Omar Khan | ECB must consider outside investment in The Hundred

Following the delay of the launch of The Hundred until 2021, global sports marketing consultant and EMEA chief executive for the Leverage agency, Omar Khan suggests external investment may benefit the competition comercially.

Covid-19 has forced every sport to re evaluate key issues around their structure.

Cricket is no exception.

England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive Tom Harrison recently told the UK’s Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) that the game of cricket in this country stands to lose £380m (€431m/$468m) if the entire season is wiped out.

He also said the ECB stands to make a loss of £10m even if the international fixtures are fulfilled this Summer and has described the pandemic as the most significant financial challenge cricket has ever faced.

All cricket is suspended until July 1 but the hope remains that the England team can fulfill their International fixtures with Pakistan, Australia and the West Indies behind closed doors, allowing allow them to meet some of their broadcast obligations with Sky and the BBC.

The launch of The Hundred – a brand new competition for a new variant of the sport – has been postponed and I suggest that, as a result, the ECB will have to consider opening the door to private investors.

Private investment was initially rejected when the idea of the new 100 ball competition was conceived but the financial turbulence caused by Covid-19 will inevitably lead to a re-evaluation of the process.

Kolkata Knight Riders, the Indian Premier League team owned by a group that includes Bollywood Actor Shah Rukh Khan, is one of a number of parties known to be interested in having a financial involvement in a Hundred team.

Were the Knight Riders to invest in a team in the Hundred they would be likely to change the nickname of their franchise to the Knight Riders as they did when they bought the Caribbean Premier League side Trinidad and Tobago Red Steel who are now known as Trinbago Knight Riders.

Following what was a hugely successful Cricket World Cup in 2019, an ECB plan was put in place to target diverse areas across England and Wales, to create more opportunities for South Asian communities to engage with cricket whether through playing, supporting or working in the game.

It also aimed to remove barriers to involvement and participation in cricket.

It’s interesting to note that that a 2019 ECB report shows 1.5 million British Indians are more likely to support an IPL team than a T20 Blast team. 39 per cent support an IPL team with only 8 per cent backing a T20 Blast side.

So, if the British South Asian community is not interested in English domestic formats then could The Hundred tournament be of more appeal to them?

If leading cricketers from India and the IPL are involved, then the answer would be yes.

As of now, all The Hundred’s coaches have cut their teeth in the IPL, Shane Warne with the Rajastan Royals, Mahela Jayawardene with the Mumbai Indians and Stephen Fleming with Chennai Super Kings, where he won 3 IPL titles. There are no English head coaches!

So, by pure accident, the ECB has the opportunity to engage with the BCCI and the franchise Owners of the IPL through its new format, if franchise owners were allowed to secure ownership of the 100 teams across England and Wales.

Their involvement would free up the opportunity for Indian players to play in the tournament as well as securing Indian Ambassadors/Icons for each franchise.

The ECB currently cannot guarantee this, neither can other tournaments like the Big Bash or The CPL with Indian cricketers unable to feature in tournaments outside the IPL.

Sachin Tendulkar returning to Yorkshire as an Icon for the Northern Superchargers with the Ambani Family to own the Leeds-based franchise would create an incredible buzz and drive sell-out matches.

Virat Kohli playing in Birmingham with Birmingham Phoenix and with United Spirits – who own the IPL’s Royal Challengers Bangalore and are 54.8-per-cent owned by Diageo – as a lead investor, would also likely drive further interest.

The introduction of Indian investment would also allow the ECB to target Indian sponsors who pay huge amounts of money to associate their brands with the IPL.

Companies like Jio, part of the Ambani Family’s Reliance business, Kingfisher, Dream 11, Royal Stag and Chinese brands like Vivo and Oppo would become decent targets for the ECB’s sponsorship department.

India’s last overseas series to New Zealand was sponsored by Royal Stag, an Indian brand paying significant amounts to broadcast their brand coverage back into millions of Indian eyeballs.

So, in summary the ECB have an opportunity to completely re shape the financial model of The Hundred and allow for overseas investment.

The ECB has succeeded in securing £1.1bn into the game via broadcast rights for its new tournament through contracts with Sky and the BBC, which will provide free to air coverage of cricket on UK television screens for the first time in 21 years.

It would be quite simply remiss of the ECB to not consider all options in these difficult times.

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