London is in contention to stage a third team in the Hundred should the competition increase to 10 sides, potentially placing the capital in a fight with the North East and South West to enter an expanded tournament.
The Hundred’s future remains keenly contested, as debates continue about both private investment and the future shape of the competition. In the event of an expansion to 10 sides, it had been thought that the North East, with Durham, and the South West, with a probable combination of Bristol and Taunton, would be set to gain teams.
But a third Hundred side in London has now emerged as a possible alternative. While discussions with stakeholders are ongoing, a third team in the capital is a possible option.
Potential investors could be particularly attracted to a side in London, especially if it plays at Lord’s, which is already the home venue for London Spirit.
The idea would be contentious, particularly to supporters in the North East and South West. But London has a population of around nine million people and has consistently shown the ability to sell-out matches in all formats of the game, including the Hundred. In Premier League football, six of the 20 clubs are based in London, with the figure even higher in some recent seasons.
Last month Mark Nicholas, the Marylebone Cricket Club president, said that he hopes that MCC could get a Hundred team. MCC is not currently on the branding of any professional team, with Nicholas indicating his desire for the club to have its own side in the professional game.
“There’s a bit of support for it,” Nicholas told The Cricketer magazine. “We are waiting for the ECB to reveal the details. In principle it would be great for MCC members to own and support their own team.
“Just in general terms I think it’s a shame that a major cricket club doesn’t have a team to support, and when the ECB take The Hundred to market, it could be a real opportunity for us to fix that.”
London Spirit, the Hundred franchise who are based at Lord’s, are currently 100% owned by the England & Wales Cricket Board. The team is run by a combination of MCC, Middlesex, Essex and Northants.
If a new Hundred team was created in London, then MCC could potentially either acquire full control of London Spirit, extending their existing relationship with the team, or of the new side. Oval Invincibles, the other Hundred team in the capital, play at The Oval.
It is thought that a third team could heighten the capital’s efforts to engage the inner-city population. Research has found that a disproportionately low share of professional cricketers in England hail from London. But there would be concerns about a missed opportunity to expand the competition to more areas.
While there are no other grounds beyond Lord’s and The Oval with a big enough capacity in London to host Hundred matches, Kent recently gained planning permission to increase the capacity of Beckenham, which can already host around 10,000 spectators. In time, the ground could potentially be in a position to host some Hundred games, acting as a secondary venue for a London side.
Any change in the number of teams in the Hundred would require a three-quarter majority – 15 out of 19 votes – from the 18 first-class counties plus MCC. It would also require three-quarters of all ECB members – 30 out of the 39 first-class counties, the national counties (formerly called minor counties) and MCC.
Private investment expected
In practice a decision about private investment in the competition is likely to come before any decision about admitting new teams – with staying at eight sides, expanding to 10 and expanding to 18, including all the venues from the 18 first-class counties, all options. The new structure of the competition might not come into effect until as late as 2029, after the current discussions about private investment have been resolved.
It is expected that prospectuses for potential investors in the Hundred will be circulated around May. This will be a major step in the potential sale of Hundred teams to private investment, with expectation that the eight existing Hundred teams will go to market later in the year.
Indian Premier League franchises, private equity firms and sovereign wealth funds are all likely to be interested in buying Hundred sides. Venky Mysore, chief executive of Kolkata Knight Riders, first revealed to Telegraph Sport that he wanted to invest in a team in 2020.
Each of the eight Hundred teams are completely owned by the ECB. One suggestion that has been mooted is that the ECB could sell half its stake in each team to private investors. These funds could be put into a pool to benefit the whole game – with this money divided equally between the 18 first-class games, and some of the pot also set aside for the recreational game.
The ECB could then give a 50%+1 equity stake to the county who is the main host venue for each team – for instance, Surrey in the case of Oval Invincibles. The teams could then make a decision as they saw fit about how to use their controlling stake – whether to sell it or remain involved.
This arrangement is designed to ensure that the wider English game would benefit from private investment in the Hundred. But there would still be concerns that it would increase the financial clout of counties that play at the largest venues even further, widening the gap within the 18 first-class counties.