Ticket sales in the UK are booming, with more people than ever before wanting to watch live cricket. In 2019, domestic and international attendances broke three million for the first time since ECB records began – an 18% increase on the previous record year of 2017. And while the World Cup played a huge part in that, the ripple effect was felt throughout the professional game, with the average attendance for T20 Blast group matches up by 15% from 2018 and 47% over the past five years.
And yet figures released by the Cricket Supporters’ Association (CSA) last December revealed that only 45% of the 2,500 fans they surveyed felt that cricket is good value for money compared to watching other live sport. “We all know the pressures people are under with their disposable income, and ticket prices need to be mindful of that,” says CSA chief executive Becky Fairlie-Clarke. “As we look towards the future prosperity of the game, ensuring cricket is as inclusive as possible will be key.”
So how affordable are ticket prices? At domestic level, the cost of membership to watch a county play all three formats across the 2020 season starts as low as £149 (Leicestershire) and peaks at £304 (Sussex). Understandably, non-Test match venues that do not receive regular income from the sale of international tickets but regularly sell out T20 Blast fixtures tend to be at the upper end of that scale.
Attracting a new audience is a primary focus for all counties and the T20 Blast has been an excellent vehicle in doing that, with many clubs offering fantastic value for kids and families in particular. According to Surrey chairman Richard Thompson, 50% of ticket purchasers to Blast games at The Oval last summer were “brand new to cricket”, while the club’s kids-for-a-quid offer continues to be a great success. “It’s been a good marketing mantra for us for years,” says Charlie Hodgson, The Oval’s managing director. “And it’s also just the right thing to do.”
Warwickshire have gone a step further, with free entry for kids across all T20 Blast fixtures at Edgbaston. “It’s expensive to do things with kids these days in the leisure sector so we wanted to make sure we were standing out from the crowd,” says Alex Perkins, Warwickshire’s head of commercial. “We don’t want to just be chasing the pound when actually the lifetime value of a supporter – particularly a young one who is hopefully going to be a Bears fan for life and come to Test matches and all the other matches that we have here – is huge to us as a club. Not just in terms of monetary value, but in terms of growing our fanbase.”
Edgbaston also offers some of the most attractive ticket prices for international cricket in the UK. The CSA survey revealed that only 50% of fans are prepared to pay more than £50 for an international ticket, with that figure falling to 40% for the 16-24 age bracket. When tickets went on sale last October for this summer’s West Indies Test at Edgbaston, 92% of tickets came in under £50.
“When we tender for international matches that’s done on a five-year cycle,” explains Perkins. “And because as part of the cycle we have an Ashes fixture, where demand is so high, it allows us to then better manage price points in different years. Ultimately, major match income is the biggest source of revenue for many venues and it does put the pressure on, particularly for those who haven’t got a regular supply of fixtures each year. We’ve been lucky enough that we’ve got a really good supply. We have the biggest capacity outside of London so it’s really important for us that we capitalise on the last couple of years and become known as a sell-out venue regardless of the opposition. That’s definitely a consideration for us as well with pricing.”
Trent Bridge also offers prices that, according to the CSA survey, would be accessible for the majority of cricket fans. Nottingham will host a Test against Pakistan and an ODI versus Ireland this summer, with 46 of the 56 adult price points across the two matches coming in at under £50.
As you might expect, the landscape in London is a little different. There are three Tests in the capital this summer – two at Lord’s and one at The Oval – but you won’t be able to get your hands on an adult ticket for days one to three of any of those matches for under £50. Day four prices start at £40 at Lord’s and £45 at The Oval.
In comparison to other major sporting events, these prices are not unreasonable. And with demand at an all-time high – Surrey recently sold more international tickets in a day (around 32,000) than they have ever done before, and that is without the draw of the Ashes this summer – tickets could be priced considerably higher and the capital’s cricket grounds would still sell out.
However, if cricket is really serious about “growing the game” and making its star attractions accessible to new punters, it is concerning that so many existing fans find international ticket prices in London prohibitive. After the success of 2019, there will be no better opportunity to attract and seize hold of new fans and that means ensuring that the game at elite level isn’t restricted to elite customers.