Bears propose April crowd pilot games

Warwickshire were limited to a pilot 1,000 crowd for a two-day pre-season friendly with Worcestershire last July – just prior to the start of the the summer’s Bob Willis Trophy campaign

Warwickshire chief executive Stuart Cain has responded to the government’s suggested roadmap towards bringing back crowds to sport by arguing the case for County Championship pilot fixtures.

A series of ‘pilot’ events are to run in April ahead of opening grounds up to a maximum of 10,000 crowds from 17 May.

And Cain argues that Championship cricket would make an ideal pilot.

Warwickshire’s Edgbaston home and Surrey’s Kia Oval were both used as crowd pilot venues for pre-season friendlies in late July last year, ahead of the start of the Bob Willis Trophy on 1 August.

But plans for fans to be admitted for the first two days of the opening Trophy matches that followed were called off by Prime Minister Boris Johnson following a spike in coronavirus cases.

In the end, the truncated 2020 cricket season was played in empty stadiums. But Championship cricket does not attract anywhere near the sort of crowds that flock to England internationals or mid-summer T20 Blast games.

And Cain argues that Edgbaston is now better equipped than ever to host further crowd pilot games, especially for the Bears’ opening Championship fixtures.

“It can’t be any worse to have people in the Bullring shopping centre but not have people at Edgbaston,” Cain told BBC CWR.

“If you think about it, Edgbaston is a four-acre park in the suburbs of Birmingham. It’s an open air site with 25,000 seats, so if you can go shopping in the Bullring, surely you’d be able to come to Edgbaston, watching safely in the open air.

Stuart Cain began his job at Edgbaston last summer in the middle of the first lockdown
Stuart Cain began his job at Edgbaston last summer in the middle of the first lockdown

“We can stagger people’s entrances. We’ve split Edgbaston into three segments now with three separate entrances. We can bring people in in a controlled manner in an hour or so.

“We’ve got contactless payments. We’ve built an app that allows people to get food and drink to their seats so people haven’t got to stand in a crush at bars.

“We could do rapid testing. We could build a centre on the car park like we did with the testing centre last year.

“They’re talking about a 10-minute test. We could do that. We could build a second perimeter if we decide to go down the vaccine passport route.”

Cain still broadly welcomed the prospect of national lockdown measures being lifted and said that the announcement gave “much welcomed clarity on the way forward”, both for cricket and Edgbaston’s conference business.

“It means that limited crowds can start enjoying cricket from May with a full return in June,” he added.

“However, if people can shop at the Bullring and Alton Towers can accommodate thrill-seekers from 12 April, why could we not stage spectator pilots at our County Championship matches at Edgbaston?

“This would help the wider professional sports industry to be equipped for welcoming more spectators in the following months.

“In early to mid-June we could then work with the government to host increased capacity pilots at the Test matches between England and New Zealand, at Lord’s and Edgbaston.

“It is a big leap to go from 25% to 100% capacity, without pilots in between, to make sure that sport is operationally ready for large crowds.”