Warwickshire chief executive Colin Povey has defended the raised cost of membership of Warwickshire County Cricket Club.
The price of voting membership will rise by an average of 15 per cent next season though Povey says such increases are a necessity if the Bears are to build a sustainable future.
"Last season, Warwickshire membership was among the cheapest of the 18 counties," Povey said. "The Bears are in the top flight of all competitions, maintain a large squad and have a full second XI fixture card. In addition, the club continues to provide strong support to grass roots cricket in the region via the Warwickshire Cricket Board. The facilities at Edgbaston are among the best in the country and in 2007 we will be investing to maintain our excellent standards in all these areas.
"The future development of the ground is vital to maintaining our Test Match status and we are being constantly assessed by the ECB to ensure we are making progress towards achieving the higher facilities standards they now require. You will also be aware that several other counties are bidding and investing aggressively in order to secure International Ground status."
Few could argue that county cricket has provided superb value for money for many years. Fewer than 90 of the 1,100 Warwickshire members who returned the club’s questionnaire last summer complained about the cost of membership. The prospect of watching the likes of Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan in action for little more than #3 a day (based on the full membership price of #135) remains appealing.
The club also offers reductions for 'senior members’ (those over 63), disabled members and 'county’ (those living more than 15 miles from Edgbaston) members. They will also provide rates for life membership and the unemployed upon request.
Yet the increases do not come at an ideal time. With no Test at Edgbaston next season and the Warwickshire team far from their best last season, some members might conclude that there are fewer incentives to renew.
It's also worth remembering that attendances at Championship matches at Edgbaston last year were dismal. It remains to be seen what price the market will stomach.
Spectators are also likely to see less cricket for their money. The Professional Cricketers' Association — the players' union — recently voted to reduce the number of overs in a day's play from 104 to 96. Increasingly, the PCA are the sort of union that would have Margaret Thatcher twitching with indignation; while they may be improving the lot of players, they do little for consumers.
Furthermore, England’s policy of withdrawing players from the majority of county action has diluted standards. The chances of seeing Andrew Flintoff or Kevin Pietersen in domestic action now are negligible.
Though a 'members' forum' on November 21 could prove uncomfortable for Warwickshire's management, the club expect both the number of members and revenues to increase this winter. A full-scale revolt is highly unlikely.
This will not be the end of the price rises, however. Though the club's constitution does not allow a rise of more than 20 per cent in a single year (or separate categories of membership for different forms of cricket), another hefty increase is all but inevitable next season.
By comparison to other forms of entertainment, membership of Warwickshire CCC still represents good value for money. Indeed, the club are nowhere near as expensive as some other counties. Last year, only five offered lower prices for membership.
Few could claim that the ground is not in need of redevelopment, either. While Edgbaston is popular with players and spectators, investment is vital if the club is to remain a regular venue for international cricket. The plans of Hampshire and Glamorgan threaten established venues. Building work on the new pavilion is five to ten years away but plans may be unveiled at the annual meeting on February 28.
The rise in Junior Bears membership does seem regrettable. An increase from #20 to #45 is anticipated.
The club have also announced a modernised committee structure. Instead of a plethora of sub-committees, management and cricket committees will answer to the general committee overseeing all areas of the club.