In 1963, a new shorter version of cricket was introduced to the English domestic game. It proved popular so a second cup and a league were added. Only one cup survived in 2013 and a new even shorter version was added. T20 proved popular and was copied overseas. This week fifteen of the eighteen counties voted to copy the Indian and Australia franchise system. The new T20 promises a sustainable future for all counties, with each guaranteed £1.3 million although they will not be participating. Big cities will form new teams, for televised entertainment, but the counties will also retain the current competition.
The new teams, with the help of television and bigger budgets, will need an audience to fill the stadiums that they presumably will lease from the counties. Birmingham, Leeds, London, Bristol, Cardiff, Manchester and Southampton are amongst the franchise favourites. Edgbaston will host Warwickshire in two versions of cricket, the Birmingham Bears and the new franchise in T20, plus international games in one or more formats. This could grow the fan base but it might also split it. Will Warwickshire supporters rush from supporting one team in T20 to another a few weeks later? Will they buy replica shirts for three teams? In London is it likely that rival supporters will compete in T20 then unite behind a new side?
The attraction of multiple competitions has diminished in England’s most popular sport, football. Increasingly top clubs view the cups as distractions from the more profitable league. A league that was rebranded, not replaced, for the benefit of television twenty-five years ago. The new T20 franchise league may quickly become the dominant form of domestic cricket but will it be the only one?