When I started as Chair in September, I said that I believed strongly in the breadth and depth of the game-wide Inspiring Generations strategy, with its ambition of growing the game, widening participation and seeing more people say ‘cricket is a game for me’. With all the challenges COVID-19 has thrown at us, I am more convinced than ever it’s the right strategy today.
The core aspirations of Inspiring Generations remain current, indeed are probably timeless:
- Grow and Nurture the Core: Ensure that there is a thriving County Network at the heart of the domestic game;
- Inspire Through Elite Teams: Create and celebrate the heroes at the pinnacle of the elite game;
- Make Cricket Accessible: Give more people the opportunity to engage with cricket more often;
- Engage Children and Young People: Inspire a new generation of players and fans to develop a love for cricket;
- Transform Women’s and Girls’ Cricket: Drive cricket’s progress to becoming a truly gender-neutral sport;
- Support Our Communities: Use our purpose to connect communities and improve lives more broadly across society.
Like any strategy, there will need to be periodic shifts in emphasis, and – not least because of the financial and operational challenges created by the Pandemic - flexibility in the means and timing of implementation, but it remains the right approach.
COVID-19, however, has weakened the underlying financial health of the whole Game - professional cricket in particular - leading to income falls, cash-flow squeezes, deferred investments, downsizing, an escalation in debt, all against an uncertain global and domestic economic backdrop. In short, this has led to concerns of survival, stability and sustainability of many entities within theGame, and hence the entire “eco-system” of the Game as we know it.
For example, today we’ve published our Financial Statements for 2020/21, which show that in a year when revenue had been projected to increase significantly to allow for investment in growing the game, the ECB’s turnover fell by £21m as compared to the previous year. The loss on ordinary activities before taxation was £16m in the year end 31st January 2021, compared to a profit of £6.5m in the prior year.
So, while staging international cricket and taking swift action to reduce costs meant we avoided the worst-case financial scenarios last year, across the game the cost of COVID-19 runs to over £100m in lost revenue for the ECB and counties compared to what was expected following a year when cricket was played behind closed doors. Further disruption this year will also have an impact.
At its March meeting, the ECB Board concluded to work with the Game to create a business plan for cricket through modelling the scenarios for the future, from 2022 through to 2031, when the next programme of international cricket concludes. This exercise will shine a light on where the major issues exist, and at what scale, and the Game will consider options and ideas, from the simple to the more radical. The overall aim is to give the whole Game a shared big picture over the long term, and the financial and business plan to help the Game repair its COVID-inflicted wounds as it moves to a better, more sustainable future as follows:
- Growing the grassroots game through widening participation and inspiring future generations.
- Exciting and accessible cricket played in modern and digitally connected stadia.
- Creating sustainable business models across the professional Game.
- Reducing and/or recapitalising the unsustainable levels of debt in the Game.
- Investing in growth areas like the Hundred, the Blast, streaming and the women’s game.
It will be a “Whole Game” project involving the entire eco-system of the Game – the ECB in its various roles, the First Class Counties, the Recreational Assembly and other critical stakeholders.
The strands of work to create the ten-year plan were agreed as:
- An ECB financial model through to 2031 mapped alongside individual County models over the same period.
- A joint ECB/FCC approach to growing the men’s and women’s professional game.
- A long-term approach to the development and hosting of International cricket in England and Wales
- An agreed approach to the media and broadcast market
- A long term professional game financing and investment strategy
- Assessment of ECB Central expenditure
- Balancing expenditure on the “grassroots” of the Game between running recreational cricket and growth initiatives under Inspiring Generations.
Phase 1 of the project will run to a July “Assembly” of the ECB and its stakeholders and will primarily consist of modelling of a“baseline” option, broadly operating as we do today, rolled forward to 2031 on the most realistic external input assumptions.
Phase 2 of the project will run from the July to an end-of-project Assembly in November and will primarily consist of completing various “what-if” analyses to frame the major choices open to, or forced upon, the Game.
At the end of the project we will have an England and Wales business plan to 2031 to support the delivery of the objectives outlined above. It will also include a shared financial model which can be used to manage the plan during subsequent years as events and assumptions change. Finally, it will outline any residual “project” activities that need to be undertaken – for example to develop innovations and growth platforms for the future.
The financial challenges we face are significant, but I believe that by working through this together, we can find the right answers to ensure we have a sustainable business plan for the future and deliver on the ambition of growing the Game through Inspiring Generations.