English cricket is the envy of other sports due to the success of the Hundred, according to Stuart Cain, Warwickshire’s chief executive.
Cain, who joined Warwickshire in 2020, has previously held senior roles in rugby (both league and union), athletics, swimming and football, and believes that there is a “harsh economic reality” underpinning the Hundred – which remains a divisive competition, with its third season dominating the month of August in the English cricketing calendar.
Each of the 18 counties is paid £1.3 million per year by the ECB under the terms of the initial agreement that underpinned the competition. And Cain, who is a director of Birmingham Phoenix, said that some counties would go under without those funds, and underlined his support for the competition.
“60% of the people that come into Edgbaston [for the Hundred] have never been before, and the majority are from the local area,” Cain said. “That tells you we’re getting new people into games, a much more family audience, a much more diverse audience.
“We’ve got new sponsors, and we’ve got it on free-to-air television. If you were tennis or golf, and someone said, ‘I’ve got a competition that brings a whole new audience into your sports, takes it to people on free-to-air television’, they’d say, ‘What’s not to like?'”
The Hundred’s future has been discussed throughout the first half of the English summer and while the ECB have stressed that it is locked in until the end of their existing broadcast deal with Sky Sports, which runs until the end of the 2028 season, a change of format or structure has been mooted.
“You’ve got the history and tradition of 18 counties, and then you’ve got city vs city, eight franchises playing,” Cain said. “You’re trying to move the game forward in a modern, contemporary way but still trying to respect the history of the game, and it’s not always easy to do that, is it?
“That’s the challenge for the sport: how do we still keep the ethos of the Hundred, attract those new audiences and bring new money in? Because that money funds the game… every county gets a payment as a consequence of that and if you took that payment away from some of those counties, they could fold. That’s the harsh economic reality behind the Hundred.”
A report by Worcestershire chair Fanos Hira earlier this year questioned the ECB’s accounting methods and claimed that the Hundred has lost around £9 million across its first two seasons.
Cain admitted he was unclear as to whether the tournament is making money – but said that short-term profit is not as important as “future-proofing” the sport, comparing it to the controversial investments made in sport by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
“Whether it makes money or not, I don’t know,” he said. “But you ask the Saudis and LIV [golf] whether that’s going to make money for the next five or 10 years, or ask the new owners of Newcastle [United] whether they’re going to make money for the next five or 10 years. They’re trying to build something, aren’t they?
“I think that’s what the ECB is trying to do: build something that helps future-proof cricket by bringing new audiences in, generating new revenue streams for the counties and encouraging new opportunities for people to watch the sport on free-to-air television. I think the principle of it is great – and yes, I’m supportive of it.”
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98