Northants continue to strengthen their network

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Northamptonshire are welcoming more fans from neighbouring counties than ever before. It’s a clear sign the club’s strategy to forge partnerships with its neighbours is reaping dividends.

Data shows a big increase in ticket sales for this year’s Vitality Blast to people from postcodes beyond Northampton. It was a similar picture for the recent T20 tourist match against India and England Women’s international against South Africa.

The Steelbacks’ outreach programme is also helping drive participation among young people and identify talent with hopes that it might unearth future stars to play at Wantage Road. It comes alongside work to make Wantage Road a go-to destination for women’s cricket.

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Chief executive Ray Payne says the club are keen to capitalise on Northamptonshire’s location in the centre of the country:

The County GroundThe County Ground
The County Ground

“It’s all about increasing our footprint of cricket across the eastern region," Payne said. "

"We are blessed location wise that we're surrounded by a number of National Counties. In the last few years, we've worked in partnership with them on participation, performance and developing young cricketers and coaches.

“Those partnerships are really quite strong now, and we have a good network.

"It’s going to help identify talent all around the region.

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"It’s very much become a key strategy in terms of Northamptonshire’s relevance and role in first-class cricket.”

As well as work with young cricketers in Northamptonshire to identify and develop young talent, the club run similar schemes in neighbouring counties.

They assist Cricket East with its Regional Emerging Player Programme and are launching two pioneering Steelbacks Cricket Academies with education providers in Luton and Peterborough.

They also host school holiday camps and sessions for Dynamos and All Stars, as well as welcoming school children to watch sessions of cricket.

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“If we could draw on a bigger pool of local cricketers, that’s good for Northamptonshire,” Payne said. “It just underlines the relevance of Northamptonshire in the middle of England.

“What we identified was our location. There's a big swathe all the way around us that doesn't have first-class representation, yet we have really good well-established links over years with these areas.

“We’ve been growing those partnerships. It’s a two-way, win-win situation.

“It also helps us for attendances. By reaching out further, we're seeing is a broader number of people who come from further afield to watch some of the matches at the County Ground.”

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The club reported bumper attendances during the recent Vitality Blast campaign which saw them narrowly miss out on qualification despite a strong showing in the early stages.

Wantage Road welcomed full houses under the floodlights on Friday nights as Australian Chris Lynn treated fans to two big-hitting hundreds.

Northamptonshire now regularly hosts England Women team in Royal London ODI or Vitality IT20 internationals and staged this year’s Charlotte Edwards Cup finals day and last year’s Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy Final.

Regional side Sunrisers also play at Northampton and use the indoor facilities for training in the winter.

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“The senior management of women’s cricket at the ECB and the England setup, just really like playing at Wantage Road,” Payne said.

“The atmosphere suits it. It's a great theatre, we get reasonable crowds in, it’s usually on TV, so we’ve got a good media setup when Sky arrives.

"We’re becoming a first choice. It’s great for the county.”

The club are making the most of tourist matches to extend their reach into local communities.

"At the Second XI game against Grenada last month, fans were able to sample Caribbean food while a steel band created a carnival atmosphere."

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Northamptonshire have bounced back strongly from the pandemic. Payne reports the club are as strong as ever in terms of sponsorship, season tickets and attendances, which has allowed them to invest.

“We've invested a lot of money in our ground over recent years,” he said. “We see it as one of the premier non-Test Match grounds, and definitely a theatre for the big games.

“We continue that philosophy of delivering a quality experience for cricket, but also making sure that the county ground is used all year round for different events, providing income that supports our cricket.”

That investment has seen growth in facilities, support staff and playing surface.

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Ultimately though, if the club are to continue this expansion, they will need to identify additional land to supplement facilities at Wantage Road.

“The pressure on the ground is significant now and despite us investing with hybrid wickets, with improving the whole ground in terms of drainage and the number of days we can play on the ground, we still feel we need to be able to expand further.,” Payne said.

“We're going to have to do that outside of the walls of Wantage Road and find a new area for the development of our academies, our partnerships, women’s and girls’ game and some community work.

“So, if we can find land in the right place, and find the finances, that will be a significant step forward again in terms of us providing a location for cricket.

“And we can support other areas that are further afield such as Luton, who have a massive following and interest in cricket but unfortunately very limited places to play.”