County news

'I put my money where my mouth was'

Yorkshire chief executive Colin Graves reveals plans for floodlights at Headingley and discusses his role in reviving the club's fortunes

Firdose Moonda at Headingley

August 5, 2012

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By contrast to the rest of the country, the weather at Headingley was lovely, Yorkshire v Kent, Headingley, March, 5, 2012
Yorkshire hope to continue Headingley's development by adding floodlights © Getty Images
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Headingley could be about to experience its third drawn Test in 31 years but that will not unduly bother Yorkshire's chief executive, Colin Graves. His ground did not host a Test last year and the club is slowly emerging from a period of financial darkness with Graves, and his cash, one of the prime reasons why.

Graves has put in up to £7m ($11m) of his own money and stood as a guarantor for bank loans. Slowly they are finding their feet again with Graves, who a year ago had ruled out further improvements at Headingley for the foreseeable future, now hankering after floodlights and a roof on the West Stand.

He spoke to ESPNcricinfo about Yorkshire's financial position, the progress of the team and the future.

What does the future hold for Yorkshire?
This winter we are hoping to install floodlights. That's all ready to go and the finance is there to do that. We are also looking at putting a canopy over the western terrace so we can link it together as a ground. And the last thing we will do is develop the old stand at the far end and when we do that, we will finish the bowl off. So the whole thing will have been rebuilt.

But the club is still in debt?
Yes, there is debt to the tune of about £18 million pounds. We have paid some of the debt off from the profits that we've made and I've put some money in to reduce some of the debt. The debt that is still there is not to the bank, it's to me and that is the big difference.

Does the club make any money?
This year it will turn a profit of £350,000 to 400,000. The only time it is not profitable is if we don't stage a Test match. Test matches are the cash drivers. The majority of the money comes from gate takings. We've had three sell-out days and the capacity is nearly 17,000 so the gate takings on those are huge.

Can you give provide a brief overview of the financial situation at Yorkshire when the Gang of Four took over 12 years ago?
Yorkshire was bankrupt. They had no assets and they didn't own the ground. They had started a redevelopment of the ground, of the stands on both the west and east sides and it had gone far over budget. It just wasn't managed properly. It was an old committee structure and the committee structure certainly didn't work. It was not a commercial entity and could not make it as a business.

Why did you agree to get involved?
I was a cricket nut. I had played league cricket in Yorkshire for a really long time and I've always loved cricket. I'd also run a successful business with the Costcutter chain of stores. As a typical Yorkshire fanatic of cricket, I didn't want to see Yorkshire go to the wall and disappear. So, I put my money where my mouth was to make sure it survived and prospered.

What changes did you implement and how much money did you put into the club?
There were two main big things that I did up front. First, I negotiated to buy the ground from the landlord, Paul Caddick, who owns the rugby league ground next door. It took 18 months to negotiate that but we bought the ground in 2004. I also negotiated a 15-year staging agreement from the ECB to stage Test matches and ODIs at Headingley until 2019.

We borrowed money from the bank, Leeds City Council and I put some money in as well - over the years I have put in the region of £7 million of my own money and given guarantees to the bank - to make sure we've continued to develop the ground. We built a new pavilion three years ago, in conjunction with Leeds Metropolitan University at a cost of £21 million. The university put in £14 million and a regional development agency which got disbanded under the government cuts two year ago put in £5 million pounds. So Yorkshire only had to put in £2 million. Since we took over, we have spent £45 million developing what we've got today.

Are you seeing a return on your investment in terms of how the team is performing
We've been doing ok although we had a terrible year last year. We've got a young squad and we've invested in our academy. The thing we want to do this year is get promoted back into Division One of the County Championship. We've been hard hit by the weather, but we've got into the T20 semi-final, which we've never done before so it's looking pretty good. I'd like to see us into the first division and challenging to win that. We are good enough and we've got players who are good enough. One problem is that we keep producing good young players and then they go and play for England. We've lost Tim Bresnan to a central contract, we've missed Jonny Bairstow this year. There are two more players that I know of that are on the England radar as well so we could end up with four of our 11 playing for England in one form or another. It makes it hard work when you've got a squad of 15 and four of them disappear.

Although it makes it difficult to win as a county when players leave on national duty, it does reflect the strength of your structures, don't you think?
Definitely and we've put a lot into that. Last winter we brought in three new coaches, Jason Gillespie, Paul Farbrace and Richard Damms, and made them accountable for the first team, second team and the academy. Before that we had a pretty flat coaching structure.

We were actually the first county to set up an academy structure in the United Kingdom. That was 25 years ago and the Yorkshire academy was the forerunner to what everybody else has done. Every year we have produced between 10 and 15 young players. Although we then have to decide if we are going to keep them or let them go, it's a good dilemma to be in.

One of those you let go was Ajmal Shahzad. What are your thoughts on how that played out?
We let him go because he wasn't happy playing for us. He wasn't happy with the coaching staff and the team ethos and he wanted to do his own thing. We brought in a new coach in Jason Gillespie and Shahzad really didn't want to listen. There was nothing we could do but shake hands and say 'You go do your own thing, we will do ours.' It was one of those unfortunate things but hopefully he is the better for it and will play to his potential somewhere else.

What about talk that it was a cultural thing - that he didn't fit in?
If anybody says that it's a load of rubbish. There are no cultural issues in Yorkshire at all. If you go down to Bradford, there's a massive Asian community and we try and get them involved. You can't make them get involved but we welcome them with open arms and want them to be part of Yorkshire.

Do you feel you have adequately tapped into that community, along with all the other resources you have around you?
I think so and remember that we've got a huge base to work from. We've got the biggest recreational club cricket contingent in the United Kingdom. For example, 28% of all league cricket on a Saturday in the country is played in Yorkshire. So cricket to Yorkshire people is about passion and heritage. The Boycotts, the Truemans the Illingworths, people like Vaughan, Gough, you name it, we keep churning them out. There's always been that expression that if Yorkshire have a good team, England have a good team and we are getting there again.

There is also a big student community to tap into in Leeds. A survey has shown that about 50% of the students at Leeds Met University live within 30 miles of Leeds so they are around during the holidays. We're looking to capitalise on that. We've never done a marketing campaign to students in the past but there will be one this year. We are a sleeping giant. We've got a big asset here and we've got to get people to use it. Whether it's for the cricket or bars and eating, whatever, we've got to use it and maximise it.

Sounds as though it's very corporatised?
It is but at the same time, it's a members' club. Yorkshire is still run by its members. We've put all the corporate procedures in to run it properly but at the same time, it's run by the members. Yorkshiremen are very traditional about their cricket and we've not got a successful business model which is sustainable going forward.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by StoneRose on (August 6, 2012, 10:30 GMT)

Very illuminating interview, thank you. Interesting of course about Shahzad but also interesting the business side behind it: e.g. Yorks paying 2 out of 21 million for a new pavilion seems a great deal, even if they cannot afford to use their own media centre for most of the season because Leeds Met's rents aren't viable (as written on this website by George Dobell). Also interesting to hear how much of his own money Graves as put in. Much credit to him for that, although as at many clubs, it's then no guarantee that the chairman will necessarily be 'right' on every matter.

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