The beginning of the English summer’s test cricket was marred by anger over matchday tickets that were deemed too expensive by many. Most of the tickets available for the opening Test match between England and New Zealand at Lord’s were priced at more than £100, with the top-end ones costing in excess of £160. It was reported that, with just days left before the start of the series, over 20,000 tickets for the match had yet to be sold, which speaks to a lack of demand and fans being priced out for one of the country’s premier summer sporting events.
While some have cited the corresponding Platinum Jubilee weekend as well as England’s recent poor form in the Test format as legitimate reasons for the low attendance, the high cost of tickets in taxing economic times is unlikely to have aided sales.
This story has unfortunately coincided with what many have termed as a ‘cost of living’ crisis in the UK. Energy bills and petrol prices are soaring, while inflation is at his highest since the early 1980s. Millions of citizens have been left struggling to deal with rising costs, and the government have been widely condemned for their inaction and poor leadership. As a result of the current financial situation, many have been forced to significantly cut back on excess spending, which for many, includes attendance at sporting events.
The decision to charge so much for tickets by the Marylebone Cricket Club (who own Lord’s) has come under fire from former players and commentators, including former England captain Michael Vaughan, who openly questioned the reasons why the tickets need to be so expensive.
Lord’s has routinely been criticized for lagging several steps behind the rest of the sport in terms of inclusivity and diversity. Lords only began allowing female members of the MCC in 1998, and famously barred Indian’s female team captain Diana Edulji access to the pavilion when her team toured England in 1986.
Like any major sport, cricket is keen for growth, and the way to achieve this is to expand outside the sport’s key demographics. In England, cricket has always been seen as a more elitist sport. Cricket faces several obstacles to overturning these stereotypes, and the behavior of the MCC is just one of them. English cricket will find it hard to draw fans if it continues to remain inaccessible to fans, and the current circumstances surrounding the cost of living in the country must be accounted for.
The decision to make test cricket this inaccessible is also bizarre, given that the sport has been trending more towards limited overs cricket. While test cricket is often regarded as the purest and most traditional form of the sport, its popularity has been waning for years due to its length and slow pace.
The introduction of new formats and tournaments such as the Indian Premier League and event The Hundred, which is about to begin its second season and is primarily at a younger audience while also targeting female fans with women’s games taking place on the same evening as the men, have shown that innovation is possible.
These new formats and tournaments have proved to be enormously popular and successful in drawing new fans to the sport. Test cricket currently needs all the help it can get, and the MCC would be wise to learn lessons from these new innovations as a means of engaging with new audiences and making sure grounds are full to add to the TV spectacle.
Nottinghamshire Cricket Club, who hosted the second Test between the teams were widely praised for their decision to offer free tickets for the final day of the game. Announced on the penultimate day, the decision led to a greater than expected demand, which led the club to resource more stewards and volunteers. While it’s unclear why the decision was made, it’s in stark contrast to the behavior of the MCC, and other hosts would be wise to follow a similar strategy.
Off the field changes have led to an increased optimism and interest in English test cricket. The appointment of Brendan McCullum as the new head coach alongside the replacement of Joe Root as captain with Ben Stokes has led to a sense that English test cricket may be moving in the right direction following years of subpar results.
The ECB have been heavily criticized in recent times for its emphasis on white ball cricket, and the subsequent neglect towards red ball cricket. If this trend is reversing, then cricket grounds need to understand this and capitalize on the increased interest by making the game more accessible.