Monday, May 20, 2024

Hundred sell-off could be cricket’s ‘Premier League moment’ – Leicestershire chief exec

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Sean Jarvis, Leicestershire’s chief executive, has warned that county cricket is facing its “Premier League moment” with the ECB’s impending sale of equity stakes in the Hundred, and has urged the game not to create the same divide between haves and have-nots that is currently afflicting English football.

Despite being the reigning Metro Bank One-Day Cup champions, as well as top of Division Two in the County Championship after a rain-affected first month of competition, Leicestershire’s lowly status within English cricket was compounded last month when their bid for a Tier 1 team in the new women’s competition from 2025 was overlooked by the ECB – a decision that left the club “crestfallen”, according to a strongly worded statement.

“We didn’t use that word lightly,” Jarvis told ESPNcricinfo. “We had every part of the business involved in our tender process, from the commercial team to the catering, because we genuinely believed it was an amazing opportunity for the ECB to tear up the rule book, and give a club like Leicestershire an opportunity to do something different.”

Instead, that decision means that Leicestershire are now one of seven first-class teams that will not be hosting international men’s cricket, Hundred matches or top-flight women’s domestic games from next year onwards, and Jarvis – whose 14 years of experience as commercial director at Huddersfield Town have informed his approach to cricket management – is concerned that the club is running out of opportunities to retain its relevance in a fast-changing game.

“When do we get a leg up?” Jarvis said. “We want to be playing in the first division and reaching the quarter-finals of white-ball competitions, and that’s where we believe we’re headed. But if you compare us to, say, Nottinghamshire, who have a Hundred team, T20 Blast matches, and now women’s cricket, when you don’t get these things it does knock you back. That’s where I get frustrated with the ECB.”

The gulf between the sport’s haves and have-nots could be set to grow in the coming weeks, however, as the ECB moves closer to a final decision on the future of the Hundred, after a protracted consultation period. The current expectation is that host venues will receive a 51% equity share of their respective teams, with the remaining counties sharing up to 30% of the competition’s remaining value.

“This could be our Premier League moment, if we’re not careful,” Jarvis said, referencing the moment that football’s top flight broke away from the Football League in May 1992. “It’s the top six or seven clubs that call the tune. They are effectively protected all the time by the finances they generate, and it’s the others that are at the beck and call of the trap door.

“I’ve been in that situation,” he added, having been involved in Huddersfield Town’s two seasons in the Premier League in 2017-19. “They got relegated to League One [third tier] this weekend, so if you’re one of the have-nots, getting into that party doesn’t guarantee you long-term success.

“We’re at a very significant and exciting point in the future of the game,” Jarvis continued. “In terms of cricket in the UK, we’ve maybe reached the limit of domestic investment into the game. The Sky TV contract is what it is, as are the audiences that we’ve already got. But the game needs further investment, because the players are demanding higher salaries, and many grounds are crumbling.

“If we get the Hundred decision right, it could catapult UK cricket internationally. That’s what happened with the Premier League, when it overtook the likes of Serie A and the Bundesliga. But we’ve got to be strong, and not simply allow the big boys to become bigger and even stronger.

“There’s got to be a way that protects all clubs, and that includes the recreational game as well, because it will be detrimental to places like Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Kent and Northants in the long-term, if they’re not given that opportunity to come and sit at that table.”

For that reason, Jarvis believes that the “Open Pyramid” option for the Hundred, whereby all 18 counties, plus MCC as the major stakeholders of London Spirit, compete in a two-tiered structure with the future prospect of promotion and relegation, should be not be discounted from the discussions.

“The ECB must never, ever take away the opportunity for this club to win silverware in any competition,” Jarvis said. “We’re a classic example of the underdog winning something, and I’ve stressed that that must always be the case.”

Whatever the upshot, Jarvis recognises that a major overhaul of Grace Road is overdue, and that Leicestershire’s share of the Hundred windfall – allied to strategic partnerships with Leicester City Council and other local business interests – should allow the club to produce a venue that can better serve the needs of one of the largest sporting communities in the country.

“There’s an urban myth that the green area of Grace Road is the largest in the world, even larger than the MCG,” Jarvis said. “The good news is that we own our land, even if the infrastructure around it is very outdated. So with the cash injection from the Hundred, there’s a real opportunity to spend that money wisely, and give Leicestershire County Cricket Club a fighting chance going forward.”

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket

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