Phil Patterson (CricketEurope)
Like all stakeholders in North West Cricket, I read the proposed structural revamp with great interest.
First of all, it is worth remembering that complaining is a favourite hobby in NWCU circles. The NW Board of Control has my sympathy, because no matter what was proposed, complaining would surely follow. It’s just the status quo; we need someone to blame.
At least they are trying, though. In my lifetime and playing career, cricket has dwindled quite considerably. A lot of clubs have fallen by the way side, and I definitely think standards are dwindling across all leagues.
Participation numbers are definitely down and that is the cancer that is slowly killing us a cricketing entity.
So, the Board of Control cannot be accused of sitting idly by and watching the slow erosion of our sport. They are at least trying to be progressive and make the sport more enticing to newcomers and youth who will ultimately be the lifeblood of the sport long after we have all stopped playing. Fair play to them for having a go.
They are predominantly volunteers who care deeply about our sport and are prepared to stick their necks on the line to try and safeguard it. That all said, I think it most likely a case of change for changes sake. The proposals, to me, could ruin cricket as we know and love it.
Fundamentally, I am of the opinion that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the current structure of cricket in the North-West. It’s a format we all know and have respect for. Relegation and promotion is something to strive to avoid and attain respectively, and is often the motivating factor for clubs.
The Senior Cup, in it’s current format, is definitely the pinnacle of the sport – because it is a real achievement to achieve success in it, having to win four fixtures to get to a final. It means something.
(2020 NW Senior Cup winners Donemana)
Likewise, a league decider or promotion play-off attracts big crowds. Last year was a great success for NWCU. We got meaningful cricket played against all the odds and the governing body deserves a great deal of credit for that. It did feel a little like every other weekend is a cup final though, and because of this, they are often empty affairs.
The proposals agreed at the AGM in 2019 definitely have merit; coloured kit is something that is worth trying. I’m not a believer personally, but willing to give it a go. Likewise early starts. Do I think it will make a big difference to participation levels? No – but at least let us give it a chance, before we tinker further with a time tested format.
In any business, the importance of testing is critical – change something, then test the impact. If we make seven changes at once, how on earth are we going to know what has worked or failed?
Going further underneath the surface at NWCU, I wonder is there a bigger issue that is being ignored. Our inability to generate significant sponsorship or advertising revenue. Relative to our more affluent neighbours in Belfast or Dublin, we are being left behind. Not even a close third, we are miles behind in terms of commercial incomes.
Given the socioeconomic disparity in the Union, it is plausible that we should be the poor neighbour, no question – but not by the current degree. A glance at the 2020 figures suggest that NWCU generated a paltry £3000 in sponsorship revenue, whilst Dublin raised close to a million euros from all sources. Figures for the NCU are anecdotal and I've heard sums ranging from £50 000 to £250 000. That’s a huge disparity between the regions.
What impact would increased funding have in our game? Immeasurable, in my opinion. More coaches, more umpires, more youth work and better event infrastructure.
Having umpires at all fixtures is quite an easy fix in my opinion. Raise the payment and make it worth people’s times. Playing intermediate cricket is often a struggle because of the lack of neutral umpires. It just feels like a knockabout in a park without them, to be honest. I can't think of any other sport that would operate without umpires – certainly not rugby, soccer or GAA.
And the reality is, away from the lofty heights of senior cricket, the vast majority of cricket in the NWCU is played without officials. I refuse to believe that the NWCU is not attractive as an advertising or sponsorship product.
All our clubs are well supported – we have literally thousands of spectators annually across our leagues, and have a plethora of different grounds. In advertising speak – that is an awful lot of eyes on brands. It shouldn’t be hard to sell.
I find it very surprising that NWCU doesn’t have an well supported Instagram account, for instance. This is an easy thing to setup and create and should form a critical component of any advertising product.
With the greatest of respect, if our renumerated officials within NWCU are unwilling or incapable of selling our cricket as an advertising product, let’s bring in someone who can.
Bridging the huge gap in income across the Unions is of vital importance; tinkering with the format and everything else is only window dressing and not fixing the core issue.
It's just tilting at windmills....