County news October 3, 2016

Durham relegated in return for ECB bailout, Hampshire stay up

ESPNcricinfo staff
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ECB bailout forces Durham relegation

Durham have been relegated from the top flight of the County Championship, with Hampshire staying up in their place, after being hit with a penalty for receiving financial support from the ECB during the 2016 season. They will begin 2017 in Division Two with a 48-point penalty in return for a £3.8m bailout.

The club has accepted it will no longer be allowed to bid to host Test matches at Chester-le-Street, although they will be eligible for ODIs and T20 internationals. Durham will also start next season with -4 points in the NatWest T20 Blast and -2 points in the Royal London Cup; hand back non-player related ECB prize money for 2016; and be subject to a more closely controlled salary cap until 2020.

The financial aid package, which has been agreed between the ECB and Durham's board, is aimed at allowing the club to cover its operating costs, settle a proportion of outstanding debt and focus on restructuring.

"We've been working with Durham County Cricket Club throughout the year on how best to address their financial issues; we welcome the club's willingness to review its business model and management structures," Tom Harrison, the ECB's chief executive, said.

"There is no doubt that a strong, financially robust Durham has a vital role to play in developing England talent, enriching our domestic competitions and underpinning the wider growth of the game in the north east.

"The financial package and associated conditions approved by the ECB Board reflect the unprecedented seriousness of Durham's financial situation. To help them through these difficulties and continue as a first-class county, this had to be addressed with immediate, practical financial assistance. We also have a wider responsibility to the whole game and need strong deterrents in place to preserve the game's integrity and financial stability.

"Durham have made a strong contribution to the game as a first-class county, through domestic competitions, local participation and producing fine England players. We now look forward to working productively with the new Board of Directors in the restructured company and supporting a healthy future for Durham and the game in the north-east."

After enduring a troubled campaign on and off the field, Durham appeared to have secured their Division One status with back-to-back victories in their final two games of the season, over Surrey and Hampshire, who finished 45 points behind them in eighth place and were initially relegated alongside Nottinghamshire.

However, to retain their viability, Durham had to call upon assistance from the ECB - including an accelerated annual fee payment of £1.3m, as well as the rescheduling of their £923,000 staging fee for the second Test against Sri Lanka in May - to help service debts to the local council, believed to be in the region of £5-6 million.

The ECB spent the past week considering whether a sanction should be imposed. A points deduction was eventually deemed to be the only realistic option available to the board, given that a financial penalty would merely have exacerbated the club's issues.

"We are clearly disappointed at the position we are in and the sanctions we have accepted, particularly for the players and staff who have worked so hard to keep us in the first division," David Harker, the club's chief executive, said.

"However, we continue as a first-class county, will host international cricket and have a platform to stabilise and develop Durham County Cricket Club. It is important that the club addresses its serious financial challenges and puts the business on a sustainable footing and therefore we have had to accept the conditions offered by ECB.

"Other counties have faced serious financial challenges but have been able to find other solutions including private investors without this reliance on ECB. We will continue to work with the ECB to promote cricket in the North East and are committed to securing a successful sustainable future for Durham."

There is no suggestion of financial impropriety at Durham, and other Test-match grounds have accrued greater debts in the course of modernising their venues. However, the club's remote location has made it harder to diversify and generate the sort of revenues that keep their rivals solvent.

The club, which won the County Championship three times in six seasons between 2008 and 2013, has proven itself to be one of the most successful counties in terms of producing England players, with Ben Stokes and Mark Wood among the most recent examples. However, in a sign of potential struggles to come, they have lost two of their most influential batsmen of recent seasons, with Scott Borthwick and Mark Stoneman choosing to move to Surrey.

In a statement, Hampshire said that the club "deeply regrets the situation that Durham finds itself in and sends its sincere sympathies to the club, its players, staff and of course its loyal supporters".

The club chairman, Rod Bransgrove, added: "I also fully endorse the support of ECB in helping one of its 18 first-class stakeholders to survive in the long-term and am satisfied that the sanctions imposed as a result of Durham's circumstances are fair and have been well considered. Of course, the fact that Hampshire benefit from all of this is fortuitous for the club and will give us all a great boost as we plan for next summer.

"Given the unprecedented list of injuries that we faced this year, I believe that we will not discredit the first division next season and I am very much looking forward to seeing what the 2017 campaign will bring with a full-strength and enhanced Hampshire squad."

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Des on October 4, 2016, 17:42 GMT

    Tom Harrison " the integrity of the game" ; don't make me vomit. The ECB have totally taken away the integrity of County Cricket for years past and just made it a convenience for their Test squad with allowing players to slot in for a day or two in a four day game. The Finn/ Bairstow decision stunk. The game I have loved for 50 years is beginning to disgust me.

  • Mark on October 4, 2016, 16:29 GMT

    @ropsh If "playing and trading when insolvent" were really the issue then Division 2 would become sadly depleted, Division 1 reduced to a rump and the Football League cutback to a handful of teams. Have a look at the sides that have had to do ground improvements to meet the ECB deadlines and you will find a catalogue of debt and counties struggling to survive.

  • ianbur1792485 on October 4, 2016, 14:48 GMT

    As a Hampshire member I am totally embarrassed by this shocking and draconian decision. Hants over the last two seasons have been woeful and do NOT deserve to stay up so to benefit this way is awful. Why they didn't promote Kent is beyond me !

  • Francis on October 4, 2016, 14:07 GMT

    The Durham players and fans have been penalised for something that is nothing to do with them. I feel especially for Paul Collingwood who is the heart and soul of that club. The ECB encouraged this state of affairs, they have no right to mete out such savagery. I just hope the team rallies around Colly - I'm a Lancashire member but he's a cricket hero in my eyes, a credit to the game.

  • Ro on October 4, 2016, 13:09 GMT

    "There is no suggestion of financial impropriety at Durham" - this is simply false. Durham was playing and trading while insolvent. To claim otherwise demonstrates your bias.

  • Paul on October 4, 2016, 12:20 GMT

    Leaving aside the perhaps overly harsh punishment and who should be in the Div 1 in their place, in my experience, Test cricket in Durham does not work. I attended the pivotal 4th Ashes Test in 2013 at Chester-le- Street. On day 3 it was pretty much full and perfectly set up the 4th day for a potential England win and the series win. However come the morning, tickets were still available on the gate and the ground was probably only 80% full for a fantastic conclusion to a memorable Test. If they can't fill the ground then, they never will, whatever time of year the Test is played, whoever it's against. Better off sticking to short form stuff, particularly if it's in the school holidays.

  • Michael on October 4, 2016, 11:33 GMT

    The demotion is ridiculous and merely stuffs Durham into a stupid position from which no doubt they can get back within a season or two. The ECB played no small part in this fiasco as they orchestrated the arrangement to have the third Test in the same region as the second against Sri Lanka in June and then have the gall to penalise the club for not making it a financial success. As for Hnats-they deserved relegation so they can rebuild. I doubt this really helps them.

  • Chris on October 4, 2016, 9:44 GMT

    For the third time (the other two posts have not appeared here) I'm asking what the fundamental difference is between the Durham finances and those of Northants? According to national press reports earlier this year the ECB were paying off, in two chunks, a loan made by the Club's County Council to help them out of a perilous financial situation. I've heard nothing about any penalties being applied to them even though they, unlike Durham were not attempting to deal with an ECB requirement to build an expensive new ground then bid for Test matches there. The Bransgrove comments, in this context appear dubious to say the least; Kent earned a shot at promotion, Hampshire failed to stay up thanks to Durham.

  • Jackie on October 4, 2016, 9:14 GMT

    I am a Durham member. This is a shocking decision in every possible way. The club that has produced so many England players is demoted to the Second division. Does the ECB really think this is in the best interests of English cricket and England team? You play in the division you deserve to be in. That is called a meritocracy. Hants is a poor side and they need to go down and improve. To have a second division side in the first division by default helps no-one and they will carry the tag all next season. Fans have a sense of natural justice. The ECB has none. Who bailed out Yorkshire from their huge debt? Colin Graves, the current ECB chairman - as a private sponsor. Who bailed out Hampshire? Well Bransgrove as a private sponsor. Apparently if you have a few millionaires in your pocket your finances are ok. This is capitalism at its absolute worst. Because the best aren't rewarded. It weakens the system. Co. Durham is a poor neglected region. But what cricketers they produce!!

  • James C Birbeck Dar on October 4, 2016, 8:47 GMT

    Dreadful decision by the ECB, and Hants should stop gloating now. The reason Durham were in such financial strife is that they complied with ECB demands to build a test class facility at the Riverside, then bid for tests. They were "rewarded" with test matches in May (a ridiculous idea anyway), when it's often cold, often playing poor teams who clearly didn't want to play in the conditions. Not surprisingly, spectators stayed away in droves.

    Now Durham has been penalised for doing what the ECB wanted. Just so wrong.

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