Prefixes such as ‘bloated’ began to attach themselves to the new format as too many matches were played and the game’s appeal waned.
Considering Britain was on the cusp of the worst economic downturn in living memory, this was hardly surprising as levels of disposable income fell dramatically from 2007 onwards.
Smug doom-mongers looked on as attendances fell. T20, they maintained, had reached saturation point and was now paying the price for expanding too rapidly, so killing the proverbial goose that had conveniently laid cricket a vital golden egg.
For many first class counties, it appeared that a promising commercial opportunity had been lost and so they returned to the drawing board to search for that elusive, cash-generating initiative which T20 had once been.
James McLaughlin, Warwickshire’s former commercial director, came up with an idea that may provide a workable financial template for counties, one capable of combining T20’s unique appeal with what might be called ‘marketing savvy’.
Before leaving to become chief executive of Cure Leukaemia, Mr McLaughlin suggested to Des Gallagher, head of marketing at Marston’s Beer, that the brewer might be interested in supporting a plan to give away 10,000 tickets for Warwickshire’s Friends Life T20 duel with Worcestershire on June 15.
Marston’s considered it an excellent opportunity and so Warwickshire began printing and distributing 500 match tickets each day since 10th April – two tickets per person are available from Edgbaston until this Sunday.
Not only is the match live on Sky, but once this Midlands’ cricket derby has finished, fans then have the opportunity to stay at the ground and watch England’s Euro 2012 clash against Sweden live on Edgbaston’s big screen.
The evening should prove a profitable one for Warwickshire. Ordinarily, the club would expect to generate ticket sales of between £40,000 and £50,000 from a T20 clash with their Worcestershire rivals.
They could reasonably expect this to approach £100,000 once hospitality and catering revenues were taken into account.
On June 15 however, the club anticipate catering and hospitality sales alone to be around £100,000, although equally important is the opportunity the Marston’s-supported initiative offers to would-be cricket fans of all ages to sample one version of the game live – and for free.
“Warwickshire hope to take advantage of a unique situation which combines the excitement of a local derby, the direct involvement of Marston’s, an existing sponsor, the indirect participation of Sky, who are broadcasting the fixture and the post-match entertainment of England versus Sweden in the European Championships,” says Jim Hardie, chief executive of Apex Sports Marketing.
“They can expect a very big crowd.”
But how can such a one-off situation work for Warwickshire and other counties in the longer-term?
“Back in October 2003, Lord Hesketh, the owner of Towcester racecourse, decided to let spectators in for free,” continues Jim Hardie. “It was a gamble that paid off, initially at least.”
Unfortunately, Towcester failed to take full advantage of the initiative.
Nevertheless, June 15 could represent a watershed in domestic cricket’s economic history – why couldn’t a series of T20 matches be sponsored each season to offset the cost of allowing a proportion of spectators in for free, for example?
Lets hope for a dry evening in mid-June.