The ECB will introduce multi-year deals for their centrally contracted male cricketers, and increase match fees across the board, to stave off the growing threat of franchise tournaments.
While those who chose to miss the tour were not centrally contracted, it was a wake-up call for the ECB, whose wealth had previously insulated them from the debilitating effects that global T20 leagues have had on the talent pools of countries such as West Indies and South Africa.
The full 12-month central contracts awarded for this cycle ranged between £200,000 and £800,000, topped up by match fees and win bonuses. Brook’s impact suggests he’d command somewhere near the upper reaches of that bracket. While there will be flexibility going forward as to when the contracts are awarded, Brook will have to wait until the end of the 2023 summer for an upgraded deal as the ECB budgets are set annually. That he is currently out in the IPL on a £1.3 million deal with Sunrisers Hyderabad highlights the disparity in remuneration for his services.
On Wednesday, ECB chief executive Richard Gould confirmed an overhaul to the national contract system is coming, citing a quickly changing landscape within the game, forcing England to act sooner rather than later. The rise in T20 leagues over the winter with the inaugural seasons of the SA20 and ILT20 in the UAE, along with America’s offering of Major League Cricket set to take place in July, means lucrative opportunities outside international cricket have never been greater.
Gould is keen to counter that development and revealed that the next cycle of central contracts will give men’s director of cricket Rob Key the ability to hand out multi-year deals on a case-by-case basis. There would be no minimum term – previously all such deals were 12 months – opening up the possibility of, for instance, a spinner being contracted pro-rata for a winter tour of the subcontinent, such as the Test series in India at the start of 2024.
“This is where we are going to end up having to take different approaches in the way we contract our players,” Gould said. “Whereas there have been collective bargaining arrangements largely, those do have validity but they will have less validity as more opportunities come up in the market and players want to do other things. Therefore, I think we will be trying to tailor contracts to the needs of each individual in order to ensure we can secure their services for when we need them.
“I’m sure there will be some flexibility on that when players come through. When you are contracting players, it is a futures market. You are securing talent for the future and sometimes that doesn’t present itself nicely on the final day in September. I’m sure that is something we would be keen to look at.”
On the subject of hiking match fees for men and women, which will vary depending on what competing interests there may be at the time, he was blunt: “We’re going to have to pay them more money.
“That’s probably likely to be based on appearance money rather than the central contract element because I think that gives us the most cost-effective way of dealing with any particular competitive tournament at that particular time. We’ll be looking to get the match fees up, both with the men and the women. Sometimes it’ll depend what the games are clashing against.”
For Gould, the benefits of these changes are manifold. The most pressing is the very real financial threat to the product of the England team. This was characterised by the lack of interest in the rights for a Bangladesh tour featuring a depleted England side, which shocked the Bangladesh Cricket Board (home boards are in charge of distributing for series they host). The ECB had to make a financial contribution for Sky to secure the UK broadcast rights.
“We don’t have a choice in this,” Gould said. “If we don’t secure the services of our best players, the media rights will drop. This is an existential issue for us – we cannot afford not to have our best players available when we really need them, otherwise our values will drop.”
As well as future-proofing England assets, there is a need to ensure the county game is protected from investing time and money into developing cricketers, only for franchises to pick off their brightest and best. Having come into the ECB from the world of football, where he was CEO of Championship side Bristol City, Gould is all too aware of the need to adapt to market forces when it comes to on-field talent.
“We had north of 70 of our male players playing around the world this winter, and I think there were up to 15 or 20 of the women as well. You can see that our talent pathway is the envy of the world when you recognise how many of our players are in demand.
“The player pathway is what we really do need to protect. If you look at any franchise tournament around the world, they don’t have academies, they don’t have player pathways. They will get their talent by just taking the cream off the top. I think this is an issue for all franchise tournaments. We need to make sure franchise tournaments are paying and they are contributing towards the cost of the player development pathway, both men and women.
“Our responsibility is to make sure we can compete in the global player market to ensure that our players want to play for us – men and women, both for England and within our domestic competitions. But to do that, we’ve got to make sure we’ve got the financial clout to retain them.
“Often, I think people will place a huge emphasis on playing for England, and we’re grateful to them for their loyalty. But we need to make sure that we can pay the going rate, and having come back from football, player markets are something I know pretty well, and we need to make sure we can compete.”
Gould also confirmed 2023’s domestic structure will remain in place for 2024 after the proposals from the high-performance review to reorganise the County Championship and T20 Blast were rejected by the counties.
“At this point, yeah, they are dead in the water,” Gould said. “They did not get through the procedures we have as a game. Those procedures mean the 18 counties have a right to decide – with a majority of 12 – what their season looks like.”
Asked if he was disappointed given the review, led by Sir Andrew Strauss, was instigated by the ECB, Gould said he had no qualms with counties standing their ground. He also noted the trigger for the review was underperformance in Test cricket, compounded by a 4-0 loss in the Ashes. With the men’s Test team on a run of 10 wins from 12, those issues are no longer as pressing.
“There are many ways we can drive forward towards success and those recommendations, they came about as a result of performances delivered over 12 months ago.
“I think with what we’ve seen, in terms of the way the England men’s team have performed over the last 12 months, would indicate there were other issues in play as well, not just the structure.
“Every time there is a reversal in the Ashes, there is always a review. As a result of those reviews, we always find things to move forward with and improve. But we don’t always adopt all of them. I’m sure we will have future reviews.”
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo