the popular sporting limelight to the emergence of T20. It’s just a simpler, shorter version of the sport that can be played and watched in a more casual and carefree manner. This has proven to be valuable over the years, so it’s only natural that more T20 competitions would be a good thing for any country’s cricket growth. But the proposal of the new eight city contest doesn’t appear to be about natural progression, so much as a need to hold onto people’s interests as other sports creep in.

The Sky News article discussing the proposal specifically mentioned UFC, wrestling, and monster trucks as threats to young people’s involvement with cricket. But that doesn’t paint a full picture of the sporting interests vying for attention in England. In particular, some of the biggest American leagues have been openly looking to expand in various ways into English and other European markets.

The NFL has had a small place in England for years now, holding a few games in London every season. The 2017 London games have already been announced, and the longer this tradition endures the more convinced many seem to be that the league will ultimately place an expansion team in the city. There’s been a lot written about this possibility and it’s certainly a complicated scenario, but there are ways it might work. Some expect that a London NFL team could have a practice home on the east coast of the United States, so as to have a home during the weeks in between consecutive away games. Ideas like this one make the NFL in London seem possible, and if it ever happens American football will become a far greater pull on sports fans around the country.

In a similar vein, the NBA has also had games in London. Commissioner Adam Silver has also displayed open interest in expansion beyond the U.S. borders (and Canada, where the Toronto Raptors already play). Specifically, Silver seems to be more interested in Mexico City, but London is a long-term possibility. He’s admitted it’s hard to predict what the future holds, but there is a chance England could gain a much closer relationship with the biggest and best basketball league on the planet. Mainland Europe already has a strong relationship with the sport thanks to the EuroLeague, and would surely welcome an NBA franchise with open arms.

There are also some additional new forms of competitive entertainment to consider. For instance, eSports are starting to draw massive crowds all over the world and could conceivably become more popular than even some major sports like cricket. Additionally, drone racing is beginning to emerge in a sort of middle ground between sports and eSports, and though it’s brand new it’s certainly showing some spectator potential. Activities like these may not seem to be directly in conflict with the growth or sustainability of English cricket, but people only have so much time and energy for spectator sports; every emerging trend is a potential threat.

Throw in the fact that it’s easier than ever before for fans to stream sporting events of their choice, and there are a lot of competitors in the English market. Cricket isn’t going anywhere thanks to its strong following and a place in the country’s history, but the idea of new T20 events isn’t just about natural expansion. It’s really about keeping a traditional sport popular as other, newer forms of entertainment vie for the attention of the English public.

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