Future of smaller counties could depend on how Hundred investment is shared out

Bristol County Ground – Future of smaller counties could depend on how Hundred investment is shared out
Gloucestershire is one of the counties in a parlous financial state – the club have confirmed plans to sell their Bristol County Ground - Getty Images/Michael Steele

It is not just on the field that this April is a seismic month for counties.

Towards the end of the month, county chiefs will meet for the umpteenth time to discuss, yes, the Hundred. Later this year, it is almost certain that a stake in each of the eight current Hundred teams will be sold to private investment in time to bolster the competition in 2025.

At various rounds of consultations over the last year, consensus has been reached that private investment will be allowed, with the idea being that the proceeds will prop up the game at a time when broadcast revenue – the bedrock of the game’s finances this century – are declining. It is the executives making the call here: unlike other issues in recent years, there is unlikely to be an opportunity for a county members’ veto here, because the matter does not directly relate to the counties themselves.

The question, now, is about how much each county will take from any sale – and the devil is in the detail. It all needs finalising this month before the counties vote on the issue. A vote is unlikely to be scheduled until consensus on the detail is achieved.

The proposals are complicated. Here, in short, is how it will work:

  • The ECB will hand around half (51 per cent) of each Hundred team to the host county. The other 49 per cent will remain with the ECB

  • The ECB has agreed that it will sell a set portion of its share: 30 per cent of each team

  • The host county is welcome to sell as much or little of its share as it likes. Wealthy Surrey have claimed they will keep their share of Oval Invincibles (let’s see on that), but others will look to sell very large chunks for two reasons. One, because they have large debts and ambitious plans. Two, because investors are prepared to pay truly vast amounts for control, but perhaps not minority shares

  • Either way, before going to market the host county and the ECB will agree the figure that would-be investors are welcome to bid on. It is possible that a stake of just 30 per cent may be available in one team, but 80 per cent in another

  • In the end, you have a three-way venture: between the host county, the investor, and the ECB, who retain 19 per cent of each team, and the entire central competition

This system is not as simple as it could have been. The ECB could just have sold a share in the eight teams, split the money between the counties and handed big hosting fees to the eight venues. But the ECB wanted to increase connection between the Hundred and the counties, and wanted to expand to an investable pyramid where every county had a team. That is no longer happening; at best there might be a new team or two by 2029 if the right investors were to get involved.

As Telegraph Sport have reported previously, the arrangement has put off some potential investors. While the biggest name investors in cricket and beyond, from inside and (mainly) outside the UK, are interested in getting involved in the Hundred, some – such as IPL franchises – have shown a lukewarm response to the idea of a joint venture with a county.

That is not this month’s crucial question, though. Nor is the seemingly unanswerable question of what will be played alongside the Hundred. The big question, for now, is how the money is distributed.

The host county clearly does very well, as they have 51 per cent of their team to sell and keep as they please. That makes the 30 per cent that the ECB sells vital and this month’s big battleground, because it will be spread across the game. It is agreed that 10p of every £1 sold will be ring-fenced for the recreational game. The remainder will be spread between the counties.

The question is how many counties? Nineteen (all first-class teams plus MCC), or the 11 non-host counties? Unsurprisingly, some of the big counties will fight hard for it to be 19, but that looks rather like having their cake and eating it.

For the small counties the difference could be vast. Say, to keep the figures simple, that 30 per cent of each team sells for £12.5 million, bringing in a total of £100 million. A tenth of that, £10 million, would go to the recreational game. If there are 11 counties sharing the rest, they would get £8.1 million each. If they have to share it between 19, the figure drops to £4.7 million. Remember, these figures are only approximate; in reality, the eight teams will sell for vastly different figures.

Most smaller counties badly need money. Of the average county’s total income, more than 45 per cent comes from ECB. Gloucestershire are about to issue some concerning financial results. Sussex are not turning the floodlights on at Hove in the County Championship this season in order to save money, which might have cost them victory against Northamptonshire this week.

As acute as their need might be and as nice as these figures might sound, the small counties must remember that there is only one chance to do this deal, so they must not be short-changed by their big-name neighbours. Used prudently, these are game-changing figures that can get them back on a firmer footing, wipe out debt, or even fund ambitious projects, like Kent’s ground at Beckenham.

The bigger counties, too, would do well to show a little altruism. Yes, they have big expensive grounds and their own problems. But they are already the beneficiaries of extreme ECB generosity with 51 per cent of their own team. Why should they get a portion of the proceeds from all the others, too?

A crucial month awaits, for the future of the 18-county system as we know it.

Talking points from County Championship round one

Somerset left out Shoaib Bashir, but Lancashire picked both Tom Hartley and Nathan Lyon. They prepared a spinning pitch, but rain dominated the game before their spinners could get much of a bowl (Surrey’s Cam Steel and Dan Lawrence shared nine wickets). Lyon bowled just two overs, so Lancashire have made representations to Cricket Australia that the game should not count among his seven matches for the county this season, which seems fair enough.

The rain won. Poor Durham, Hampshire, Derbyshire and Gloucestershire, whose seasons will be starting a week later than planned. They will be grateful, though, that the number of points for a draw has risen from five to eight again this year.

Harry Brook looks a bit good for this level, doesn’t he? Well, he will be joined by Joe Root in the Yorkshire team next week.

Harry Brook –
Harry Brook marked his return to competitive cricket by scoring an unbeaten 100 off 69 balls at Headingley - Getty Images/John Mallett

With the bat, it was a good week for the veterans. There were decent knocks for former England men Adam Lyth, Mark Stoneman and Joe Denly, as well as county stalwarts Sam Northeast, Colin Ingram and Luke Procter.

What to make of the Kookaburra ball? Well, there were certainly no shortage of runs (there was only one completed team total under 200), which inverts what we are used to at this time of year. Perhaps not the most thrilling cricket, but it might raise standards in time, by asking different questions of bowlers and captains.

Performance of the week

Kashif Ali, 110 and 133

Options abound: Sam Northeast, Sam Cook (more of him later), even Harry Brook. But for romance and class, this award has to go to Kashif Ali, who made the first two hundreds of his professional career for Worcestershire at Edgbaston. Kashif, 26, was born in Kashmir and has had to take the slow road to the top, playing second team cricket for seven counties before getting a go with the Pears, via the South Asian Cricket Academy, which is doing excellent things to correct under-representation. If he can carry on like this, Worcestershire have a far greater chance of survival.

Kashif Ali –
Kashif Ali bettered his first innings score of 110 with an impressive 133 from just 127 balls - Getty Images/Stuart Leggett

Match of the week

Essex beat Nottinghamshire by 254 runs

This might not sound like much of a nipper, but it was a belting game decided by the class of Essex’s seam attack, especially Sam Cook. Nottinghamshire actually got a first innings lead, but their ascendancy was limited by Cook’s timely hat-trick. Essex’s batsmen then clubbed together to set an intimidating target of 335, before Cook got to work again. He took six for 14 in 14 overs (for match figures of 10 for 73), while Jamie Porter took three, as Notts were bowled out for 80. Picking up a 20-point win in a rainy round like that is statement stuff from Essex.

Quote of the week

“It’s a privilege to play here and to break a record like that is just beyond my wildest dreams, to be honest. It blew my mind. I didn’t really think about it until I was on about 330. A member told me as I was walking out and I sort of forgot about it (the record) – then when I got near, I started thinking about it again. I got pretty nervous out there at the end, when I was nearing it.”

Sam Northeast on breaking the record for the largest innings at Lord’s. Glamorgan and Middlesex played out a run-fest, but the scale of the achievement should not be underestimated.

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