English city-based Twenty20 tournament moves a step closer

LONDON (AP) " A proposed new eight-team Twenty20 tournament in England moved a step closer on Tuesday in what the England and Wales Cricket Board called a "watershed moment".

Desperate to secure another revenue stream and attract a new audience, the ECB wants to create a tournament of city franchise teams to rival India's IPL and Australia's Big Bash.

"The ECB Board today gave their unanimous support to trigger a formal process to change the game's Articles of Association and allow a new T20 competition," ECB chairman Colin Graves said in a statement on Tuesday.

"Our members have seen the evidence for why the new T20 proposal is the right way to reach new audiences, create new fans and fuel the future of the game. This is a watershed moment for us all to make the whole game stronger."

The razzamatazz of the fast and furious Twenty20 game - played to the backdrop of pop music and dancers - is a far cry from the docile, four-day English county championship.

But with their finances under pressure, the 18 teams in the professional game in England and Wales rely on crowds for one-day and Twenty20 cricket to survive.

Clubs have been offered the financial carrot of 1.3 million pounds ($1.6 million) a year each to accept the revolution.

ECB chief executive Tom Harrison has already confirmed that the 18 counties and the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), guardian of the laws of the game, have signed "media rights deeds."

He said: "We have to think differently if we're going to be successful at attracting family audiences to our competitions.

"This has been the most collaborative project ECB has ever undertaken. It's been about creating something different. If we're successful at that, we'll be successful at boosting our existing tournaments as well as creating something dramatically different for English cricket and for a thriving new audience for English cricket."

For the new tournament to be sanctioned, assent will be needed from a minimum of 31 of the 41 stakeholders, who include non-professional counties.

What happens to the existing Twenty20 competition, which began in 2003, is uncertain.

But county cricket clearly needs new audiences as its financial troubles run deep.

Last year, Durham was close to going out of business before receiving a 3.8 million pound bailout from the ECB. Punishment for getting into such dire financial straits came swift and hard - Durham was stripped of its test match status, relegated it to the second division of the championship and docked 48 points for the following season.

Debt-ridden Yorkshire, county champions a record 33 times, has also been facing an uncertain future.

Chief executive Mark Arthur had warned it may no longer be able to host major matches if it cannot fund a partial redevelopment of its Headingley home. However, there was good news on Tuesday with Yorkshire agreeing a new financial package for the stand refurbishment.

The new tournament could provide a vital showcase for the game, both at grounds and on television.

The fact that the ECB wants eight of the 36 matches to be shown on free-to-air television is also important for former England captain Michael Vaughan.

"Cricket is there for everyone to see. I love the thought and talk of terrestrial partners, and the game seen," he said.

"Cricket needs that moment in this country that changes the way we talk and think about it."

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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