Playing Numbers Survey results

Please find below the aggregated survey results from 996 respondents to invites sent to 4,300 clubs – both Clubmark and non-Clubmark – between 26th September and 24th October. The results were shared with The Cricketer magazine to inform features on the health of the recreational game in November and December editions.

The image below shows the results of the following question: On a scale from 1 to 5 (where 5 is very important and 1 is not important at all), how would you rate importance of the following factors on the recruitment, retention AND availability of adult players (16+) for cricket in YOUR club? 

The strange death of English cricket

I have been asked to explain why I say the much quoted data on playing numbers is ‘spurious’. Any number of articles refer to the loss of 150,000 regular players since 2005. The ECB hierarchy were questioned on it again this week in a parliamentary appearance before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. There was no challenge; those numbers appear to have been internalised by the sport’s leadership.

The 150,000 comes from a selective interpretation of results from Sport England’s Active People survey – a phone canvass of several hundred thousand people a year to find out how many had played any of 30 funded sports in the past month – between 2005 and 2016. You can see the results year-by-year on a one page Excel sheet for yourself.

150,000 is the difference between the peak 428,000 figure (2008-9 as it happens, not 2005) and the final figure from the last survey in 2015-16. It’s a nice round headline-grabbing number. 150,000 fewer cricketers equals cricket in crisis.

But look again at the data. It’s a bit volatile – it jumps around from one year to the next, up and down – so how robust is the methodology? Were you ever phoned by Sport England and asked what sports you played? Do you know anybody who was? And what if you were phoned in February asking about the previous month? Or, in a hurry to get rid of the pollster, you skipped through the list of sports forgetting to admit to the annual office game against the accounts department you mentioned the year before?

Because that’s what it was seeking to measure. Any cricket experience, at any point, from the Test arena to the beach. It’s not asking if you play club cricket once a month. When it did do that – in a separate survey – the figures were far more stable. In fact, they actually registered a statistical increase!

Maybe that’s why Sport England canned the Active People survey after 2016. They would probably say there was a change of priorities and their focus is now on levels of physical activity, not the playing of individual recognisable sports, despite the fact they continue to fund those sports heavily. The cynic might suggest they were not too confident about the credibility of the data.

So why are those in cricket so prepared to accept the 150,000 slow death narrative? For some, it no doubt suits a purpose. On the one hand, it’s not unknown for organisations to exagerrate the scale of the problem to amplify an achievement. Creating an urgent need or recognising a crisis is a basic component of most organisational change strategies. And, on the other, there are those from an ideological perspective who welcome categoric proof of the game’s decline from the end of free-to-air coverage.

The ECB’s Select Committee response points to the complex change environment in which sport operates. That’s increasingly unhealthy and/or time-challenged people doing other or different things. We all see that, so it should be acknowledged when clubs have held things relatively steady in the face of the challenge.

The Network’s recent player numbers survey demonstrates this is the case over the last 10 years. Extrapolating the results, it shows a regular club playing population (aged 16+) of around 180,000 which is consistent with the Sport England club cricket findings. And 300,000 under 16s. Of course, players are far less available than in the past – 64% of clubs say so – and this is hitting the number of teams and Sunday cricket in particular.

But while we can all name clubs that are no longer around, or have merged, the number is surprisingly small. The anticipated shakeout from around 6,000 clubs at the early 2000s launch of Clubmark – which many saw as ECB goldplating Sport England’s safeguarding template to better identify the winners – has not happened. There are still around 6,000 clubs. If there was a big shakeout, it happened much earlier with the disappearance of semi-professional manufacturing company and industry institutional teams in the economic restructuring of the 1980s.

The real challenge now is for cricket to ensure it is in a pivotal position to play a key role in addressing those societal issues, responding to the ‘change environment’. That’s in schools and other community groups and better meeting the needs of those who might embrace, or return to, team sport rather than individual activity or none. Only clubs can provide the local infrastructure to support delivery of that effort. The welcome ‘Inspiring Generations’ ECB strategy bullet points the way forward, but it needs the appropriate funnelling of resources to make it a reality. And a willingness to listen to and build on the club experience.

Are you negligent or just a nuisance?

Bolton v. Stone [1951] is a leading House of Lords case in the tort of negligence, establishing that a defendant is not negligent if the damage was not a reasonably foreseeable consequence of their conduct. Mrs Stone was hit by a cricket ball which had been hit out of the ground; Mr Bolton was a member of the club committee.

This case featured in The Guardian today – see – SHOULD be familiar to everyone who runs a club. It offers some comfort if you have ever worried about balls being hit out of your ground.

But what is foreseeable? And has it changed since 1951 with bigger bats and more building around clubs?

If not negligence, what about nuisance? Another famous piece of case law with a flying cricket balls context is Miller v Jackson [1977] where Mr Jackson was chairman of Lintz CC. Fortunately the lead judge in Court of Appeal was MCC member Lord Denning!

But risks are getting closer to home. It’s one of the reasons we incorporated; to provide the comfort of limited liability for club officers. But that doesn’t remove the increasing risk of dealing with these issues and local authorities’ insistence on expensive netting, covered in a previous discussion here

Perhaps the most definitive survey yet on recreational playing numbers

You will no doubt have seen regular media stories of the ‘slow death of recreational cricket’ variety in recent years. These are often based on spurious data on the number of playing recreational cricketers or disappearance of local town and village cricket clubs.

Ahead of a forthcoming article in The Cricketer on the health of recreational cricket and the potential impact of this summer’s England success, the Cricket Club Development Network is undertaking perhaps the most definitive survey yet on recreational playing numbers and factors influencing those numbers.

Please take the few minutes required to complete the survey on behalf of your club HERE. It needs no special knowledge beyond a reasonable awareness of the playing profile of your club and how this has developed in recent years. If you are no longer or involved or there is someone in you club better placed to respond, then please feel free to forward this message.

The data and information collected will be only be used in aggregate by The Cricketer and the Cricket Club Development Network totally anonymously in any subsequent article unless you are contacted directly by The Cricketer for your explicit consent.

Please complete the survey as soon as possible and by October 13 latest.

Thank you in advance for your time.

John Swannick
Cricket Club Development Network

Cricket Club Development Network: doing what it says on the tin

Ask anyone who runs a cricket club what preoccupies them and the list will look little different to the concerns of anyone running a small (or not so small) business: cashflow; finding the capital to invest in maintaining and improving facilities; recruiting and retaining good people; developing and differentiating a quality product to confront ever increasing competition; navigating the rapidly changing social and business environment in which the organisation operates; and grappling with the growing complexity of regulation and stakeholder expectation. Little wonder that the burden of sustaining the heritage, as temporary guardians, of often historic and socially (and sometimes economically) significant local community institutions, can be a lonely and long-term commitment.

Yet there is little business support specifically geared to the needs of recreational sports clubs in general and cricket clubs in particular. The advisors in local county cricket boards are mainly qualified cricket coaches with limited business experience. Their inevitable focus is on club development in terms of promoting better players, playing facilities, and mediating appropriate policy and practice coming down from the England & Wales Cricket Board. Their role is supportive and can add significant value at the tangents where it touches the clubs’ agenda, but the relationship is rarely core to clubs’ day-to-day operational existence.

The expertise in running cricket clubs is in clubs. Forging professional expertise and personal passion, the volunteers who run clubs are as likely to call on their own experience and knowledge, or seek advice and guidance from the networks that form their personal hinterland, as they are to draw on the professionals in cricket’s governing structure. That expertise involves applying the strategic, management and functional capabilities required to run a business to running a cricket club.

That’s why the Cricket Club Development Network was formed in 2015. Its aim was to do what it says on the tin; to provide a mutual support network for those running clubs committed to broad long-term development objectives. It is run by club officers, with club officers, for club officers; a peer-led, peer-driven community of practice sharing knowledge and experience, sources of information and signposting resources to better enable its members to take on the challenges they face.  It anticipated that pooling and sharing expertise will expand the sum of knowledge across the Network, help fill knowledge gaps in individual clubs, and create a wealth of information and resource that could be cascaded down to all clubs. Although, initially, it has targeted Clubmark or aspiring Clubmark clubs, as an identifiable subset of the 6,000 clubs in the UK more likely to be focused on broad development objectives, the Network is open to officers of all clubs.

It is a virtual network based on LinkedIn, a professional networking platform with groups for almost every conceivable profession, trade and interest. Pre-launch research showed over 50% of club chairmen were already registered on LinkedIn – reinforcing evidence of the professional complexion of the community – and only one click away from Network membership. There was no need to set up an expensive bespoke membership platform; cyberspace is awash with such ‘churches without congregations’.

The Network now has 720 members representing nearly 700 clubs. That’s 40% of all Clubmark clubs around the country from Cornwall to Durham, Norfolk to Dyfed. Our original 50% recruitment target was based on the LinkedIn membership research and the likely attraction of such a network to the broad mass of club officers. Some have been in post for years and may not see the need for a network. Others would inevitably be deterred by its virtual nature.  But many of the current members were new to LinkedIn when they joined and the membership profile traverses the age and experience range of the club officer community. So that 50% target is now a minimum and we are actively seeking members through a variety of channels beyond an inexact mailing list gathered from Play Cricket and ‘word-of-mouth’ promotion by the many advocates in the Network.

The recruitment effort could be transformed by ECB and county board endorsement. But we have never sought that. We have sought open dialogue and regularly update key ECB people on our progress. Inevitably there is suspicion, in some quarters, around an initiative that is not driven or sustained by the centre. Undoubtedly, that is not helped by a rigorously enforced policy to exclude from joining all whose primary purpose is not as a club officer.  However, that policy is important to promoting open, full and frank discussion which would not happen if professionals were part of the Network, even as passive observers. Learning is as valuable from sharing mistakes as successes.

The independence of the Network, mirroring the strongly federated nature of the cricket club community, is a critical part of its value proposition. We are a community of practice, bound by a common interest in growing and promoting the game in the local communities in which our clubs operate. It is a grassroots group, facilitated but not led by any one individual or group of clubs. There is no hierarchy and members represent clubs across the full spectrum from premier league to village green. The core challenges of running a club are largely the same, irrespective of size, and there is as much to learn from successful small clubs as from successful big clubs. The history of communities of practice is littered with examples which failed because the common interest was too weak, diluted by emerging factions, or agendas too obviously driven from the top or outside the community. The Network has to be a forum free to evolve a coherent club perspective and not some imposed internal or external manifesto.

That said, one of the founding objectives of the Network is to promote increased understanding of club interests and to overcome the historical mistrust between clubs and centre which so obviously impinges on effective implementation of any strategy for recreational cricket. That is only deliverable if we are focused on the highest common factors not lowest common denominators. We are pleased the ECB asked for our support in testing the online Clubmark 2017 framework and the new club development portal; most of those involved in that testing were recruited through the Network. We welcomed the opportunity to present well-considered concerns and recommendations, in a Network webinar with ECB’s participation and growth team, to contribute to the success of All Stars Cricket.   And, more recently, there have been webinars with relevant ECB teams on marketing, communication and digital solutions.  But clubs have to be involved in developing, not just delivering, strategy and its component programmes.

There are times and issues in which the clubs can also lead. If the Network can effectively harness the cumulative knowledge, experience and personal and professional hinterlands of those involved. It promises a vastly greater intellectual property resource than is possible at the centre. Take, for example, the considerable challenge represented by the EU General Data Protection Regulation which ALL clubs will need to comply with. It potentially far-reaching consequences for clubs’ membership administration, communication, marketing, team and match management. Clubs using external third-party software for storing information, collecting player availability, and sending emails or App messages will need to have data sharing agreements in place. It is a threat to continuing use of Play Cricket and ClubSpark in their current form. And there are exacting obligations for data storage and reporting of breaches with punitive fines for getting it wrong. In the Network, awareness of the implications was discussed by professional and functional experts in our membership for months before any guidance was issued form the centre. I would expect this to evolve over time into emergent best practice saving time and cost reinventing the wheel.

Harnessing the intellectual property or, at least, collating the captured knowledge, information, and signposted resources from four years activity is beginning shortly. It is already available to members in the back library of past discussions should they wish to wade through the list.  But survey and anecdotal evidence suggest much has been imbibed along the way. I, for one, can testify to the time saved, mistakes avoided, best practice influenced and ideas sown through the Network’s deliberations. I hope, as a result, my club is more future-proofed than it was four years ago. Ultimately, I would like the leaders of several thousand other clubs to be able to say the same.

If you would like to join the Cricket Club Development Network, apply here, connect to me on LinkedIn or email Please ensure your club officer credentials are in your LinkedIn profile or advise me separately.

Is your cricket club GDPR ready?

You have probably heard about GDPR at work or in the pub. But have you considered how it will affect your club?

The recent ECB guidance was, at best, a holding operation. I am told more definitive and practical advice is in the pipeline. But, judging by the time it took to get the first communication out, that will probably not arrive ahead of the May 25 compliance deadline. So what about those dire warnings of massive fines if you are not compliant by then?

That fact is it DOES affect you but not as much and with such force as the many GDPR snake-oil-salesmen are predicting. GDPR has all the hallmarks of the 2000 Millennium Bug scare many of us will remember.

The detailed UK implementation of this EU regulation (and no, Brexit won’t stop it) has yet to be worked out and Parliamentary legislation is still at a relatively early stage. So, to be fair to ECB, it is a moving feast and nothing is concrete. That’s why the May 25 date is more a milestone than deadline; and the GDPR gauleiters will probably be knocking on the doors of Google, Facebook and a few other global data behemoths well before they get to your club.

In essence, don’t panic. First and foremost, clubs will NOT be required to register with the ICO so long as they can demonstrate they are not-for-profit. That means intentionally not just the actualite. Unless you have CCTV; that’s a whole different ball game, just as under current data protection regulation.

However, if you SELL your membership data to third parties you need specialist advice. If you ‘give’ your data to third parties to process for you such as Teamer, Pitchero, Membermojo, and ……Team App etc. etc, you need to be clear about the advice they are giving you. Especially if you uploaded your members’ details – without their explicit permission – rather than ask the members to do it themselves. It is unclear, yet, how this will affect Play Cricket and ECB say they are confident it will be compliant in time. But what if your 2nd XI opener doesn’t want their career stats open to club members let alone the public?

Here are the simple guidelines that should help avoid the “20% of global income” fine if some malcontented member – or, more likely, some malcontented ex-member still on your mailing list – decides to dob you in it as a cheap and low shot. At least until more definitive guidance emerges:

1. Appoint a Data Supremo or Czar. Probably the club secretary unless they are on the wrong side of the digital divide.

2. Have a discussion at Committee – an audit – and log all the club data: what it’s for, where it’s kept, who has access and how it’s processed. Membership, mailing, subs, match fee lists….you get the gist. You need to be especially careful about sensitive data: bank, junior, health, welfare, tea ladies’ ages, etc. And it includes paper not just digital data, so the captains’ little black contact books, for example.

3. You should be doing this already but make plans on who has ownership and access. Preferably keep online – in an encrypted cloud-based repository, not on someone’s hard drive, with limited people and protected access.

4. Amend your membership application form so you ask permission to use the data therein for legitimate club admin purposes. You cannot rely on consent alone – it can be withdrawn – but it should reinforce the implied contractual obligation the club has to service the member’s relationship with the club. So that covers finance, communication, marketing events and safeguarding juniors etc. Numerous good examples are bound to emerge and I will post some on the document sharing file so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

5. Work out how you are going to get all existing members to sign something similar over time. Preferably before hell freezes over. And get them to take ownership, if they haven’t already, of their Play Cricket, Teamer, Team App etc., etc. registration. And maybe even update their 1993 abode or that silly student Hotmail address that always bounces back.

6. Start working out a club privacy policy you can stick online, and refer to at every available opportunity, so each form doesn’t cost a small forest. This alone is a business case for your club’s own website. Again, examples are emerging and I will post some on the document sharing file.

7. Wait with baited breath for next best advice. So revisit……regularly. And minute the discussions…….in the minutes your privacy policy says you will keep for 10 years and then destroy. Ahem!

And just to caveat all the above. These guidelines are probably not definitive or complete so I am not going to accept responsibility for them. But they’re the best you’re going to get right now!

Marketing and communication survey

For those unable to make tonight’s webinar with ECB Participation & Growth team’s head of (Digital) Marketing, James Nickson, the full 62 mins recording is here

There is an overview of the survey results and James’ response to the findings and subsequent discussion of key themes including ECB communications and marketing strategy, upcoming plans and how these will relate to clubs.

There were some very interesting insights and one or two ‘hot-off-the-press’ revelations, not least on developing club capabilities, new products, working with commercial product developers, digital platforms supplementing terrestrial TV coverage, partnerships with Cricket Australia and Cricket New Zealand and the future introduction of a ‘parkrun cricket’ concept.

We also touched on GDPR preparations towards the end of the recording; some reassurances and a promise of more practical briefings in the pipeline.

All Stars Cricket webinar with Matt Dwyer

This is the recording of the webinar with the ECB’s Participation and Growth team last night.

It addressed, to some extent, most of the issues and recommendations emerging from our Network consultation. But some were not addressed completely or in any concrete way, we didn’t get some of the definitive assurances we were seeking and some will not like a few of the answers we did get.

It’s also pretty obvious they either do not know or are yet to develop some of the answers. But there were boxes ticked and actually a lot of information in here, even if some of it requires some rune-reading.

The continual references to 5&6 and 5,6,7 year olds is noticeable. The half-hearted commitment to Clubmark is telling. The answers on the finance model are discernable – it will inevitably be reviewed – but clubs cannot expect the ECB to fully pay for the extra kids clubs take on having already invested millions in getting them in. If you have large numbers and happy with your product (enough to defend from ‘disruptive’ local ASC competition), then maybe ASC will not be for you. And the pathways stuff (around mins 20) was interesting although could be interpreted as setting up the land grab for the next age cohort – evidence the reach out to potential league pilot partners.

So next steps? I think we have a dialogue open. They have our opening position and understand it better. There are clearly areas where they will agree to disagree. But others where I think they are malleable once the programme in clubs is underway and they have breathing space to reflect.