Senior figures at the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have been grilled by MPs on the budget for The Hundred at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee, amid fears that projected costs for the new competition have grown significantly.
In an oral evidence session that formed a key part of the DCMS’ inquiry into the future of English cricket, Tom Harrison, the ECB’s chief executive, repeatedly failed to give specific answers to questions asked by an MP regarding the budget for the new tournament.
Andy Nash – who resigned from the board of the ECB 18 months ago citing “standards of corporate governance… falling well short of what’s acceptable,” and a “move to promote eight counties as the first among equals” – gave evidence citing figures from an ESPNcricinfo article which demonstrated that the expect cost of the Hundred has risen significantly since the tournament was initially proposed.
Jo Stevens, the Labour MP for Cardiff Central, asked why the ECB had chosen to introduce a fourth format, and “what’s wrong with T20?”
Colin Graves, the ECB’s chairman, claimed that “the rest of the world is looking at it [the 100-ball format]. There’s at least four countries out there that are looking at how it develops, and they are certainly interested in it.”
But the tensest exchange came between Stevens and Harrison on the subject of the budget for the Hundred, which is set to start in July 2020.
“You presumably had a budget for it when you started the Hundred,” said Stevens. “What was the budget, and how much has it cost? How are you doing against your budgeting?”
Unhappy with Harrison’s initial answer, Stevens repeated: “Can you answer the question I’m asking? What was the budget and what have you spent?”
Harrison replied: “That is three years ago, the budget has obviously moved from that point as the development of the concept comes to light and there are costs… we actually added a women’s tournament…”
Stevens asked: “Mr Harrison, it’s a simple question. What was the budget and how much have you spent?”
In total, Stevens asked six times what the budget was for the new competition, and how the ECB’s costs had compared to expectations. Harrison said: “the budget is in line with the game’s expectations. I’m not going to reveal what that is.
“We have a valuation which was met in the process of the broadcast budget, and the tournament budget which is… the tournament hasn’t happened yet. It’s happening next year. We’re in the budget planning process. We’re planning the budget now for next year which will go through the board, through the proper governance structures and will be revealed… will effectively be confirmed in time for next year. We haven’t done budgets for any part of our business next year yet.
“The budget is in line with the expectations of the Hundred board, and the ECB board.”
In the second part of the session, Nash described the introduction of the new tournament as “an almighty punt and a reckless gamble” with “the potential to split and bankrupt the game.”
“It will clearly will damage the other three formats,” he said. “We’ll be left with a financial crisis.”
Harrison could be heard muttering “rubbish” and “not true” throughout Nash’s evidence.
Nash claimed the first year of the Hundred would see the ECB lost £20m, and said that it “is going to cost about £60m a year to put on. So if no new fans come it will have cost £200m to cannibalise existing game.”
In fact, the first-year lost is likely to be closer to £7.5million. As reported by ESPNcricinfo, the ECB are set to claim that the Hundred will make a profit in its first year. They project that it will gross £51million in its first year against costs of £35million – but those costs exclude the £1.3m fee guaranteed to each county. With those included, the competition is not projected to make a profit in its first five years, though it could break even in year five. For the 2020 edition, the costs including that fee is projected to be around £58.6million, against a projected revenue of £51.1million.
T20 leagues around the world have similarly struggled for profitability until several years after their inception. Harrison later claimed that he could not provide full budget figures as they are not yet fully agreed and signed off by the board.
Nash later claimed that “fans feel as though the game is being taken away from them”.
“[The ECB] really are betting the farm that the next TV deal will pay back the investment on the Hundred,” he said. “We have here the germ of a major financial crisis for the game. Last year was a fantastic success for cricket. Why put it all at risk? A lot of people in the game are completely baffled.
“We’ll be left with a financial crisis. Where’s the justification for such a high-risk route?”
Nash reasserted his support for a T20 competition split between two divisions of nine counties, as proposed by a working party he chaired when at the ECB. The plan was initially backed by the CEOs of the first-class counties.
“You’d have nine teams in each division and, hey presto, you have an English Premier League in the top division,” he said. “That option is still there. It’s still what fans would like. It would cost nothing like as much as The Hundred. It would present far less of a risk.”