With Twenty20 certain to form a core part of cricket's brave new world, the news that crowds are slightly down on previous years should not be ignored.
The reasons for this slight decline are obvious. Whilst games in which rivalry is fiercest - the roses clash, for instance - sell out, interest in the less glamarous fixtures is reduced. Over the space of 17 days, each county plays five home games. Yet, with five home games spread so thinly, even the most avid of Twenty20 fans would find it difficult to attend every game, especially members of counties for whom Twenty20 is no longer included in the membership. The problem is not helped by brainless scheduling: four of Surrey's first five games were at home within the space of eight days. Fans would be more willing, and able, to attend every clash were they spread over a longer period. The problem is obviously compunded at counties that have struggled and were effectively eliminated by the halfway stage. Where is the motivation for fans to attend Leicestershire's last two home games? These should be one of the highlights of their season, and should contribute a large portion of their annual gate receipts. But, with the grim record of seven consecutive defeats, the incentive for fans to part with their wages is negligible.
There is considerable merit in the decision, from this season, to increase the number of games played by two to ten. It makes the groups symmetrical and, subsequently, a lot fairer. Yet there are flipsides. The ECB are determined to encourage local rivalries but there is palpable frustration developing amongst fans bored of playing the same teams persistently, due primarily to the regionalisation of both the FP Trophy and the Twenty20 Cup. There will be 13 days of cricket between Kent and Surrey this season, including eight in seven weeks, whilst some pairs of counties go seasons without meeting others.
What is the best way round these problems to maximise the popularity of Twenty20 Cup cricket, and the financial benefits it can have to the counties? I would advocate replacing the three regions with two, prior to the quarter-final stage, meaning each county would only play the others in the region once, reducing supporter fatigue with seeing the same opposition players constantly. This would reduce the number of games played by each county to eight. This would be hard to stomach, and chairmen may be angry that they would only have their bumper derbies every other season, but has great merit. Extra games of Twenty20 would be implemented to placate the chairmen by replacing the Pro40 with a Twenty20 league, played primarily on Friday nights.
Another thought that needs serious consideration is the possibility of extending the season into October - playing almost the same number of days of cricket, but more spread out, would help increase resting and preparing time during the season itself. Late September weather is also generally superior to that of late April. The championship should not extend beyond around the 20th of September, but there could be great merit in an end-of-season Twenty20 bonanza. This would help consolidate the fanbase built up over the mid-season and would give county cricket a memorable end-of-season that would capture the attention of the nation in a way that even county championships as enthralling as last season's simply will never do. Ending the season with a final - perhaps Twenty20 finals day - would provide a climactic and definitive finale. Just as the FA Cup Final concludes the English domestic football season, so the Twenty20 finals could conclude cricket's.
Ideas, ideas. The ECB has an abundunce of them to consider: of that no one doubts. Now it is up to them to make the right choice: to maximise and consolidate the support for Twenty20 in a way that leaves the 16-game county championship as it is.