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County Championship attendances dwindling amid test cricket revival

Whilst England’s test revolution continues with surprising success in India, domestic County Championship sides will be starting their preparations for the red-ball season, which starts in April.

However, despite the ‘Bazball’ revolution engaging new and old fans alike, attendances for the County Championship, England’s four-day county competition, continue to dwindle.

The 18 first-class county sides drew crowds of 410,000 in 2022, but that figure fell to 390,000 for the 2023 season.

Surrey, who play their games at the Oval in Kennington, drew just 1790 people a day to their seven home County Championship fixtures in 2022 – with their 2023 figures set to be released in May.

Whilst this might seem a sizeable figure, and indeed Surrey see larger crowds than other counties, in a stadium that seats 27,500 it seems a little meagre.

It looks even more so when put in the context of T20 Blast attendances, which regularly exceed 15,000, and The Hundred attendances which touch 20,000.

Similarly, England test matches at the ground almost always sell out, with demand far exceeding availability.

Why then, has the country not been drawn to the long-form county game in the same way as test matches, especially at a time when England’s success is plain to see?

The scheduling of games undoubtedly plays a part.

Kicking off in April, when games are often cut short by rain, and finishing in September, the County Championship has suffered from the game’s need for a funding boost.

No domestic red-ball cricket was played in the entire month of August last year, with the competition making way for the ECB’s new short-form competition and big earner, The Hundred.

Similarly, games are often scheduled in Monday-Thursday or Tuesday-Friday blocks, missing out on improved weekend crowds.

Whilst not being cricket’s hottest product, England’s selections in India have proven the County Championship’s worth in ensuring international success.

Ahead of the second test with India, Ben Stokes explained how the selection of Shoaib Bashir was inspired by a highlights package uploaded on the Championship’s Twitter page.

Similarly, offering a debut to equally inexperienced spin bowler Tom Hartley in the first test, shows the weight that Stokes and McCullum place on county performance.

Their selection was rewarded too, with Hartley taking 7-62 in the second innings to propel England to victory after Surrey county-product Ollie Pope had hit 196.

Whilst the ECB seem not to value the county system at times, and a number of ex-pros such as Kevin Pietersen seem to have it out for the counties, recent developments in India have proven its worth to the Bazball era.

It remains to be seen if test success can influence domestic crowds, but if England pull off an unlikely series win in India, there’s a good chance that county attendances could benefit too.

Featured image credit: via Flickr under CC BY 2.0

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