Mark Nicholas: Five IPL franchises show 'soft' interest in Lord's Hundred stake

Potential investors will gather at Lord's on July 5 for world cricket symposium

Nagraj Gollapudi
Mark Nicholas speaks during the Tony Greig memorial service, SCG, January 20, 2013

Mark Nicholas is bringing together cricket's most influential voices for a symposium at Lord's in July  •  Getty Images

Five IPL franchises have expressed a "soft" interest in buying a stake in London Spirit, the Lord's-based Hundred team, according to Mark Nicholas, the MCC president who is set to take over as the club's chairman in October.
Nicholas was speaking at Lord's to announce plans for the inaugural "World Cricket Connects" symposium - an event due to be hosted by MCC on July 5, and intended to "help shape cricket's ongoing global success and provide balance across its huge spectrum of stakeholders".
The initiative reflects MCC's intention to "improve its global contribution" by offering a neutral canvas on which the sport's most influential figures can meet and discuss the future of the game. BCCI secretary Jay Shah, whom Nicholas described as "the most powerful man" in world cricket, is expected to be among the 110-plus attendees, alongside other senior figures from the sporting and administrative sides of the game, including senior IPL figures and a host of influential current and former cricketers including Ben Stokes, Brendon McCullum and Rahul Dravid.
MCC's own ambitions are a crucial part of cricket's changing landscape, with the chief executive, Guy Lavender, recently writing to its members to ask whether the club should accept the ECB's offer of a 51% stake in London Spirit as part of the drive to privatise the Hundred.
Under the proposed model, the eight Hundred "hosts" - seven counties plus MCC - will be given majority stakes in their respective teams, with the ECB selling the remaining 49% to private investors, which will be finalised through a bidding process.
Although the club's rules allow a final call without a vote, Nicholas stressed MCC wanted to ensure it had the backing of its 24,000-strong membership, describing the move towards private equity as a "monumental" step which would eventually prove beneficial for the growth of game at all levels.
"What we are putting to a vote is to accept the ECB's offer of a 51% share of this franchise," Nicholas said. "We will always be a members' club. The first target is membership harmony [because] as a member you are entitled to a view. It's very easy to knock people back because they're difficult, but actually there is quite a lot of good thinking that comes out of activism. You have to treat people with respect, and hear their view."
Nicholas pointed out that cricket across the globe was a "booming franchise opportunity", so it was only wise for the English game, MCC included, to cash in, especially having failed to capitalise on the original Twenty20 Cup concept more than two decades ago.
"We missed out on T20 in 2003 where we could have grabbed it," Nicholas said, recalling how English cricket squandered its first-mover status, with the IPL coming into being in 2008. "India thought quicker than us and were smarter than us, as India often is. India moves at an extraordinary pace to make things work.
"So the Hundred has given us another opportunity. The [MCC] membership quite likes being part of the chat, not being consigned to a piece of history. The members I talk to really love the idea of having a team, love the opportunity that it brings. There will be financial opportunity, either in growth of the equity or in sale of the equity."
The ECB has appointed Raine Group and Deloitte as advisors for the Hundred privatisation. While there's no formal deadline, the ECB is eager to finalise terms by the end of the year, but as Nicholas conceded, there are a number of issues that still need resolving.
"The real truth is that not everything is clear yet," he said. "For example, how would the bidding process take place? What's the rollout of these franchises in the bidding? We don't know that yet. The ECB haven't declared that. We have met the investment bank - I'm not sure they even know yet. There's still a lot for us to learn."
Some of the potential bidders will be present at the World Cricket Connects event, which takes place on the eve of the MCC World Cricket Committee meeting, and Nicholas said it was important to listen to those voices.
"They have dominated to this level by owning teams, driving forward a new financial model, and developing it extraordinarily," he said. "There's a very wide list of attendees, and I think that's the advantage of the event. They would never otherwise come together."

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo