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County Cricket: How county clubs are using their grounds to curb their reliance on ECB grants

County cricket clubs are investing in their grounds in a bid to boost revenues and guard against a reliance on ECB grants. Matthew Campelli reports

by Matthew Campelli | Published in Sports Management 02 May 2016 issue 119
Khan is strengthening Leicestershire’s financial position
Khan is strengthening Leicestershire’s financial position

Who’s the odd one out: Elton John, Tom Jones or Alastair Cook? On the face of it, the question is a fairly elementary one. The former two are indisputable icons of modern music, both are knights of the realm and on the wrong side of sixty.

Cook can claim none of those accolades, but can count himself as one of the greatest English batsmen of all-time, winning two Ashes series as captain and holding the record for Test match runs. If asked to name his greatest hit he may plump for his 235 not out against Australia in 2010, while Sir Elton and Sir Tom may go for Rocket Man and Delilah respectively.

However, what all three men have in common is that they will all grace English county cricket grounds at some point during the summer of 2016.

While England Test captain Cook will be wielding his bat for Essex in the County Championship Division Two, the two musicians will have mics in hand when serenading capacity crowds during concerts at Leicestershire’s Grace Road and Sussex’s 1st Central County Ground in Hove respectively. Hosting events of this magnitude is a feather in the cap for both clubs and illustrates a deliberate strategy of extracting as much auxiliary revenue as possible from their stadiums, whether or not a match is being played.

Boosting revenue generation and becoming less reliant on England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) grants is an important priority for each of the 18 first-class counties – and using grounds as assets to sweat is emerging as the most effective way of bridging the financial gap.

Indeed, in 2013 the ECB announced that it would be ploughing £18m into a scheme which made money available for the improvement of professional cricket facilities. Money from the scheme has allowed Somerset to build a new pavilion, while Lancashire’s Old Trafford and Warwickshire’s Edgbaston have gone through major refurbishment works.

Earlier this year, Leicestershire County Cricket Club was given the green light to install floodlights, which the club purchased through a £1m grant from the ECB. Leicestershire was one of two first-class clubs without floodlights (the other being Worcestershire) and club CEO Wasim Khan stresses the importance of the work in terms of the club’s financial ambitions.

“We know through research that having floodlights on and starting a Twenty20 (T20) Blast match an hour later enables the capacity to be increased – and in turn allows us to sell more food and drink,” he says.

Improving the customer experience for both spectators of the four-day county game and the more dynamic limited overs discipline is crucial says Khan, who explains that the bulk of the investment received was being spent with the supporters in mind.

A superfast wifi system is being wired up for the ground, while parasols are being installed to guard members and fans against sun and rain. Khan also highlights the variety and quantity of the food and beverage on offer as a key part of the improved customer experience which is on offer.

“We needed to become better in terms of the variety of food we offered punters, so we’re going to have street food-style stalls set up across designated areas to provide a greater variety than just greasy burgers and chips,” says Khan.

Community engagement
To engage with the city’s local community the club threw open its doors for its first home Division Two match against Kent in April, allowing locals to enter for free, while stalls and activities were set up for non-cricket fans and families with children.

“Part of our plan is to become more engaged with communities in Leicestershire,” the former Warwickshire batsman explains.

“A lot of the time with cricket clubs people who live in the vicinity are surrounded by the walls of the club and nobody ventures in; we’ve knocked down one of the main walls to make it part brick, part railing so people can look into the ground.”

Leicestershire is also keen to capitalise on the growing stature of the T20 game – a discipline the club has pedigree in having won the T20 Blast tournament three times since its inception in 2003. For the first time it has launched a T20 season ticket and has partnered with local universities Leicester and De Montfort by providing a special student ticket offer to drive attendances.

Diversifying the offer
Away from the pitch, Leicestershire has modernised its Charles Palmer banqueting suite which was “booked out from the beginning of last season until the end of January”, and the club makes use of hospitality suites and hosts companies using the facility for away days. Elton John has been booked in for June as part of his Wonderful Crazy Night tour.

Khan reveals that he is also eyeing facilities around the ground which can be developed further. Plans for the next 24 months include the creation of a 160-seater function hall for private events.

“We’re doing a huge amount to maximise non-match day income which is critical for us in terms of becoming more sustainable as a cricket club,” says Khan. “Our goal is to reduce the level of income from ECB as an overall percentage of annual income.” He adds that around 70 per cent of the club’s income currently comes from the ECB.

Khan’s sentiments are echoed by Simon Storey, CEO of Derbyshire County Cricket Club, who would like to bring non-ECB grant revenue to the 65 per cent mark. The club in the the second stage of an ambitious £4.5m three stage redevelopment process which is being spread over five years.

A £2m “world-class” media facility is currently being built. Funded by Derby City Council, it includes a top floor commercial office which will be let to insurance broker Bell & Co. Once complete, it will generate rental income for the club throughout the year.

The first stage of the plan – a new elite performance centre, the £1.4m refurbishment of the pavilion and a 300-seat conference room – has already borne fruit. Of the investment, £1m came from the ECB, with £400,000 from the Derby Enterprise Growth Fund.

“We’ve been able to create a £1m turnover business in conference events, weddings and catering since it was built last April,” Storey explains. “By investing in infrastructure you improve customer experience.”

All of which is geared towards success on the pitch. Both Leicestershire and Derbyshire have struggled in Division Two, with the former failing to win a match in the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

Khan and Storey believe by generating funds to plough back into cricket they’ll be able to compete .

“We started this year believing we can win all three competitions. We want to be promoted,” said Khan, and Storey has similar ambitions.

He said: “Having tasted Division One cricket in 2013 we believe we’re gearing up to compete with the best. Our ambition is to become the most successful Derbyshire side ever.”

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