Lancashire have agreed what is believed to be the largest commercial deal in the history of county cricket by selling the naming rights to their Old Trafford home. The 10-year deal, thought to be worth up to 10m, will see the ground renamed Emirates Old Trafford and the Emirates brand appear on the front of the team's Friends Life t20 playing kits.
Lancashire have endured great financial strain in recent years. A lengthy planning battle over the 32m redevelopment of the ground saw the club declare losses of 2m in 2010 and almost 4m in 2011. Further losses are also anticipated when the 2012 figures are declared in the next few weeks.
Now, however, the club can start to look to the future with greater confidence. The ground redevelopment is expected to be completed in May, the square, having been turned to avoid problems with the sun shining in batsmen's eyes, is operational once again and commercial deals with Emirates and Tesco, who have covered around two-thirds of the cost of the development, would appear to have put the club back on an even keel. Tickets for the Ashes Test in August have also sold well - the first four days have sold out - leading the club to predict a return to profit in 2013.
Of the regular international-hosting counties, Surrey, Hampshire, Durham, Glamorgan and Yorkshire have all previously sold naming rights to their grounds. Warwickshire are also hopeful of selling naming rights to their Edgbaston home in the coming months. Surrey's five-year deal with Kia - thought to be worth around 3.5m - is believed to have been the largest commercial county deal until now. Emirates also won the naming rights to Durham's ground, meaning the third and fourth Tests of this summer's Ashes series will be played at grounds bearing the company's name.
"This announcement represents another major step in the redevelopment of Old Trafford," Michael Cairns, chairman of Lancashire CCC, said. "The financial benefits of this deal are a core component of our long-term strategy for commercial sustainability. The partnership will support our intention to be regarded as one of the top County Cricket Clubs in the country and undisputed as a Category A Test Match venue. We remain committed to providing the very best facilities for our members, players and spectators."
Cairns, who made the initial contact with Emirates, was keen to stress the progress the club has made over recent years. From a situation where their crumbling ground was overlooked for a 2009 Ashes Test, they are emerging as one of the clubs best equipped to cope with the new competitive realties facing all international-hosting venues.
"I can't get to grips at times with what we have achieved," Cairns told the Manchester Evening News. "I came on board 11 years ago when the business was struggling a little.
"Then, we sat down and drew up a list of everything we wanted to achieve. And, believe it or not, we have now done 90 per cent of that list, which is amazing. We have been courageous with some of our decisions. We went 10m into debt to build The Point, but we knew it would drive the future of the business.
"We turned the square, which was always going to be a difficult procedure. But in the end we knew we just had to do it. In this financial climate we have been able to raise close to 30m in cash for the redevelopment, secured 10m to build The Point and now we have signed a 10-year sponsorship deal with a leading global brand in Emirates. What we have done is fabulous."
"Some aspects of commercialism don't sit well with what members want," Lancashire's commercial director Geoff Durbin told the Manchester Evening News. "But equally if you don't have a commercial approach then you don't have a club. It is a question of balance.
"Keeping Old Trafford in the name was crucial to everyone at the club. In the process of researching the marketplace there were some organisations who would have insisted on the words Old Trafford going as part of any agreement, and that was a deal breaker for us.
"Our members know a lot about our club and, commercially, we want to make sure they have a club which is sustainable and which is going to be here for a long, long time to come. There are members at other clubs who don't have that certainty right now and they would swap very, very quickly."