Interviews

Surrey County Cricket Club combines its rich history with modern relevance

7 min read

04 September 2017

Much of the change surrounding cricket relates to the advent and rise of its shorter Twenty20 (T20) format – and Surrey County Cricket Club is amongst those embracing it.

Running a profitable cricket business has never been harder due to the sport’s increasingly popular Twenty20 (T20) format. Despite this, Surrey County Cricket Club, which has flirted with bankruptcy more than once, announced an annual pre-tax profit of £1.6m for the 2016/17 financial year. Here’s why.

With a duration of approximately three hours, the pace of T20 is ramped to an explosive degree and demands higher fitness levels from players. One could even argue its entertainment and fan experience adds to the intrigue.

The initial aim was to draw the attention of the younger generation, but its popularity has now gone beyond the concept of targeted age. That doesn’t mean it’s embraced by the overall cricket community though. Cricketer and coach Alex Tudor claimed it was killing off certain skills – specifically fast bowling.

Former cricketer Clive Lloyd believes players’ pursuit of money is another proverbial spanner in the works – it seems higher earnings are secured through international T20 leagues. He told the Guardian: “It’s as if playing for your country is no longer paramount.”

There’s obvious tension between test cricket and T20, drawing a mixed reaction from club owners, players, coaches and fans alike. But going with the times is Surrey County Cricket Club.

CEO Richard Gould explained to Real Business that he moved into cricket – having previously worked at Bristol City football club – in 2005 just as T20 was taking off.

“Its advent created numerous commercial opportunities and I brought my knowledge of what worked in football, especially in relation to membership and ticket sales, into cricket,” he explained. “There is, after all, lots of overlap between football and cricket fans.”

His ability to attract a crowd wasn’t the reason behind his wanting to work at Surrey County Cricket Club. There was an intrigue behind its heritage, with it having hosted numerous FA Cup finals and rugby internationals, not to mention the first Ashes Test.

Delving further into its background, Gould said: “Surrey dominated cricket in the post-war years, winning or coming second in the championship in ten out of 12 years from 1948. Now, the Oval is staging its 100th Test match, only the fourth venue in the world to join this exclusive club. 

“It’s amazing given that I played at the Oval as an 11-year schoolboy, growing up in Surrey. It’s always been in my blood. I also went into school in Somerset and that was my first job in cricket so I suppose it was logical that my second job would be at Surrey!”

The club’s winning growth recipe can be found on the next page

More important is its legacy of not living off past glories, he said. “It combines a rich history with relevance in the modern world.”

Indeed, Surrey County Cricket Club has embraced T20 – and the new audience it brings – accordingly, with 70 per cent of those coming to the T20 matches never having seen cricket before.

“We currently sell out most of our NatWest T20 Blast matches and Surrey is a strong T20 brand,” Gould explained. “We hope that if the Kia Oval is chosen as one of the venues for the new competition, which will be marketed by the ECB (cricket’s governing body), the matches continue to sell out.

“But that doesn’t mean T20 is the only future for the sport. Test cricket is still thriving and London is the Test capital of the world. There is room for both forms of the game and both can continue to thrive. One should not grow at the expense of the other.”

It’s this mindset of embracing both tradition and modern times that has led to the impressive growth of Surrey County Cricket Club.

International cricket accounts for 50-60 per cent of the club’s revenue. Domestic and non-match day activities account for the remaining 40 per cent – “this is the stream that has grown fastest over the last five years”. 

The success of the domestic game has been crucial, Gould opined, and that’s thanks to the shorter T20 version of the game. He added: “If you compare 2016 with 2010, we played Pakistan in both those years, but in 2010 we lost £500,000 while in 2016 we made a record profit. The difference is T20 and the fact we have made the Oval one of the leading event venues in London.”

Prior announcements of a £50m redevelopment plan intending to make the Oval the biggest cricket venue in Britain – and the largest globally outside of India and Australia – come to mind. And that too, Gould suggests, could be attributed to T20 – the laws of supply and demand dictated expansion.

“We don’t have enough seats,” he exclaimed. “We need to put more bums on seats. That’s part of our future growth plan. It also includes raising the bar, giving supporters the best possible experience, and a 40,000-seat stadium will allow us to grow as a business.”

But in keeping with the times, the club hopes to place more emphasis on the non-cricket side of things. We’re talking conferences and events, as well as a dedicated small business hub for those involved in the sports industry.

“There is so much exciting development taking place in south London, such as the revitalisation of Battersea,” Gould explained, “and Surrey County Cricket Club wants to be part of that renewal and expansion.”