Case for the Hundred 'much greater' due to Covid-19 - Tom Harrison

ECB chief executive insists pandemic heightens the need to grow game

George Dobell
George Dobell
Tom Harrison presents Essex with the County Championship trophy last season

Tom Harrison presents Essex with the County Championship trophy last season  •  Harry Trump/Getty Images

Tom Harrison has insisted the case for the Hundred is "much greater than it was" in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
While Harrison, the ECB chief executive, admitted the ECB were "starting to get comfortable with the idea there won't be crowds this summer" and, as a result, accepted "it's going to be very, very difficult" to launch the competition this year, he feels the long-term need for it is increased by the prospect of losing so much cricket - and revenue - during 2020.
And while some county executives feel the costs of the new tournament - and the risk inherent in trying to popularise a fourth format of the sport - should necessitate a review into its future, Harrison is adamant the game needs the "revenue, interest and excitement" the Hundred could create more than ever.
"I see the case for the Hundred being much greater than it was," Harrison told the BBC. "The reason the Hundred was put in place was as a way of growing the game in this country. Covid-19 simply exacerbates the requirement for us to grow the game in this country.
"The Hundred is going to generate revenue, interest and excitement and that is the kind of thing we need to continue to prioritise as we go through this enormous challenge."
He added: "I am absolutely committed - as I think are the first-class counties - to the Hundred. They understand the importance of this competition to the future of the game and how it will help us achieve stability for everything the game has cared about for hundreds of years. . It's created the quickest sale of tickets other than World Cup cricket that we've seen."
Harrison's comments may provoke some head-scratching within the domestic game. While it is true the ECB was projecting to make around £51 million (made up of £36.5 million in domestic broadcast rights, £4 million in overseas broadcast rights, £6.5 million in ticket sales and £4 million in sponsorship deals) from this year's tournament, the overall costs were expected to be around £58 million. At no stage in the first five-year cycle of the tournament was the ECB projecting it to make a financial profit.
And there was a hint that the fallout of the crisis could lead to cuts in funding to areas of the game in which the ECB had wanted to invest; a forecast that may cause some foreboding around the first-class counties, in particular.
"It is certainly going to make us less able to invest in the areas of the game that we wanted," Harrison said. "There will be some difficult decisions around that.
"We were in an incredibly strong position coming into 2020 post a wonderful year for the game in 2019 both domestically and internationally. Moving into new relationships with the BBC and Sky, it felt a very strong position to begin an exciting new strategy inspiring generations. None of that needs to be shelved because of Covid-19, it just needs to be recalibrated in the light of what we know, and we don't know everything yet."
The ECB announced on Friday morning that a final decision over whether to launch the Hundred in 2020 would be made at a board meeting on Wednesday, April 29. But Harrison gave a strong hint that, with little prospect of overseas players being able to take part and almost no prospect of having any spectators in attendance, it was very likely the launch would be postponed for 12 months.
"It's important at times like this is not to hurry into decisions," Harrison said. "We'll look at how the situation impacts the Hundred, which was envisaged as being a tournament that enabled us to widen the audience for the game. With an in-stadia environment, with international players, it's going to be very, very difficult. That's going to be considered by the board next week and we'll come out with an announcement post that board meeting.
"I think we are starting to get comfortable with the idea that there won't be crowds this summer. The last lever the government is likely to pull is the one around mass gatherings and that is obviously something for us that impacts the ability to put cricket fans into stadia.
"So much of our planning is now based on what behind closed-doors cricket might look like, how we can maintain those principles of safety for players, broadcast staff, journalists, management staff, people working in the venues where we're considering these options.
"How we can keep them safe is obviously our number one priority and we are working very closely with government. There's certainly no pressure coming from us right now to force government to do anything other than look after the public safety. But it's not until government provide the green light that we are able to activate those plans."
However, he suggested it was unlikely that the Vitality Blast would be broadcast free-to-air in the event that the Hundred was postponed. The ECB will instead prioritise the return of international cricket to the BBC.
"If the Hundred comes off the schedule later this week, we're looking to work with the BBC [who would have shown some Hundred fixtures] to ensure the international commitments we have with terrestrial TV are delivered," he said. "You have to bear in mind the extent to which the situation has impacted Sky. We're working extremely closely with Sky and I can honestly say the partnership approach has been felt throughout. We will get through this crisis because of that partnership."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo