Buckingham Palace with crowds on the Mall

An Ashes series between England and Australia is for many cricket fans as good as it gets. But the sport’s administrators and followers are concerned about its future.

This isn’t new – a report newly donated to AMSR shows the cricket authorities were trying to attract new supporters in 1966, just as now and at most points inbetween.

Back in 1966, the MCC was worried by a decline in attendances at county cricket matches. The NOP study, commissioned by the Daily Mail, found that 39% of men expressed interest in cricket. This was felt encouraging, but issues were identified with overly dull play and an insufficient focus on spectator needs. (Tellingly perhaps, women and children were not included in the study.)

The issue wasn’t with Test Matches, which were extensively covered by the BBC; 90% of cricket fans claimed to follow them on TV and 72% on the radio. As ways of enlivening the sport though, 53% felt it should be played on Sundays (when many would be better able to attend) and 65% wanted more one-day games. More aggressive play was also desired.

Changes began before long, initially with the one-day John Player Sunday League, and have continued – not least in the last 20 years, with the sport’s governing bodies trying to balance the interests of paying crowds and TV audiences. Twenty20 cricket was launched in 2003; the even shorter-form competition ‘The Hundred’ began in 2021 – specifically targeting the women and children who were of such little interest to the MCC in 1966. The revenues on offer via broadcasting rights led to the ECB contracting its TV coverage for all forms of cricket exclusively with Sky Sports in 2006. All this has meant that cricket looks very different today.

We can track its support base through TGI data held within AMSR. From 1972 through to 2002 the numbers attending in person declined by more than half, from 2.3m to 1.0m, but they had improved to 1.3 million by 2017 – hinting at the impact of Twenty20 cricket.

Pay to watch cricket chart

In parallel however the TV audience, which held reasonably steady from 1972 to 2002, slipping only from 11.3m to 10.1m, dropped significantly to 7.5m once cricket was no longer available on terrestrial channels.

Concerns exist about the attracting new supporters – today just as in 1966 and at most points inbetween. Many believe that more terrestrial TV coverage would help; this might also bring back some currently unable to watch. A few matches in ‘The Hundred’ are now broadcast on BBC platforms, but this may not be sufficient.

More positively though, for those who want to watch more aggressive cricket, the approach of the current England team under Ben Stokes should certainly keep them happy.


The NOP study referred to can be found here.

TGI (Target Group Index) is a continuous survey which has been carried out in Great Britain since 1969, based on 25,000 adults per annum, who provide information on their use of all major products, brands and services. Media exposure, attitudinal and demographic data are also included. Kantar, who own and operate TGI, have made major donations of data to AMSR. To explore the TGI archive within AMSR, click here

Contributed by Geoff Wicken
Date posted: 7th June 2023


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