Deep Extra Cover’s Terry Wright went to Edgbaston and talked to Neil Snowball, Chief Executive of Warwickshire County Cricket Club, of the Birmingham Bears and of Stadium Edgbaston.
In the first part of our exclusive interview, Neil talked about the appointment of Ashley Giles as Sport Director and the plans for recruitment. And in the second part, the focus was on the commercial side of Warwickshire and their engagement with the community.
Here, Terry asks Neil about the future of the club and where he sees the future of the game, with the challenges facing international cricket and the new T20 competition in England.
But Terry begins by asking Neil about the membership of the club.
Membership: “We’ve tried to make ourselves more accessible”
Warwickshire’s members are not noted for being easy to please. So we asked Neil what is happening with the club membership.
“Membership is up slightly on last year. We had very good retention figures and we had a lot of new people come in. We’ve renewed our Executive Memberships which went very well. What’s proving very popular are our Skyline memberships where people can have a separate membership up there on the Skyline Terrace.
“One of the things that struck me last year was that we needed to do a better job of communicating with our members. So over the winter we established a membership services team under Gareth Roberts, our Commercial Director.
“We’ve refreshed the content of the website, we’ve re-done the way we do the season annual, we sent out a new pack with the membership cards and just generally tried to make ourselves more accessible and giving more information.
“What’s gone really well is the on-line stream for the matches that are here at Edgbaston. The numbers on that are really quite impressive.”
Ashley Giles’s role: “Ashley’s the key figure in that whole transformation”
Ashley Giles returned to Edgbaston in the newly created role of Director of Sport. Just what does this entail?
“The whole plan of getting Ashley in and getting him in this new role was to take us through the transformation that we knew was coming. We’ve got Jim (Troughton) as first team coach whose sole job is to get the first team winning. We’ve also got Paul Greetham from the Academy which Ashley is very much involved in. He’ll spend time watching the Second Eleven and the Under-19s, actually travelling around the country watching youngsters.
“Ashley was down the other day watching the MCC Youth, looking at their talent, he’s been over to Loughborough to look at some of the MCCU new talent as well and also the women’s cricket.
“Although his focus is very much on the first team at the moment, he also looks at the women’s team who’ve had a fantastic start to the season beating Kent and Sussex who were the two best sides in the league.
“So Ashley’s the key figure in that whole transformation, building, growing, going back to the things we said about home-grown players, about re-establishing ourselves as the place to be to recruit the best talent.”
The new T20 competition: “There’ll be an exciting draft process which has never been done before in British sport”
The big development in English domestic cricket is the proposed new T20 competition due to start in 2020. There will be eight as yet unnamed teams; but where will they be based and where will the matches be played?
“I don’t know in terms of the names of the teams but we know the new competition will be played in July/August, after the Blast. There’ll be an exciting draft process which has never been done before in British sport.
“There’ll be a huge amount of marketing behind it particularly to focus on young people and also young families. It has got the potential to take what we do here with the Blast Finals Day and grow on that but on a higher level.
“I fully appreciate that this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but to anyone who’s unsure, I say that we’re not taking anything away, we’ve still got the County Championship, we’ve still got the 50 over and we’ve still got the Blast.
“We want our traditional supporters to immerse themselves in those forms of the game and if they want to come along and try the new T20, or if they want to bring their children or their grandchildren or whoever, then great. But it’s very much trying to attract a new audience and we’re very excited about it.
“It’s not just about the money, it really is trying to attract a new audience and engage.
“We’re very pleased about the All Stars programme, the new ECB entry level programme which they’ve done a lot of work on, targeting 5-8 year olds. It launched on 19 May and Warwickshire’s done very well in terms of the number of clubs, the number of kids that have signed up for it on-line or parents who’ve signed them up.
“So I think that’s going to bode well, if we can build that over ‘17, ‘18 and ‘19, by the time we get into the year 2020, it could be very exciting.”
More outground cricket: “They’ll take the 50 over matches on the road.”
Because the new T20 competition will be played at the same time as the 50-over competition, we wondered how this would affect the use of grounds such as Edgbaston. Neil had some good news for lovers of traditional county venues.
“For those eight grounds that are going to host the new teams, they’ll take the 50-over matches on the road. For Warwickshire, that may give us the opportunity to play some games at our Portland Road ground in Birmingham, possibly also at Rugby School.
“I think that it will be a good idea for outground cricket generally which has been on the decline in recent years, not just here but across the country.
“So hopefully, that will bring a bit of life back into those outgrounds and give people the chance to see some good 50 over cricket.”
The future of international cricket: “It’s all about how many countries want to play Test cricket”
In discussing the future of big matches at Edgbaston, Neil touched upon the uncertainty about the international programme. So we asked him about his views on this. How does he think international cricket’s going to look in five or six years’ time?
“I think the ICC Global Events will go from strength to strength. We’ve got three of them in the next few years with the Champions Trophy, the Women’s World Cup and the Men’s World Cup; and also the International T20 which is in Australia next.
“I’m sure there will be a plentiful supply of ODIs and international T20s. I think it’s all about how many countries want to play Test cricket. If you ask me, in five to six years’ time, I think there will be fewer playing than there are now.
“There’s question marks over the West Indies, which is why we’re so pleased to have sold so many tickets for this year but partly that’s the novelty factor of it being a day/night Test if I’m honest.
“I think there’s question marks over New Zealand in terms of their long-term commitment to Test cricket; and then again, India as well, even though we’ve got them touring next year and I think that will be a fantastic series.
“So I think it’s more about the interest in Test cricket outside of Australia, South Africa and England and also the broadcast rights. We know that the bottom’s fallen out of the market in terms of the broadcast rights for Test cricket in a lot of the territories and that’s basically funded cricket for quite a long time.
“So there is a degree of uncertainty which is a challenge for the game globally; and yet we – England – are in many respects leading the way. We know that we can sell it, we know we’re good at it, we know that we get good viewing figures here and abroad but there’s a lot of uncertainty.
“That uncertainty is a big driver of the new T20 competition. It’s one of the boldest things the ECB have done. They are saying that the future of the game is uncertain so we need to be a little bit more reliant on our domestic game for income and a little bit less reliant on how much Star TV and other broadcasters are prepared to pay for Test cricket because that’s very uncertain”
And that’s where we left our view from the top. Neil Snowball is clearly a man on a mission who knows where he wants to take the Edgbaston-based club and has clear plans to get them there.
We wish him luck and hope to have opportunities to get progress reports from him in the future.