We are half way through another cricket test match at the Gabba and, setting aside the washed out second day, already rumblings have started about the size of the crowds attending days one and three of the game.
Such “yarping on” about the support of Queenslanders for test match cricket is nothing new and it must be conceded that, Ashes test matches aside, quite regularly the attendance numbers for the Gabba test match are lower than most would expect.
As a cricket fan who loves test cricket, I have often wondered why this is so and indeed have had pause to consider how cricket administrators can get more fans to the longest and premier form of the game in Queensland. After much reflection I think there are some lessons that could equally apply across the cricket playing world.
Dealing with the “why” issues first in the context of the current test match: some are obvious and others more illusory.
At the outset, the timing of this test match, both this year and in the past, has not helped getting the paying public through the door. Unlike the Melbourne and Sydney test matches (it is always from these centres where most of the grizzling about crowds come from), the bulk of possible paying attendees have to work during at least 3 scheduled days of the test. The Queensland cricket public does not get the benefit of the Christmas / New Year holidays traditionally taken by most and this obviously makes it more difficult for people to get to the game.
This rationale equally applies to getting more children to the game: presently it is not school holidays in Queensland so children attending on Friday, Monday or Tuesday is unlikely to be possible. Add to that that weekends during this time of year are difficult for parents to make time to bring their kids to a cricket game, either because of parties or because the kids themselves are playing sport (again unlike the Christmas / New Year period where such sport is suspended), and really it is unlikely that a large roll up of children is going to occur.
The next obvious issue that effects crowds, and this is, in my view, a more generally applicable issue, is that of cost. Ticket prices this year again increased on last year and it is just a fact of the current state of the world financially that a large number of people do not have available to them the discretionary spending power to be able to afford $65 for a ticket to a day at the cricket. I concede that there were cheaper tickets available than that which I purchased, but even the cheapest ticket (around $40) still presents as an expensive day out for most people.
The cost of the ticket is not the only issue of cost that is making it difficult to justify a day at the cricket. Food and drink prices at sporting arenas in this country are at best high and at worst “day light robbery”. $7.20 for a mid-strength alcoholic beverage is steep. $5 for a 375ml bottle of water is farcical. And do not even get me started on the cost of food.
The final facet of my thoughts about why the crowds are not what one would expect at the Gabba for the first test of the summer is more illusory as I noted in the preamble to this blog. It is this: it is just not fun anymore to go to the Gabba to watch cricket. There are so many rules related to the attendance of a game a cricket at the Gabba these days that for some people the “fun police” have ruined the experience of attending. The “mexican wave” is frowned upon, beach balls are skewered by security guards at the earliest opportunity and the creation of the fabled “beer snake” leads to a visit from two of Queensland’s constabulary. If it is not fun, why should people be enticed to attend?
Now I must stop here and state that some of the very “fun stuff” that has been outlawed irritates me to the point of red misted rage. However, fans, particularly those in certain states of inebriation, love that stuff and anecdotally I am aware the stringency of the rules has lead to less of my cohorts attending the game.
So where does that leave us? Is it simple enough to say that if Queensland Cricket get the timing, pricing and the rules issues right then the fans will rush back? Does this apply equally across all countries?
The timing of the games is obviously something that needs to be looked at but it strikes me as being difficult enough now to fit all of the games to be played in a summer in the schedule so that is unlikely to change.
Making the experience of attending a cricket game more enjoyable for the fans is something that must be looked at and an appropriate balance between stamping out anti-social behaviour and creating a police state within the ground needs to be reached.
The biggest thing that I think needs to be looked at is pricing of tickets for test match cricket. By making the tickets more financially realistic for people it must allow for a broader range of people to attend. One way to do this could be to lift the prices of tickets to T20 and ODI fixtures by $5 each and use those funds to equally subsidise a reduction in the ticket prices of test matches.
Test cricket is the heart of the game and the more fans that get through the gate the more comfortable true fans of the game will be of the long term survival of it. As a Queenslander who loves the first test of the summer and who wants to see the best teams play in that test, administrators of the game in Queensland must look at methods to get more fans to this iconic game with changing the pricing structure being but one of those methods. If this does not happen, it may be another 50 years before we see the best team in the world grace the grass of the Gabba. I truly hope that is not the case.