‘We want to embrace The Hundred and rebrand Oval Invincibles as Surrey’

The new CEO of Surrey Cricket Club, Oli Slipper, at The Oval
Slipper, 47, has taken over as chair at Surrey - Telegrapp Sport/Geoff Pugh

It was not that long ago that Surrey were serious sceptics of The Hundred, worried about how the tournament would affect the running of their successful business.

Now with control of the tournament shifting away from the England & Wales Cricket Board and more back towards the host grounds, Surrey can see the potential for growth.

Under new plans being thrashed out, the eight host clubs will be given a 50 per cent equity stake in their franchise, handing them a golden windfall that threatens to increase the gap between the Test grounds and smaller clubs. They will be able to raise revenue by selling their shares to private investors if they wish. If the ECB’s sells its equity, the money will be spread across the whole game.

For Surrey this is a massive windfall opportunity given the Oval’s historic name but the chairman, Oli Slipper, has a different vision. Surrey are lucky because of their £60 million turnover, which in financial terms puts them alongside Premier League clubs like Aston Villa, minus the income from the Premier League’s vast television rights deals. That insulates them from the need to raise revenue quickly by selling their equity. Instead, the idea is to make the Oval’s Hundred team more recognisably Surrey. The Oval Invincibles could become the Surrey Invincibles.

At 47, Slipper is young for a county chair. Appointed last October, he took over from Richard Thompson when he left for the ECB. A former Surrey staffer who played second team cricket with Ben Hollioake, he is an Oval man through and through but in business he is fully aware of the game’s challenges. He is executive chair of Pitch International, a media rights company that buys and sells broadcast deals across cricket and other sports, acting for six out of the 12 Test playing nations. He understands the challenges bilateral one-day and Test cricket face from franchise leagues.

The new CEO of Surrey Cricket Club, Oli Slipper, in the Committee Room at The Oval
Slipper played second team cricket with Ben Hollioake in his younger years - Telegraph Sport/Geoff Pugh

“The Hundred is a key component of the domestic TV deal, which is the main funder of cricket so The Hundred is here to stay. We need to embrace it,” he tells Telegraph Sport. “The Hundred can’t stand still. We need to ensure it has the best players, best budgets and is the ultimate white ball showpiece event for cricket in this country.

“There are some things I would like to do. At the moment the teams are 100 per cent owned by the ECB. There is going to be an ownership degree given back to venues. That is very important to us at Surrey. We can then feel it is our team. From a brand perspective, I hope we can brand it as a Surrey-branded team and part of our cricket eco system. We sold 125,000 Hundred tickets last summer but I would like it to be something the entire membership can get behind. If we can make some small tweaks to the ownership branding then this can be an extremely important product for Surrey, not just the game as a whole.”

As Telegraph Sport revealed this week, the Hundred is set to expand to 10 teams in the future. There were meetings last week between the ECB and the counties to discuss latest proposals, with Deloitte estimating the value of the competition to be around £750 million if the ECB decides to sell equity, which is their planned next stage of development.

“The game needs capital. Certain counties need investment. We are more fortunate than most that short-term cash is not something we need right now,” says Slipper. “We might take the view we can fund the salaries to take the Hundred team to the next level so if investment is required it will come from the ECB’s equity in these franchises or from other counties that might require some capital in the shorter term.

“If you sell your 50 per cent you are giving up your future annuities. You then give up revenue streams forever. For me, look at the challenges Premiership Rugby had. They sold major stakes to private equity which then had first call on that revenue before the clubs themselves. I am not opposed to investment but I think we would take a circumspect view on whether we need it right now but other clubs might require some funding for the stadium and selling their equity gives them a chance to raise more capital without taking on more debt.

Cricket fans cheer during the The Hundred match between Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals at The Kia Oval on July 21, 2021 in London, England
125,000 tickets were sold for The Hundred at the Oval last summer - Getty Images/Gareth Copley

“There is broad agreement that 10 teams makes sense. I don’t think it will affect the quality of on-field product. I don’t think we will go to 10 very quickly. I think there will be a period of qualification. Then there is the question of relegation or promotion because the idea is that the whole game will play the Hundred in that month of August.”

Slipper is referring to the ECB plan to launch a second division of the Hundred, with the eight below the main division playing the format in August with future potential for promotion and relegation. “It is for the game to decide on promotion and relegation or until we get information on the value differential between a closed group and an open group. The game needs to see more data around what it means to the values, we are waiting for that,” said Slipper.

He is aware from his work with Pitch that bilateral cricket faces challenges, and the ECB, like every other board, needs a back up plan. “Franchise cricket is growing. I’m still a huge believer in bilateral cricket but we have to make it as relevant as possible. Certainly from a Test perspective there are only 4-5 very viable Test nations left in the world. The rest will require some funding mechanism to ensure they continue to play it and drive Test cricket growing forward.”

Slipper is speaking before Surrey hosts a dinner for staff and players to celebrate winning a second county championship in a row. With membership up to 19,500, and many signing up for Test tickets and championship cricket, the red-ball game remains the club’s focus. “A lot of people forget Test cricket is still by far the biggest revenue generator for the ECB. Test cricket 100 per cent does not exist without the County Championship. We need to ensure the championship is a vibrant product. We have had huge commercial success over the last few years. It is a working part of our business model and drives the Test cricket agenda that is so important to the economics of cricket in England and Wales.”