In August, Stadium Edgbaston will host the first Day/Night Test Match ever to be played in England, against West Indies. Neil Snowball, celebrating his first year in office at Edgbaston, was excited about the event.
“So far, the ticket sales are flying. It’s only January and we’ve sold around 30,000 tickets, which is remarkable. What is really significant is that over 50% of those buyers have never bought a Test ticket before. If they have a great experience – and people do love watching England at Edgbaston – we will have introduced a whole new audience to Test cricket.”
Neil saw this event as part of a positive picture for cricket in England and at Edgbaston in particular.
“Financially, Warwickshire had a good year in 2016. It was a record for us in a non-Ashes year. And we have three very very positive years coming up. Our turnover is likely to top £20 million a year for the first time ever.
“Our off-the-field conference and events business is starting to mature now as is the commercial side with links to key partners. All of those revenue streams are heading in the right direction.
“In 2017, as well as the Day/Night Test, we have the Champions Trophy, then India next year. And in 2019, we’ve got the Cricket World Cup and the Ashes. So that’s three really solid years.
In taking a look into the future, it made sense to ask Neil Snowball about developments in domestic T20 cricket. Again, he had an upbeat message.
“The new T20 competition is going to happen in 2020. That gives us three years to plan for it. The broadcast deal will be done this summer. We’ll grow our own existing T20 competition [the T20 Blast] involving all 18 counties over the next three years. That’s a good competition so let’s hope that we get Finals Day here at Edgbaston for the next 20 years!
“The Australian Big Bash tournament seems to me to be the best model for the new English competition, better than the Indian Premier League.
“The feedback we are getting from Ian Bell, who is playing for the Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash, is phenomenal. It’s not just the quality of the cricket but how the whole city gets behind it and how it ties in with the Milo Cricket initiative for youngsters. You only have to look at the TV pictures of the crowds – it’s all about kids and families.
“If we can replicate some of that Big Bash excitement here, it’s got to be a game changer.
“We’ve still got to work out how the two versions of T20 will fit together, but the new competition will be a different product.
“Some people are saying that our members won’t be willing to pay to see both competitions. They probably won’t. But if they come to the “traditional” T20 and a new audience comes to the new competition, that’s what we want.
“Overall, if the existing T20 competition continues to evolve and the new “English Premier League” succeeds, we’ve got a sustainable business model.”
So how did this positive view of the future influence the changes in the coaching staff that Warwickshire have made since the end of the 2016 season – the departure of Director of Cricket Dougie Brown, the return of Ashley Giles as Director of Sport and the promotion of Jim Troughton to First Team Coach?
“The finances of the Club can cope with these changes in personnel and in the structure.
We can afford to invest in the future. We’re a cricket club at the end of the day, so we need to be investing in the cricket side of things and that’s what we’ve done.
“It’s true that we won a trophy last year, but we had a mixed year. I believe making changes was the right thing to do.
“We took a long hard look and were thinking not just about this year but the long-term, the development of players coming through and the whole sporting side of what is a multi-million pound business.
“I didn’t feel that we had the right people in the right place. We wanted to go more for a senior person taking a much broader and more strategic role plus a First Team Coach whose only job when he gets up in the morning is to think about how the first team is going to win matches.”
And how did that lead to Ashley Giles being appointed?
“Once we’d agreed with the cricket committee that we wanted a Sport Director, that narrowed the field down. It’s a unique role in domestic cricket, though it happens in other sports.
“I talked to people who knew Ashley well, including [ex Bears captain] Mike Powell, [Club Chairman] Norman Gascoigne and [cricket committee members and ex-players] Neil Smith and Asif Din. We felt he was the right person to fill such an exciting role for the club.
“Once we knew he was interested, we started having discussions [with Lancashire] to get him released. We’re delighted that we succeeded.”
And one final thought on a small topic of interest to many Warwickshire members: is it possible that, when the new T20 competition comes in, the Birmingham Bears could revert back to being Warwickshire again?
“Well, we’ve chatted about that. It’s a possibility. We need to see the detail of what the new brands will be – will the tournament be regional or city based? We’ll see.”
And with that enigmatic observation, Neil Snowball left, having given Warwickshire supporters and cricket lovers in general plenty to think about.