The England and Wales Cricket Board has turned down a £400 million offer for the Hundred and only bids worth “a few billion” will make it consider selling a stake in its prime asset to private equity.
ECB Chairman Richard Thompson confirmed that the ECB received an “unsolicited offer” – reported by Sky to be worth £400m for a 75 per cent stake, from London-listed Bridgepoint Group – but said the response was “thank you very much we will come back to you when ready”. He claimed that some of the details were “exaggerated”.
According to Thompson, any sale of a stake in the two-year-old tournament to private equity is some way off, would need to be considerably greater than the offer they received and allow them to retain control.
“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,” he said. “We all know how precious the schedule is at the minute.
“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.
“We are two years in. There’s no possibility that after two years a tournament could be worth what it could be really worth in three, four or five years time.
“To sell the summer would need to be an extraordinary amount of money. As I say, if an IPL team is worth a billion then we’d need quite a few billion to sell the summer.
“If we are to sell weeks of the English summer, we have to understand the unintended consequences that could bring about.”
'If the game just chases money, it will devour itself'
Thompson, on tour with the men’s national team in Pakistan, has warned of the perils of private equity and the need for English cricket to be good global citizens.
“If the game just chases money, the game will devour itself, and the game will pay a very big price for that,” he said. “Coming here is not about money. The slogan around the stadium - one game, one passion - sums it up. Cricket, perhaps more than any other game can cross through geopolitics, unite countries. It can’t be just about be money. We as ECB need to stand up for that.
“If we are going to be driven principally by broadcasters putting franchise cricket on, there are 15 tournaments now, that will be too much. Bilateral cricket will pay a price. We need to support Pakistan, Bangladesh, other countries. How will we do that? It works on reciprocity, if we go there they come to us. How do we fix this in? Otherwise it’s five nations playing each other and the others fall away.”
Thinking of the future
In a purely English context, Thompson says the game cannot lose sight of its core: producing players for the national team. He cited the example of Will Smeed, the 21-year-old Somerset batter who has chosen to follow a purely white-ball path, as a warning sign of what could be to come.
“Private equity and franchise cricket cannot just skim off the top,” he said. “From a governing body perspective and counties, the player pathway is our principal asset. From the under-9s to the academy. We can’t create those cricketers just for them to be picked off by a franchise or private equity that don’t have any of that overhead or commitment to the broader game.
"Our schedule doesn’t really encourage a player like Smeed to play in our domestic cricket because the schedule is unworkable. One thing we all agree is we have to fix the schedule, and it’s not fixed yet. As far as Smeed is concerned that’s a flashing amber light on the dashboard. We can’t let it go red. What I mean by that is a whole slew of players suddenly decide they want to to follow that path. It’s not a Kerry Packer moment but it’s in that realm.
“This is a good case in point on the player pathway. Players come through only to be lost to English cricket in a way we can’t control. We have to be able to control that. To be powerless, I can’t accept that, losing a generation of cricketers who should be playing for England.”