A job advertisement uncovered by Martin Davies of Women’s Cricket Blog appears to confirm that the Kia Women’s Super League is set to be thrown under the juggernaut of the new Men’s City T20 in 2020, with the last edition of the competition coming in 2019.
The recruitment ad for a “Head of New T20 Operations”, posted to the ECB Careers web site, states (emphasis ours):
“For the first time in this country, this will be a domestic competition that involves teams not based on the existing county structure. 8 newly formed teams will play 36 games over a 5 week period, with many of the top English and overseas cricketers competing. Each team will have a designated Home Venue, which will be one of this country’s leading cricket grounds. ECB is also exploring launching a women’s competition running in parallel with the same format and the same team brands. Some games in the women’s competition are likely to be played at different venues to the men’s games.“
Other runes also point in a similar direction: back in September we observed that Kia’s sponsorship of the Super League had been extended only until 2019, allowing the ECB room to manoeuvre the competition out of existence at that point; and it was also noted at the time the TV contracts were announced that although “a” women’s T20 competition was part of the deal, the exact details appeared to have been kept deliberately vague.
There is no doubt that the model the ECB is pursuing has been unbelievably successful in Australia, where the WBBL is now arguably the highest-profile women’s team-sport competition on the planet, with attendances and TV audiences far exceeding English football’s Women’s Super League for example.
However, this is not the first but the second shake-up the women’s game will have undergone in the space of 5 years, and there will be losers as well as winners, even if the City T20 overcomes the reservations of those serious cricket fans who (with good reason) remain highly sceptical of the entire concept, in a country where a smaller proportion of the population (and a far smaller proportion of the cricket-watching population) lives in the cities around which the competition will be based.
The most obvious loser would be the Loughborough Lightning, who would basically be Alderaan in this scenario to the City T20’s Death Star. (If you don’t understand this reference, please refer to your nearest 8-year-old child… or 40-year-old man… but basically, Alderaan didn’t come out of the encounter in too healthy a state!!)
The Surrey Stars would also be in the firing line, with a London franchise more likely to head to Lords than The Oval.
But in the case of the franchises which would likely survive in all-but-name (the Southern Vipers, Yorkshire Diamonds and Lancashire Thunder) the actual people involved – coaches… managers… marketing staff – many of whom have worked extremely hard (in some cases unpaid) to grow the Kia Super League, would find themselves thrown out into the cold – all their efforts for nothing.
And what of the fans, who have built loyalties to “their” teams? These allegiances grew notably even between KSL-01 and KSL-02, judging by the colours on show at Finals Day in 2017; and the increased TV coverage next season looked set to build upon that by reaching into even more living rooms.
But will the little girl who buys a Loughborough Lightning shirt in 2018 be able to exchange it for a Birmingham one in 2020?
Will she even want to?
That is the question the ECB have to ask themselves now.