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Surrey’s post-World Cup T20 sales fuel continuing ambivalence for The Hundred

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 25: Surrey Chief Executive Richard Gould during a Lycamobile & Chance to Shine Street Partnership Announcement at the Kia Oval on March 25, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

  • County’s T20 ticket sales double on the back of England World Cup win and new family zone
  • Club voted against the ECB Hundred but the Kia Oval will host games next year
  • New family zone sponsored by Xbox

Richard Gould, chief executive of Surrey County Cricket Club, says the team saw a surge in ticket sales for its home games in the Vitality T20 Blast immediately after England’s victory in ICC Cricket World Cup this July. The county’s success in commercialising the competition means it continues to be ambivalent about the need for the Hundred, the England and Wales Cricket Board’s new 100-ball competition.

“A week after we won the World Cup, our daily rate of sales doubled,” Gould tells SportBusiness. “In a normal T20 year, we might sell out four of our seven games. This year, we’re going to be at capacity for all seven.”

The country revealed that July 2019 was the club’s strongest ever month for ticket sales and that the 105,000 tickets sold this year beat the previous club record of 103,600 sold in a single season.

Ticketing and conferencing are the largest revenue streams for the club, which will generate roughly £44m (€49m/$54m) in turnover this year – by some distance the largest sum for any of the eighteen first-class counties. TV revenues from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) account for around £2m of this figure.

The ECB Hundred

Surrey was in the minority of counties to vote against the ECB’s proposal to launch the Hundred, but it has since assured the ECB that it is fully engaged in launching the new event.

“They asked us our opinion as to whether we needed a fourth format and we gave them a very straight answer that we didn’t think we did. But now as we move into delivery mode, it clearly would be irresponsible of us not to not to do our best.

“We felt that there wasn’t enough space in the schedule. And, if nobody else was playing this format, then we didn’t know how it was going to have context in terms of local cricket,” says Gould. “It will be a challenge when the new competition arrives because, from what we’ve seen so far this year with T20 – with sell-out crowds, amazing audiences, great cricket – I don’t know quite how we’re going to beat that.”

The Kia Oval during a night game in the Vitality T20 Blast.

The 18 counties have been condensed into eight new city-based teams made up of squads of 15 which will be selected in a player draft on October 20 this year, the first time an IPL-style auction has been tried in British sport. Surrey has been paired with Kent County Cricket club in the new competition to form one of two London-based teams. The side, slated to be called the Oval Invincibles, will play its home fixtures at Surrey’s Kia Oval ground, but the draft system means the team is unlikely to be made up of the best Kent or Surrey players. Gould worries that this will make it harder to generate fan interest.

“We’re all still getting our heads around that, in truth,” he says. “We would be very keen for it to have a local flavour because we think that that’s the best chance that we’ve got to sell loads of tickets.

“At the moment, no contracts have been signed. They were due many months ago, but there are still a few issues to be overcome […] there’s quite a lot of work in terms of the boring paperwork and administration to set up the entities that will be those teams.”

In return, each of the counties will receive a £1.3m flat fee annually and hosting fees will be allocated to host venues.

“There will be dry-hire of the ground which, to be honest, are at ‘mates’ rates’ in order to try and make it work,” says Gould. “Two-thirds of the gates go back to the ECB. A third will be retained by the host venue to encourage them [the ECB] to market it to our database.”

At one stage it was reported that the ECB might strip Surrey of its hosting rights over the club’s failure to vote for the new competition, but Gould says the ECB would be foolish to overlook the second-largest ground in English County Cricket. The club is in the middle of a £30m project to add 2,500 seats that will take the capacity at the Kia Oval to 28,000. This will equal the current capacity at Lord’s, the home of Middlesex, although a renovation is also planned there that will add a further 2,500 seats.

“At the risk of being arrogant, if you don’t have your biggest players, if you don’t have your most successful commercial grounds as part of this competition, it won’t hit the KPIs they require of it. So we are bound to each other in order to do the right thing,” says Gould.

Family Zone

The Hundred is designed to attract families and younger audiences to cricket but Surrey has had some successes of its own in targeting these groups. Gould says the club has foregone an estimated £500,000 in hospitality revenues this year to create a new family zone in a 600 square-foot hospitality suite that previously catered for around 1,000 covers. He describes the initiative, which was first introduced in 2018, as an investment in the next generation of cricket fans based on a ‘gut feeling’ that it made long-term commercial sense. Tickets for the zone have sold out for every fixture this season with 10,000 tickets allocated to Under 16s and one in five purchases made by women.

“Our hospitality for T20 matches is usually at maximum capacity, so it’s not as if we’re using space that we wouldn’t otherwise sell,” he says. “It’s how you prioritise it, and fortunately we’re in a position where we can invest in this space for the families and the kids.”

Children’s tickets for every game at the Kia Oval are priced at £1 while adult tickets are priced between £20 and £28. Xbox has sponsored and equipped the family area with consoles to coincide with the launch of EA Sport’s new game, Cricket 19. The zone also features virtual reality cricket simulators, coaching, a bowling speed gun, player autograph signings and green screen photography. All caterers at the ground are contractually obliged to offer children’s portions and prices.

The club debated whether the family zone should be alcohol-free but opted to include a bar. Youngsters are fitted with identity bracelets so that adults can drink and watch the cricket from the seats adjoining the box while their children play under supervision in the family zone.

“I know of no other kids’ zone in any other sporting ground that’s as good as this,” says Gould. “We just really wanted to design the best kids’ area you could possibly imagine.”

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