The Future of Professional Women’s Cricket


George Roberts looks at the ECB plans for the professional game and how they might benefit the sport

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By George Roberts

The future is, in theory, quite bright for the professional women’s game in England.

It may not have been professionalised as long as it has been in Australia. Indeed, it may not have the money that India has, where the sale of the Women’s Premier League (the equivalent to the IPL) teams amounted to £456 million.

However, in the last four years – since the regional structure was established – the number of professionals has risen from 17 centrally contracted national team players to 80+ international and domestic players.The regions established professional set-ups, a move away from the traditional, amateur county structure. By concentrating the number of teams, full professionalisation was realised with players, coaches, sports scientists, academies, and player pathways all coming under the purview of one of the eight regions.

These have now run their course. They have driven up standards but not created successful brands. Women’s cricket still feels separate. The sense of ‘otherness’ is strong. Even for an obsessive like myself, finding streams and fixture lists are hard. The streams that do exist are poor in quality. Most detrimentally, 43 grounds were used for the professional game last year.

How can you create a fanbase with such nomadism? For example, 2024 looks better with all except two of the Central Sparks home grounds scheduled to take place at either Edgbaston or New Road, although those two are listed as “TBC”. It would be hard to see such an entry on the men’s fixture calendar.

One last note on the present: whilst it is important to honour two greats of the women’s game – Rachel Heyhoe Flint and Charlotte Edwards – by naming the competitions after them, who actually remembers which is the 50-over and the T20 competition? And how do neither have a title sponsor?

The Women’s Professional Game Structure 2.0 seeks to address the problem of “otherness” and begins to marry up the men’s and women’s games. The counties have a long his-tory, strong fanbase, established path-ways, and strong brand awareness. This will make it far easier to follow the women’s game.

The structure will be three-tiered beginning in 2025. Tier one will be professional and will likely look fairly similar to the current competition. The main change will be a greater alignment between the competitions. There are a few double headers in the upcoming season but hopefully the new structure will draw on the success of the Hundred and schedule plenty, if not only, double headers. With counties successfully requesting that T20 blast games happen between Thursday and Sunday, this should be easy to achieve. Tiers two and three will be semi-professional.

The first-class counties have been invited to bid for the Tier one teams, or at least the money to run the teams. There will be still be eight professional teams. However, there will be Tiers two and three made up of the remaining first-class and National Counties. Promotion begins in 2029.

Of course, the cynics will say that the counties will just use this money to subsidise the men’s team. Although it seems that the ECB will put in plen-ty of safeguards to ensure this will not happen. The Telegraph tells us that this plan will make a loss of £86.7 million over the next five seasons.

The Telegraph article by Fiona Tomas focuses not on the opportunity but the pitfalls. Nowhere is it mentioned the financial growth that women’s cricket has undergone over the last decade – with the global value of women’s elite sport expected to surpass £1 billion next year.

There are a few interesting parts of the tender document that has been sent out to the counties (it is also freely available online).

Firstly, this plan is to last from 2025-2028, concurrently with the County Partnership Agreement that is currently being negotiated between the First-Class Counties and the ECB. However, the Venue Agreement, also still in negotiation, lasts from 2025-2031. The lack of overlap seems slightly incongruous.

The exponential growth of women’s cricket means it could look very different in seven years time, leaving the venues obsolete.

On venues, county grounds are stretched to the limit as it is. Many grounds staff have expressed their frustration over how full the calendar is. It is unclear therefore how a county would divide the ground allocation. Playing at out-grounds is not a sustainable solution as outlined in the ECB document.

The professional women’s game looks sure-footed for the next few years, with the ECB guaranteeing funding. But what happens after? Will the game be commercially viable to cope with a reduction in ECB fund-ing? How far will professionalisation trickle down the pyramid?

It would be foolish to try and predict how the game will look at the end of the 2028 Season. Who knows how many professional cricketers there will be in England by then.

Hopefully what we will see is a trickle-down into the recreational game. That more clubs both the semi-professional, ECB premier league sides and the village XI will have women’s teams. In my beloved Birmingham, the West Midlands Cricket League - the premier women’s competition in the region - features teams from Astwood Bank and J G Meakin. A mere 1 hour 25 minute trip.

With the depth of talent always increasing, these leagues should become more local.

It is a time of great opportunity. The future is very bright indeed