English cricket has received a bid of £400m from a private equity firm for a 75 percent controlling stake in the Hundred.
The bid from the Bridgepoint Group would see English cricket hand over control of its fledgling tournament - which has only run for two seasons - in return for a massive cash injection that would bring much-needed investment into the 18-county system and grass-roots cricket.
The ECB has made no secret of its desire to look for external investment in the Hundred but the offer from Bridgepoint has come earlier than expected.
The bid also comes as new chair of the ECB, Richard Thompson, conducts an audit of the board’s finances.
Thompson told Telegraph Sport in September that he was expecting bids for Hundred equity. “There is a lot of private investment coming into sport, just look at CVC in rugby. It is inevitable that there will be opportunities for cricket in the future too.”
Insiders say a deal is unlikely in the short term and they will hope the news flushes out interest from other parties.
The counties are stakeholders in the Hundred and will receive a dividend of any new investment although it is unclear at this stage how much.
The ECB’s new chief executive, Richard Gould, starts on Jan 31 and solving the problem of the domestic schedule, of which the Hundred is a new disruptor, will be his first task along with uniting a game divided over the governing body’s new competition.
The Hundred has proved a roaring success for the women’s game and crowds were good this summer in its second season in the men’s competition, although broadcast ratings were down on the first year.
At the moment the ECB owns all the teams and tournament with projected costs of around £40m, which includes the £1.3m the counties are paid to provide players and grounds. Out venues receive a further £65,000 per match plus 30 percent of ticket sales and hospitality.
The ECB has copied Cricket Australia’s model with the Big Bash in owning the teams and relying on broadcast rights and matchday revenue to make money from the competition. But private investment is the norm in every other franchise league and gives clubs the muscle to buy the best players.
Three new T20 leagues are springing up in 2023 in the UAE, South Africa and the United States and have attracted significant investment from Asian businesses.
Bridgepoint is a London based buyout firm and has invested in MotoGP and recently tried to buy into Women’s Super League football.
Analysis: Demand for summer schedule may be sticking point
By Nick Hoult
The £400m bid for the Hundred from sports investors Bridgepoint goes to the heart of the debate dividing English cricket.
If the buyout firm takes a 75 percent controlling stake in the Hundred it will inevitably demand a set window at the height of summer for the competition and have the right to do so after such a large investment.
It would also justify the claims of those who have always told critics of the the Hundred that it would one day provide a massive windfall for English cricket, and news of it comes at a time when the counties are pushing back against its dominance of the summer peak weeks, as detailed this week by Telegraph Sport.
The game is split over the Hundred, the future direction of first-class cricket and county fans worry about an existential threat to the four day cricket they love. They will see internal investment as another danger and will wonder how the four day game can stand up against investors demanding a return on their money.
It would be the first time English cricket has allowed private investment, a step it has baulked at in the past when discussed.
But the Hundred was introduced to give the board a commodity to sell in the future, and protect itself against declining interest from broadcasters in Test cricket - which is still the main revenue driver in English cricket.
The counties will see a big windfall heading their way if the offer is accepted but the board’s new management - chairman Richard Thompson and chief executive Richard Gould (who starts in January) - will be reluctant to cede control to outside investors who will inevitably be only interested in a return on their money rather than the bigger picture of what is right for English cricket.
This is a serious bid according to insiders but unlikely to succeed at this point, with the board waiting its new chief executive starting in the new year. It is thought Gould will want to settle into his job next summer before taking on such a massive decision.
The ECB are likely to hold their cards and wait for bigger offers in the future but supporters of the bid say it is a “golden opportunity” to invest in the league and then sell it on again in future years for more than double the value Bridgepoint have put on it now. By retaining a 25 per cent stake the ECB would land another major cash injection.
If the deal does go through then the debate over the schedule will rage. Private investors are not going to pay serious money for the competition and not have it played when they want it to be held.
At the moment the Hundred is played in the school holidays in August, and the Ashes will finish incredibly early this summer to fit around it.
But Telegraph Sport revealed this week that its window is under scrutiny within the ECB and one solution is to play it slightly earlier in the summer. The counties are also pushing for its window to be shortened from four to three weeks so red ball cricket can be held in August.
Test cricket has traditionally been played throughout August and into September and Thompson supports restoring it to those months.
But that could clash with investors who want the peak time school holidays for the men’s and women’s Hundred, a competition aimed squarely at families.
Bridgepoint are proposing buying the controlling stake in the competition - not one of the franchises - and the ECB would have to cede control of the some of the schedule in return for a sum of money that is desperately needed in the county and grassroots game after the pandemic and in a period of high inflation.
Thompson has ordered a top to bottom review of the game’s finances, with the counties demanding to know how much the Hundred is actually costing and bringing into the game.
A determined group of members pushed back against the Strauss review persuading county chairmen to vote against moves to cut the championship to ten games.
But there is powerful group at the ECB who believe the red ball game can only be protected by making serious money out of the Hundred. English cricket is living through a fascinating period, with its future uncertain but is at least attracting interest and stirring passion among its current supporters.