“The women’s cricket landscape is set to change as domestic teams will now be owned by counties.”
The England and Wales Cricket Board has announced plans for a major overhaul of women’s domestic cricket, which would involve transferring ownership of teams back to the first-class counties.
At present, there are eight separate regional teams that are owned and financially supported by the ECB. However, starting in the 2025 season, a new model will be implemented where the counties will have direct control over the development and management of women’s teams.
This marks the third significant change for women’s cricket in the past eight years. The women’s regions were established in 2020, and the ECB believes that this new move will increase exposure for the sport, attract more fans, and create more opportunities for commercialization. The current system has improved performance levels but has not led to financial growth, as regional matches have consistently had low attendance.
The 18 first-class counties, plus the MCC, are being invited to submit tenders to host one of the eight professional women’s teams. They have until 10 March to do so. The bids will be judged based on the bidder’s ability to deliver quality cricket, grow the fanbase, provide a return on the ECB’s investment, as well as their overall “vision and ambition” for women’s cricket.
The ECB will provide an annual investment of £1.3m for each of the eight teams until 2028. However, the counties are responsible for generating their own financial growth in order for the women’s game to eventually become self-sustaining. ECB’s chief executive, Richard Gould, commended the progress made in regional cricket and expressed a desire for even greater achievements in the women’s game. He stated that the goal is for it to become a fully established, financially viable, and professional sport.
Underneath the top eight professional teams, there will be two lower tiers (Tier 2 and Tier 3) where teams will also be associated with counties. However, these teams will be made up of amateur players and there will be no movement between Tier 1 and the lower tiers until at least 2029.
The large crowds at double-headers in the Hundred, as well as the successful alignment between men’s and women’s teams in competitions such as the FA Women’s Super League, is seen by the ECB as evidence that consistent branding and alignment with men’s team helps to grow fanbases.
The decision also seems to be in part a reaction to the findings of the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket, released in June 2023, which denounced the exclusion of women’s cricket and uncovered proof of a pervasive environment of sexism and misogyny in the professional sport.
Beth Barrett-Wild, the director of women’s professional cricket at the ECB, stated that this is primarily a strategy for expanding the sport. The plan aims to secure a meaningful and lasting future for cricket.
I dedicate a significant amount of time communicating with the players. Currently, the structure of the women’s and men’s professional games creates a feeling of separation between the two. Our goal is to ensure that the players feel secure and included. This transition presents a chance to inspire a shift in culture within the game.
Several top-tier counties have voiced worries about the financial impact of adding a women’s team, but some, such as Essex and Durham, are reportedly very interested in securing one of the eight Tier 1 positions. Surrey and Sussex have already declared their plans to submit proposals.
An evaluation committee, appointed by the ECB, consisting of both independent members and representatives from the ECB board and executive, will assess the bids. According to Barrett-Wild, the committee will pose challenging questions and closely examine the plans of the bidders to ensure that they are committed and dedicated to investing in this opportunity.