English cricket is gearing up for redundancies and severe cost-cutting measures following a forecasted loss of up to £182m owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The England and Wales Cricket Board held talks with the 18 first-class counties and the county boards on Wednesday and stated a £106m deficit is now considered the minimum expectation during the current financial year.
This figure assumes that the remaining men’s international cricket – Pakistan’s tour and a proposed six-match white-ball visit by Australia in September – will take place under the biosecure conditions in place so far this summer.
But there has also been a warning that the overall loss to the game could rise by a further £76m should any of these matches be cancelled or the ECB find itself unable to sell tickets for next year’s visits by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
As well as the loss of ticket sales and high cost of putting on England’s matches, which has included bringing touring teams over on charter flights and creating “bubbles” at the Ageas Bowl and Old Trafford, the deficit has been put down to the 12-month delay of the The Hundred, which was due to launch last month.
On top of this is a shortfall in commercial revenue – the Test series against Pakistan, for example, has no sponsor – as well as the loss of income from participation programmes such as All Stars Cricket and Dynamos Cricket.
The counties have had their central distributions from ECB guaranteed up to January 2021 – the latest instalments were paid on 1 August – but the five-year broadcast deal that began this summer, and is worth £1.1bn overall, is likely to come down. Overseas rights are also understood to have taken a significant hit.
Accordingly the ECB has begun discussions with the wider game around cost-cutting measures and the governing body is itself expected to shrink in size. The most recent accounts, which pre-date Covid-19, show a headcount of 379 employees, with one source claiming this could come down by up to 25%.
It makes for a particularly tough start for Ian Watmore, the former FA chief executive who will become the ECB’s first salaried chairman when he takes over from Colin Graves next month following his ratification at June’s AGM.
The Hundred is still intended to go ahead next year – the ECB claims it will produce a surplus, albeit one that does not take into account the annual £1.3m dividend paid to each first-class county and MCC – so too the Inspiring Generations programme aimed at growing the sport around the country.
And there remains a strong desire to continue building the women’s game following a commitment by the ECB earlier this year to invest £20m in 2020 and 2021 and increase the number of professional contracts.
Much will hinge on how the pandemic continues to unfold and the shape in which England cricket emerges next year. The recent cancellation of spectator trials at Surrey and Warwickshire represents a significant setback in the board’s ambition to get crowds back for England matches and county cricket.