October 3, 2013

Making the sums add up

Chris Stonor
In part two of our feature on the counties' financial health, we look at their year-round business plans and the ECB's efforts to ensure that 'the 18' survive in a challenging financial landscape

In part one, read how the local councils stepped up to help the counties and develop their communities

The ECB has completed the approval process for a £1m grant from central funds for each of the 18 first-class counties. The intention is a bold and essential one. The grant aims not to just to prop up ailing counties but to assist their vital off-field metamorphosis from a decaying six-month business model to a more dynamic, all-year-round enterprise.

Gordon Hollins, the ECB's head of professional cricket, sounds satisfied with the progress made. "We are very comfortable with the quality of the 18 business plans and the support they have given our five strategic priorities," he says at Lord's as the season draws to a close.

Those five priorities, intended to establish county cricket as a game fit for the 21st century, are stated as follows:

  • To create a customer-centric business
  • Operational and organisational excellence
  • First-class facilities for spectators, sponsors and the media
  • Working with and alongside the local community
  • A clear and consistent fixture schedule

Many counties are bearing debts considerably larger than the grant offered, but Hollins contends: "We believe £1m can make a significant difference and offers a real opportunity for counties to become a robust future force."

The paths taken to meet these aspirations are as different as seam and spin. Some counties have chosen property development. Warwickshire partnered with the developer MCD. Initially, 79 town houses are being built around the perimeter of the Wyatt Stand at Edgbaston with underground parking and first-level gardens.

"MCD have until 2020 to complete the project," Warwickshire's chief executive Colin Povey, says. "We hope to create some retail like a restaurant and coffee shops - also a possible hotel along with further car parking. The money gained will help pay off our debt."

Another is Gloucestershire. Their £10m refurbishment of Nevil Road relies heavily on the money accrued from building a six-storey, 147-apartment block on the Ashley Down Road side of their ground. Kent, needing a way out of their financial troubles, are seeking council consent to construct an estate of retirement homes.

But Essex are the high-flyers with their three-phase development of four large residential tower blocks, containing 350 luxury apartments. Overlooking the ground and central park, this also entails a public piazza, restaurants, coffee shops and a pedestrian bridge across the adjoining River Can, linking the whole development directly to the Chelmsford city centre.

After nine years of planning, the first phase to build the smallest of the tower blocks, which incorporate 62 apartments, have begun. Over 90% have been pre-sold. The money gained can then be used to begin the key phase two, which includes the next two towers, a new pavilion, multi-storey car park, new cricket and media centres, an extended ground capacity - a modest increase to 8000 - improved conferencing facilities and the piazza.

The success of selling these apartments is at the heart of a £85m ground regeneration, a staggering sum for county cricket. The construction will take four years to complete.

Other counties are building retail outlets or hotels on their ground, which provide revenues either through rental or one-off amounts. Kent has a tenant - Sainsbury's - at Canterbury. Opening 18 months ago, it has been a great success.

In 2009, Tesco pledged £21m towards Lancashire's redevelopment after a supermarket was included in the planning. Now built, Tesco has proved to be an important ally. During this summer's Ashes Test, the club used the supermarket car park as an overflow. The company is also actively involved with Lancashire's social and commercial events.

Worcestershire gained £1m from Premier Inn for the use of a section of land. The company is investing £7.5m in a 120-room hotel and restaurant.

Planning permission has been given for a 150-bedroom resort at Durham. The county hope to raise £8.5m, so it can be owned and run by the club under Hilton management. Lancashire have plans to double the capacity of the Lodge. And, of course, there is the Ageas Bowl and Hampshire's luxury 175-bedroom extravaganza.

According to Hollins: "During the last two years, there's been a significant improvement in the off-field quality of personnel entering county cricket. It is imperative this business acumen continues to progress. A successful transformation of 'the 18' cannot occur otherwise."

Clubs are expanding their core commercial business from social events and conferencing to weddings and hospitality. Lancashire spent £12m constructing The Point for this purpose. It earns an annual £500,000 from Christmas festivities alone.

Over the Pennines, at Yorkshire, the Carnegie Pavilion, a shared venture between Yorkshire and Leeds Met University, cost £21m. There have already been some benefits. In 2012, the club's commercial income rose £394,000 to £1.8m.

Events like alternative health shows, collectors' fairs and second-hand car sales also occur at some counties.

Povey stressed the value to Warwickshire of their growing commercial nous. "Edgbaston will be generating an annual £2.5m from non-match activities soon, which is more than our present ECB monies," he says.

Further areas of potential revenue are ground naming rights. Until recently Surrey held the record - a five-year contract with Kia Motors worth £3.5m - believed to be the largest county cricket commercial deal in history. But in late February, Lancashire smashed this after announcing a ten-year contract with Emirates Airlines for a stunning £10m. In one move, "Emirates Old Trafford" wiped out a large part of their debt.

Economic austerity and debt are the primary problems facing Test match grounds in particular. These include Yorkshire and Warwickshire (-£20m each), Glamorgan (-£15.6m) and Durham (-£9.1m), all of whom languish under the spectre of decades of loan repayments.

That is why the ECB appointed this year two Business Change Managers, Tom Johnson and Karina Murtagh, whose specific job is to provide support and help. Every aspect of the business plan is regularly discussed to see how clubs can maintain and improve their revenues.

"There is terrific energy and enthusiasm emanating from the counties with many passionate and committed people involved," Hollins says. "I am optimistic 'the 18' will succeed."

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Pippy_the_dog on October 4, 2013, 13:27 GMT

    'To create a customer-centric business' this pretty much says it all. Cricket never used to be a business, it was a sport. The recruitment of over paid executives who see as such, is largely the reason that county cricket is in the state that its in. The unsustainable number of test grounds in this country is a farce. Wake up England your cricket clubs are being run like an episode of The Apprentice.

  • Pippy_the_dog on October 4, 2013, 13:27 GMT

    'To create a customer-centric business' this pretty much says it all. Cricket never used to be a business, it was a sport. The recruitment of over paid executives who see as such, is largely the reason that county cricket is in the state that its in. The unsustainable number of test grounds in this country is a farce. Wake up England your cricket clubs are being run like an episode of The Apprentice.

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  • Pippy_the_dog on October 4, 2013, 13:27 GMT

    'To create a customer-centric business' this pretty much says it all. Cricket never used to be a business, it was a sport. The recruitment of over paid executives who see as such, is largely the reason that county cricket is in the state that its in. The unsustainable number of test grounds in this country is a farce. Wake up England your cricket clubs are being run like an episode of The Apprentice.