The cost of victory

Stephen Fay finds there is a serious downside to a quick killing

The only sobering thought about England's staggering two-day victory is that a disturbing hole in the ECB's finances is getting larger each time a Test finishes early.

The only sobering thought about England's staggering two-day victory is that a disturbing hole in the ECB's finances is getting larger each time a Test finishes early.

Attendance at Headingley amounted to 24,000, the smallest for a Test since New Zealand played at Trent Bridge in 1990. The last time West Indies toured, in 1995, there were 63,770 at Headingley. That series drew 438,216, at the time the largest audience of the modern era (i.e. since families could no longer sit on the grass). By the end of the summer, the West Indies Tests will have been watched by not quite 300,000 spectators, fewer than for any five-Test series in the Nineties.

These remarkable statistics are entirely a reflection of early finishes at Lord's, Edgbaston (both three days) and Heading-ley, which cost £500,000 in lost revenue yesterday and today. Four lost days, plus the scrapings from a last-day crowd, will have cost around £2m, not a sum the ECB can lightly ignore since it amounts to between three and four per cent of turnover and as much as seven per cent of the sum the ECB distribute to the first-class counties. The two extra Tests against Zimbabwe, which drew a total of 71,709, will have been some help, but not a lot.

Ticket sales remain a crucial revenue source for the ECB. According to their latest published accounts, the ECB receive 26 per cent of their revenue from Test ticket sales - less than from broadcasting (40 per cent), but more than from sponsorship (21 per cent). Healthy receipts from Tests have occurred as a result of the popularity of Test cricket in London. (The Oval Test is a sell-out for the four days for which tickets are sold in advance.) And because of steady price-hikes. This summer it has been possible to get a restricted view at Lord's or a seat at the back of the shed at Edgbaston for £16, but top tickets cost between £34 (Edgbaston) and £45 (Oval). The average hovers around £30. The high cost places considerable responsibility on the Test-match grounds to provide a more comfortable setting for cricket.

One consequence of a drop in Test revenues is to make it more difficult for the Test grounds to finance improvements. Last year they reached an agreement with the ECB which gave them more money to spend on capital improvements. Building work is scheduled to begin at Headingley and The Oval this autumn.

Low receipts will not hold up this work, but they may increase borrowing. This has already happened at Trent Bridge, and, like Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Surrey can no doubt survive a financial ordeal, but bank debt is a constant cause for anxiety in members' clubs.

Of course, there is a silver lining. A winning England team will push up long-term revenue - unless, that is, they start beating the Australians in three days too.

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