‘Luddite members will kill county cricket unless they allow change,’ says Durham chief executive

AIgburth hosts Lancashire against Hampshire in the County Championship, a competition beloved by members whose loyalty to tradition, some CEOs believe, threatens to destroy the game – Gareth Copley/Getty Images

A string of leading figures from the province believe privatization is inevitable and are targeting ‘Luddite’ members who are holding back clubs.

In a new book published this week, several provincial administrators have expressed support for private investment in ailing clubs, but warned the game is at a “fragile time” in its history.

In Batting for Time: The Battle to Keep English Cricket Alivea book about the current state of county cricket by former Telegraph Sports journalist Ben Bloom, Durham CEO Tim Bostock is leading calls to reduce the influence of county members.

Durham is one of three privately owned counties and therefore not accountable to its members. There are about 60,000 nationwide.

Bostock has in the past spoken about lining up Saudi investment in Durham, while Hampshire, another private club, has attracted interest from the co-owners of the Delhi Capitals IPL franchise, who have been in talks with the former club president and majority shareholder. , Rod Bransgrove.

Abishek Porel from Delhi CapitalsAbishek Porel from Delhi Capitals

Owners of Delhi’s capitals have been in talks with Hampshire, one of the three prime privately owned provinces – SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images

It comes at a time when the game is discussing the sale of shares in the Hundred franchises, which could in turn lead to some provinces considering outside offers and private ownership.

An article in the cricketer magazine recently revealed that five counties have required emergency financial assistance from the England and Wales Cricket Board in the past two years and that on average 47 percent of clubs’ revenues are generated by payments from the governing body. Some smaller counties – Worcestershire (63 per cent), Middlesex (64 per cent), Leicestershire (65 per cent) and Gloucestershire (60 per cent) – are higher.

A membership revolt two years ago was partly responsible for Andrew Strauss’s review making its way into the domestic structure, which recommended reducing the number of championship games, which are popular with members who generally don’t support the Hundred either.

“Members don’t realize that what they are trying to say will destroy the game. We run a multi-million pound professional sport and yet the big long-term decisions are made by a handful… I don’t want to call them activists because they’ll get on their high horse, but that’s what they are. be effective activists,” said Bostock.

“Of all the millions of people who watch cricket during an English summer, the whole structure is dictated by perhaps only about 10,000 people. You have presidents who are threatened with dismissal if they don’t do what a small handful of Luddites say – and they are Luddites. They’re passionate Luddites, but they’re Luddites. I just don’t know how they think it will survive without radical change. We ended up with the lowest common denominator ruling the day.”

Bostock’s position was backed by Gloucestershire chief executive Will Brown, who hopes to fund a move away from Bristol in the next decade.

County Ground, BristolCounty Ground, Bristol

Gloucestershire is exploring selling Nevil Road to build a new house and make itself financially less dependent on ECB payouts – Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs

“You do get that passion, heart and love, but I don’t know if this is the model for the future,” he said of the province’s membership. “If county cricket were run the way the members would like it to be, it would not be sustainable – even if there was no music or replay screens in the T20 Blast, as this detracts from the cricket. I’m being funny, but there’s a chance you’ll get disconnected.

“Within the next five years, I expect private equity ownership of perhaps half the provinces, if not more. Once the first couple goes beyond what Hampshire, Northants and Durham have done before, the rest will follow because you no longer have a choice. Maybe that’s how 18 counties survive. It’s becoming a much more commercial beast, and that’s scary.”

Under the current proposals being discussed, the sites where Hundred Franchises are located will receive 51 percent of the equity stakes to sell, while the ECB will retain the 49 percent. If the ECB sells its stake, the money is spread across the entire game. If the club sells its stake, it will keep the money, which for some could be in the hundreds of millions.

‘We have to find a way to future-proof ourselves’

“Can we maintain and sustain this model? Don’t know. As the gap between the provinces continues to widen, we must find a way to future-proof ourselves. I don’t think there has ever been a more vulnerable moment for the entire game,” said Ashley Giles, the CEO of Worcestershire.

Simon Harmer, who has years of experience of county cricket in Essex, supports a reduction in members’ influence. Harmer is South African and in his home country the SA T20, launched last year, was a huge success, but this has led to South Africa selecting a third team for a recent Test tour to New Zealand. “In an ideal world you wouldn’t want member-run clubs. It probably grows an average culture. In an ideal world you would want your club to be run by cricket people who understand both the cricket and financial sides of what it takes to run a successful county team. I don’t think there would be as much politics going on, and that would be better for the game.”

Support for the membership structure at the top of the ECB remains strong, with Richard Gould, the CEO, believing the fans should have a voice. Gould vastly expanded Surrey’s membership when he was chief executive at the Oval and is cautious about giving up too much control over private finance as he heads up the Hundred buyout plan.

“When I have clubs complaining that their members want them to do something they are not doing, they are often clubs that have neglected their membership base. Some clubs found it difficult to deal with this. The problem is that the smaller the number you have, the more pronounced some of them will be in a smaller pond. More members means more diverse voices, more opinions and it is much easier to reflect the region,” he said.

“While the cricket membership model may be a little slower to respond, the facts are that it provides a much more stable model for clubs in the community.”

Batting for Time: The Battle to Keep English Cricket Alive will be published this week

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