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ECB open to private investment in the Hundred as Thompson values competition at £1 billion

Board chair says English game must be "strategic" about opportunities to bring in funding

Richard Thompson, ECB chairman, watches the Test in Rawalpindi, Pakistan vs England, 1st Test, Rawalpindi, 3rd day, December 3, 2022

Richard Thompson, ECB chairman, watches the Test in Rawalpindi  •  AFP/Getty Images

Richard Thompson, the ECB's chair, has valued the Hundred at over £1 billion (US$1.2 billion) after confirming the ECB has received an offer for its newest competition, and anticipates others will be in the offing.
Thompson suggested that reports of the offer, initially revealed by Sky News as a £400 million bid from Bridgepoint Group, were "exaggerated". The London-listed buyout firm was supposedly interested in a 75% stake in the competition, which seems unworkable at present given Thompson's insistence that any agreement would have to ensure the ECB retained overall control of the competition. He also confirmed the first-class counties were keen on the reported figure.
Speaking in Rawalpindi on Saturday having arrived to take in England's first Test in Pakistan for 17 years, Thompson, who took up his post in August, could not go into details but reiterated the need to consider any proposal with English cricket's best interests at heart.
"We have received an offer, and I can't comment on the actual offer," he said. "I would not be surprised if there are other offers. There's a feeding frenzy in broadcasting rights of tournaments at the moment, so that reality of more interest in the game is bound to materialise. I'm determined we're not going to be opportunistic about this, we're going to be strategic. The tournament's only two years old. Clearly there's a value in it, and we expected there to be interest. Let's see how things play out.
"We understand there's value in the tournament and teams, there's lot of other untapped value in the game that goes beyond the Hundred as well. We shouldn't fixate over one thing. What we won't do is be opportunistic. We'll think things through, and understand that we won't sell the game short. Lucknow Super Giants, one team in the IPL sold for a billion. One team. That should establish a benchmark of value. I think we've got a long way to go before we do something. If offers want to be made, they will be made.
"We can't disclose what was in the offer, but it wasn't what it appears to be," he added. "We'll continue to talk to the county chairs about this, and if this was an absolute game-changing offer that would wipe out the debts of English cricket, of course we would look at it. But it isn't.
"I don't think people are giving money away at the moment, so I'd be surprised if someone came along with an offer you'd have to stop the press for and reflect on. But who knows?"
Team ownership is the most likely first port of call for investment, and IPL owners are circling having bulked their portfolios with investment in other franchise competitions, such as the CPL, IT20 and SA20. One connection regularly mooted is between Mumbai Indians and Oval Invincibles, especially after Mukesh Ambani, owner of Mumbai Indians, attended a Hundred match in the 2022 season along with Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who is an owner in Major League T20 having supported cricket's expansion in the US.
Thompson, previously a Hundred-sceptic when chair of Surrey, has been open to private investment since taking the post. But the importance of the ECB remaining in control of its product is vital, not least for county cricket and the summer at large.
"I think the point is we're the only country that plays in the northern hemisphere [during summer]," Thompson said. "I think the ECB would need to think very long and hard if we were to sell four or five weeks of the English summer to a third party. We all know how precious the schedule is at the minute. To look at the tournament and think we would sell four or five weeks of the summer would be a huge decision to take.
"Incoming CEO Richard Gould, we opposed the Hundred for two sets of reason. I'm not going to be a hypocrite. We've come in and seen the success. It's reached audiences the Blast wasn't reaching, people are talking about Alice Capsey the way they would not be doing if she hadn't made the impact she made on the Hundred, and women's cricket wouldn't have broken through the way it has. And we're getting unsolicited offers in two years. So all these things mean we've got to take a competition like this very seriously.
"Clearly it's created a lot of tension in the sense that one of the reasons I opposed it in the first place was because I could see three domestic competitions, more international cricket, was causing so much challenge in the schedule - a fourth isn't going to make matters easier.
"That's absolutely what has played out, and we need to find a way of somehow working with four competitions, where the Hundred doesn't succeed at the expense of the Blast, one doesn't cannibalise the other, and they can co-exist together. That's going to take some doing, but we've got to find a way, because the Hundred is here to stay. We've signed that deal to 2028, and people are making offers. It's creating an impact in two years that we didn't expect to happen, but it's also created some challenge and stress as well."

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo