The John Player Special League was launched in 1969, as the second one-day competition in England and Wales alongside the Gillette Cup (launched in 1963). The 17 counties of the time played each other in a league format on Sunday afternoons throughout the season. These matches were concise enough to be shown on television, with BBC2 broadcasting one match each week in full until the 1980s, and then as part of the Sunday Grandstand multi-sport programme. For close finishes for the title, cameras appeared at the grounds where the contenders for the title were competing and the trophy presentation to the victorious team would be on film.
Refuge Assurance replaced John Player Special as the sponsor of the competition in 1987 and then in 1988 started an end-of-season play-off competition known as the Refuge Assurance Cup. The top four teams of the season qualified for this competition, with the first-placed team playing the fourth and the second-placed team playing the third, and the winners of these matches meeting in a final at a neutral venue. This competition lasted until 1991.
The Sunday League was not sponsored in 1992 (Durham making its debut in the competition this season), but in 1993 AXA Equity and Law became the sponsor. The matches this season were 50 overs per innings. The first round of matches that took place on 9 May 1993 were the first official matches in England to be played in coloured clothing and with a white ball. The following season the competition reverted to 40 overs per innings. On Wednesday 23 July 1997 Warwickshire played Somerset at Edgbaston in the first competitive county game to be played under floodlights.
The National League was launched in 1999 with the 18 first-class counties split into two divisions with three teams promoted and relegated from each. The matches were played over 45 overs and the competition was sponsored by Norwich Union. Matches were spread over the week rather than Sundays only.