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Test Match tickets for children should be FREE

The ECB is neglecting the next generation

Last year, I was lucky enough to be at The Oval on the day that Alastair Cook played his last Test innings.  The ground was packed, the sun shone, and there was a wonderful sense of occasion.  It was one of the outstanding "I was there" sporting moments of 2018.

And my 12 year old son Adam was with me!  His ticket had cost just £1 (mine was £40).  We were sitting next to the pavilion, right next to where the players came out.  At the end of the day's play, we waited for the TV companies to interview the players, then stood with other fans as Cook returned from the field. Adam managed to get an autograph. 

It was an amazing experience that he has not forgotten, and the perfect way to get a child hooked on Test cricket. 

Yet here is the disappointing thing: out of a crowd of close to 20,000, my son was the ONLY school-aged child in the entire ground.  OK, perhaps another child had sneaked in somewhere, but if they had, I didn't see them.  In the long queue for autographs, Adam was the only person aged under 30.

How could this be?

It's because Alastair Cook's final innings was played on a Monday in September.  The special £1 deal had been made on a school day. It might come as a surprise to The Oval, but children can't just bunk off school to go to the cricket, especially at the start of term.  The only reason that Adam could see any cricket at all was that after school, he leaped on a bus to take the 15 minute ride to the Oval.  He arrived during the tea break, so he was only able to watch the final session.  He didn't see Cook bat, but at least he did see him go out to field to a standing ovation.

The previous year, I'd taken Adam to Old Trafford for the fourth day of the Test, a Sunday.  That day, the family seats had been 'sold out' when I tried to book (yet on the day a quarter of them were empty) so I had no choice but to pay the full £60 ticket price for both of us because there were no discounts for children in other parts of the ground.  And needless to say, he was the only child in our (half-empty) stand that day as well.

Next year, the country's national cricket body (the ECB) is launching a new tournament called The Hundred.  This is whizz bang cricket which is meant to attract a 'new audience', including children who apparently don't have the attention span to absorb cricket in a longer format.  

But the truth is more worrying.  The ECB seems to have given up trying to promote Test cricket to the younger generation.  This form of cricket hasn't been broadcast on free to air TV since 2005.  Most children have never seen any Test cricket live on television, which is one way to guarantee they won't be interested in it. 

Yes, Test grounds do offer some limited opportunities to get very cheap tickets for children - but these are usually on the fifth day of the Test (most Tests don't make it that far). And children have to be accompanied by an adult.  If the adult is having to pay £50, £80 or even £100+ for a ticket, most adults think twice about going at all, let alone taking a child with them.

So here's my suggestion.

The ECB should make Test match tickets for children FREE.  This should apply every day, not just the last day.  

"But what about all that lost ticket revenue?" I hear the money men ask.  This may be a factor at Lord's and maybe the Oval.  But other grounds struggle to sell out Test tickets these days.  And even at the London grounds, what's the worst that could happen?  Imagine if 1,000 school-aged children come to watch the game with a parent, and catch the bug of spending a day at the Test.  What brilliant marketing! It's exactly the sort of investment that is needed if Test cricket is going to continue into the next generation.