A new study has cast fresh doubt on the future of One-Day International cricket by revealing the key drivers behind spectators’ dwindling enthusiasm for the format.
With England and Wales set to host the next Cricket World Cup, researchers have warned that fans have little appetite for one-sided thrashings – even if their own team wins.
Many are not even interested in whether their own side is good or bad and instead prize drama over quality, preferring close matches with uncertain outcomes.
The findings, based on an analysis of almost 35 years’ worth of data, come amid controversy over the World Cup’s structure and fears over growing inequality in the sport.
Only 10 teams will take part in the 2019 World Cup – down from 14 in 2011 and 2015 – which is likely to mean fewer of the game’s lesser lights will feature in the tournament.
Professor David Paton, of Nottingham University Business School, one of the lead researchers, said: “There isn’t necessarily a problem with having ‘minnows’ at the World Cup.
“If two of the smaller nations were to play each other, for example, then they ought to produce a close contest – which, according to our findings, is what fans want to see.
“But the authorities have to be careful to minimise the number of fixtures with too big a difference in team quality, otherwise overall attendances are likely to be poor.
Study co-author Dr Ian Gregory-Smith, of the University of Sheffield, added: “The organisers of the World Cup face a significant challenge over one-sided matches.
“If the tournament is to be a success then careful thought must be given to its structure, because consumer appetite for predictable fixtures is undoubtedly limited.”
Economists from Nottingham University Business School and the University of Sheffield studied more than 500 ODIs played in England and Australia between 1981 and 2015.
They examined variables including attendances, team strength, outcome uncertainty and even spectator wages to identify trends in demand for 50-overs-a-side matches.
It was found that in England ODI fans most value uncertainty – unlike Test match spectators, who, according to earlier research, are driven mainly by team quality.
In addition, attendances in England rise as income increases, whereas in Australia richer consumers tend to abandon cricket in favour of more expensive sports.
Study co-author Dr Abhinav Sacheti suggested the research could have long-term policy implications for the game’s ruling body, the International Cricket Council.
He warned that ODIs might eventually be left in a “no man’s land” between Tests and the 20-overs-a-side T20 format, whose own World Cup will take place this month.
“Ultimately, everything points towards the importance of investing in developing cricket in the ICC’s less familiar associate and affiliate member nations,” said Dr Sacheti.
Professor Paton added: “An obvious route – albeit one the ICC has ignored for years – is to push for cricket to be included in the Olympic and Commonwealth Games.
“Apart from the raised profile this would bring, many national sporting authorities prioritise funding for Olympic sports. This would help the minnows get bigger and better.
“Unfortunately from the ODI point of view, it’s widely accepted that the only viable format for Olympic cricket, bearing in mind the logistical constraints, would be T20.
“This underlines the potentially perilous position in which ODIs find themselves, given that those who value quality favour Tests and those who prefer thrills want uncertainty.
Earlier this year the ICC announced that India, England and Australia, its three most powerful members, would no longer hold permanent seats on its executive committee.
Professor Paton said: “The best hope for cricket as a whole is a move away from the sort of concentrated power that until recently clearly favoured certain nations.
“The ICC has taken a step in tackling that imbalance and needs to keep moving in the same direction if the quality gap that’s driving people away from ODIs is to be narrowed.”
David Paton is a Professor of Industrial Economics at Nottingham University Business School. His research interests include the economics of cricket, the economics of gambling markets, the economics of teenage pregnancy and the economics of betting.
Ian Gregory-Smith is a Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Sheffield. His research interests include the executive labour market and how the economics of sport – especially cricket – can provide insights into firms’ decision-making.
Abhinav Sacheti recently received his PhD from Nottingham University Business School. His research interests include the economics of sport, particularly the economics of cricket.
The study referred to here is An Economic Analysis of Attendance Demand for One-Day International Cricket, published in Economic Record. The full paper can be downloaded at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1475-4932.12239/full.