Lord’s was half-full on Thursday night night, for a T20 Blast London derby which contained a star-studded cast. The Curran brothers, Sunil Narine and Will Jacks all stepped out for Surrey as the competition begins to get into full flow. Yet, for what should be one of the premier events of the English domestic calendar, only 15,000 tickets were sold.
The venue’s capacity is 31,100, and several areas were closed to the public for operational reasons, which resulted in swathes of empty seats broadcast on Sky Sports Cricket. With The Oval just five miles down the road, the inability to pull punters in to that fixture on an evening bathed in the late-May sun is a troubling indictment on the rapidly spiralling status of the Blast – in which the same fixture was sold-out two years ago.
A statement from the MCC, who run the Lord’s ticket office, to Wisden.com a day after the fixture, read: “There are three remaining Vitality Blast matches at Lord’s next month and sales are increasing steadily, with the match between Middlesex and Sussex Sharks indicating an attendance of 18,000. We look forward to hosting these matches following the start of the international summer at Lord’s next week.”
England host a Test match against Ireland at Lord’s from June 1, for which 11,500 tickets are reportedly unsold for the first three days of cricket. There are plenty of issues floated online as at play in why the ground was half-empty.
Sad day to see so few in for the London derby at Lord’s.
Used to be a packed house and some of the hottest tickets town on a Thursday night.
— Kevin P Hand (@KevinHandBBC) May 25, 2023
The first, and as ever most bitterly felt, centres around The Hundred. When the franchise league was launched, one of the most puzzling questions was about where it left the Blast: two short-format leagues in the summer saturate the domestic calendar, even when the The Hundred is ring-fenced in August, after the Blast has finished.
Add to that the going rate for an adult ticket for a Blast game at Lord’s is £35, whereas the cheapest adult tickets for London Spirit v Oval Invincible’s later in the summer is half that price (£18). It is not hard to see the smarter financial choice.
A Charlotte Edwards Cup match between Sunrisers and South East Stars preceded the men’s game yesterday, more or less the same amount of cricket as the Hundred but for double the price.
‘As long as The Hundred doesn’t cannibalise the Blast…’ pic.twitter.com/3AGd0TvlSx
— Huw Turbervill (@huwzat) May 25, 2023
The other thing to factor in is the demographic of the Lord’s ground, as well as that of the Blast itself. It’s not the people’s ground – you’ll find that South of the river – and while the Hundred has been almost exclusively marketed around families, the Blast has always felt more on the more laddish side. You can buy family passes for the Hundred, and whichever ground you walk around there is always a small army of children brandishing tiny bats signed by a smattering of players and sporting streaky face paint the colour of crisp packets.
The Blast, still in term-time, finds a large chunk of its audience in those looking for an evening of cricket after work, with significantly fewer people than three years ago. That is not to say families don’t come, but they are far more in the minority now than they will be later in the summer.
Maybe it would have been better if the cricket itself warranted the box-office. After all, Middlesex have failed to reach Finals Day since 2019 and duly crumbled to 126 last night.
Less than 24 hours later, Shubman Gill struck an incredible third IPL century in four innings. Would that have been better to watch on the TV than the two sixes Middlesex hit in their innings at a slightly chilly Lord’s? As some on social media pointed out, it is not just the English market that’s saturated with T20, it’s the whole thing.
Probably a fair chance everyone is so bored of 20/20 they are voting with their feet. They’ll be another comp along shortly, it’s tragic what we are doing to our game https://t.co/SSiAnrzG6B
— Martin Bicknell (@bickers1969) May 25, 2023
Maybe it was the Premier League that people wanted to watch on TV. Manchester United beat Chelsea at Old Trafford on Thursday, causing the Blast game at the sister ground to be scheduled in the middle of the working day. Perhaps some London fans were pulled away by the prospect of Chelsea on Sky.
Wherever the truth lies, as ever probably somewhere among a conglomeration of all the issues mentioned above, a significantly cheerier sight awaited 24 hours later. The Oval hosted its first Blast game of the summer, and the stands were at their fullest since the end of last season. It was not a sellout, but it was not far off. The music pumped, flamethrowers went off and there were no blocks of empty seats to draw the eye.
Sean Abbott’s 34-ball century meant the punters went home happy, evidently not yet sick of the endless stream of T20 cricket to consume. In a landscape with seemingly little room for optimism, maybe some could be found in South London on Friday evening.