Surrey hope to increase the capacity of The Oval to 40,000 in time for the 2023 Ashes. The club are currently working on development plans which would make the ground the largest dedicated cricket stadium in the country and increase capacity sharply on the current 25,500. Their aim, subject to planning permission and funding agreements, is to begin work after the 2019 World Cup.
The centrepiece of the project would be a replacement for the Bedser Stand which could add up to 8000 seats. There would also be an enlargement of the existing OCS Stand. Surrey already have planning permission for a large development next to the pavilion - No. 1 Oval Square - which will incorporate additional capacity and facilities.
The Oval has an outstanding record of attracting spectators. Surrey have led the way in optimising the domestic T20 market - their first Friday night fixture of this season's campaign, versus Kent, has already sold out - and hope to host one of the newly branded teams in the competition scheduled to start in 2020.
"The time is now right for cricket to think on a bigger scale," Surrey chairman Richard Thompson said. "This summer we have seen unprecedented levels of demand for cricket at the Kia Oval. We need to build on this success and have a ground that can satisfy the unprecedented demand we have created."
Richard Gould, the club's CEO, said: "Our business has taken off over the last five years and our reserves have quadrupled in size along with significantly higher profits. This has largely been driven through T20 cricket and an increase in our non-matchday business, but sales for international cricket also remain very strong. Most of our major games now sell out, either for county cricket or international cricket, and we need more seats to meet demand."
The schedule for the 2023 Ashes has yet to be announced but it is anticipated that the Ageas Bowl, near Southampton, will be competing with The Oval for the right to host a Test. The Oval's staging agreement with the ECB (whereby they are guaranteed a Test a year) expires in 2022 and Surrey may fear that their opposition to the new-team T20 competition has done little to ingratiate them with the decision makers at the ECB. They are understood to have consulted with the ECB over their new plans, though it is unclear if they have been given assurances over future major match allocations.
Certainly there seems to be increasing competition for the major match market. With the ECB looking at cutting the number of Tests each summer, the existing venues will be fighting harder than ever to retain the level of cricket they require to sustain themselves. And with talk of utilising other venues - such as the London Stadium (formerly the Olympic Stadium) - continuing, even the bigger grounds such as Lord's and The Oval are not immune to these changes.
It is telling that the news comes as the MCC announces the timetable for its planned redevelopment of Lord's. While both MCC and The Oval are wealthy, it is possible that both will borrow heavily to fund the schemes, reviving memories of the 'arms race' of a decade or so ago that saw grounds across the country sink heavily into debt as they sought to build venues that would persuade the ECB to grant them more major matches.