Midnight's blog

Winning Back The Fans - The Old Trafford Experiment

This week I read an article by Alex Hales on the BBC Sport site entitled:

'We Have Won Back The Fans.'

"It looks like we've won our fan-base back in one-day cricket," gushed our Alex.

Hales' belief is genuine of course, and perhaps if England continue to chase down 350+ totals in the second innings, he may indeed be proven correct as regards the one-day game.

However in the larger context of 'pleasing' fans, I would like to inform readers about an experiment that took place at Old Trafford this week: not in one-day cricket, but in the four day County Championship format.

In co-operation with the ECB, Lancashire changed the start / finish times for the match against Leicestershire to 12.30 - 7.30.

In other words, the cricket would all happen ninety minutes later than the norm.

The purpose of this ground breaking and revolutionary idea was to 'put bums on seats' with a view to attracting the office types after work; for instance, those who might be able to get on the tram, call in for a pint or two and watch the final session.

A reduced admission price of £5 for adults and children £1 after 4pm applied.

In a further contrivance to inflate the attendance, an abnormally large number of free admission tickets were in issue- Members could apply for one for each day of play.

Amidst much grumbling, the usual small crowd was in place for the start of the game on Sunday, and sure enough, right on cue at about 12.20 the first drops of rain started to fall.

This meant that the cricket did not commence until well after 1pm.

Even the 'Chefs Specials' of pie, chips and gravy, sausage and mash, and chilli and rice being served in the Members pavilion during the rain break could not alleviate the dour mood, though our Lancashire Cafeteria Michelin Star must by now be a mere formality.

With any such timing experiment, brave umpires are needed who are prepared to take a view on the weather, especially the light, later in the day.

The two umpires for this game, Messrs Saggers and Gale, looked for the most part like teenagers with brand new mobile phones.

They were constantly whipping their infernal devices out of their pockets and seemingly taking the players off at every opportunity, despite the later lack of rain, and the floodlights being on all afternoon.

Each time a cloud passed over, out came the light-meters.

On day one there was no play after tea, and in fact only 50 overs were possible out of the 96 that should have been bowled that day due to the late start and the inordinate delays for bad light.

A repetition of this umpire behaviour continued on day two as the light 'deteriorated', but this time, the Members Pit of Hate in front of the pavilion rose as one in revolt.

"Dinosaurs," "You are killing the game," and "Rubbish" are just a few of the catcalls aimed at the umpires that I am able to politely repeat here, as the players were once again ushered off the field in perfectly playable light.

The teams were eventually brought back.

Not because the conditions had improved in my view, but because of the sheer volume of vocal criticism emanating from the Lancashire Members, which was clearly very audible to the umpires, despite their location in the dreadful 'ECB Sterile Stand' at the other side of the ground.

I am told that eventually, the 96 overs were completed at around 7.40pm. Unfortunately, I had left the ground at 7.20pm in an effort to catch a train to enable me to get home before 9pm.

Day three of the game was finally blessed with the hoped-for good weather and Lancashire bowled out Leicestershire to win the match before the finish - which was very fortunate for Lancashire, as day four consisted of almost 100% rainfall.

The ECB website carries a ridiculous article about this experiment, which consists of an anonymous ECB journalist quoting only spectators who will tell him what he wants to hear - in other words, positive feedback. Conveniently, the ECB report completely omits the events of day one and only commences at 4pm on day two, but without a fair sample of spectators being interviewed.

'Only the positive may have a voice here': now, where have I heard this kind of bull$hit before?

In addition, the Lancashire CEO has been spotted on local BBC TV declaring at great length what a success the new start times have been. More spin. Why not consult your Members before doing this?

I doubt the atmosphere will be quite so cordial at the next Members meeting if and when the subject of these start times is brought up!

From anecdotal comment I gather that in reality the numbers going through the turnstiles after 4pm have been minimal, and certainly from my standpoint as a regular County Championship attendee, the crowd did not look much different to the normal sparse gathering of pensioners, even allowing for the large number of free tickets in issue.

So the purpose of this report is to balance things out with a robust dose of truth and realism.

The revised times have meant:

Incorrect information appearing on Sky Sports News who, even on day three, continued to advertise the start time as 11am! How can this improve attendances, perchance?

Spectators arriving too early at the ground and being told by stewards:

"You are not supposed to be here yet!"

Extended and frequent bad light delays due to the artificial 'floodlight' replacing the 'natural light' and umpires who were unable to take a view.

Food outlets at the ground being unsure when to open and close.

Pensioners suffering from indigestion after eating lunch and tea at irregular times.

Perhaps a supply of free Gaviscon from the ECB could be the answer here.

God knows, I could have used some free Gaviscon during the recent World Cup in Australia.

Getting home after 9 pm - and that's without a homebound visit to any pubs!

No material increase on the crowd size - despite the number of free tickets on offer.

One day, I may wake up and believe that the ECB has the interest of the match-going cricket supporter at heart, but for now it is more likely that any such Damascene experience will involve a renewed faith in Santa Claus.

For the avoidance of doubt - NO THANKS, leave the hours of play as they have always been!

Anything else would be just another step along the Commercialisation of Cricket and Corporate Entertainment Road....perish the thought, eh!

Regards, Midnight

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