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Surrey CCC leading calls for competitive county fixtures during August

Surrey CCC leading calls for competitive county fixtures during August
Surrey CCC leading calls for competitive county fixtures during August

A record financial year in 2019 has given Surrey “the confidence and resilience” to ride out the Covid-19 crisis, but the club is still leading calls for a competitive county fixture list to be put in place during August, September and early October – even if most matches have to be played, without ticket revenues, behind closed doors.

Richard Gould, the Surrey chief executive, outlined his county’s view of what might be possible later this summer in anticipation of an England and Wales Cricket Board statement that announced a further delay to the professional domestic season, to August 1, but also confirmed that the Professional Game Group is looking to present a new, regionally-based fixture plan to the ECB Board next month.

Gould believes the English domestic game would suffer harm far beyond any short-term cash-flow problems if it opts, in effect, to go into summer-long hibernation and rely on the government’s furlough scheme to pay a substantial percentage of overall player and county staff wages.

England’s planned ‘bio-secure’ international schedule, against West Indies and Pakistan from early July onwards, would meanwhile safeguard television and radio revenues – allowing counties to see themselves through the coronavirus storm due to their respective shares of central ECB income.

Gould, however, says it would be a short-sighted approach not to do everything possible to prevent county clubs from going 18 months – from September last year to April 2021 – without staging any cricket.

He also thinks it would be possible to have socially-distanced crowds, particularly for what would probably be a regionally-based county championship-style competition.

Gould is actually hopeful that initial first-class matches could be followed by a T20 competition – also with reduced, socially-distanced crowds – at the back end of the summer. This possible structure will be part of the PGG report in June.

Surrey this week announced a £6.3 million pre-tax profit for the 2019-20 financial year, a surplus generated on a turnover of more than £45m. That profit is a 112 per cent increase on the 2.75m they made in 2018-19 and a 42 per cent uplift in year-on-year turnover – results that are both club records.

Only Surrey and Lancashire have chosen not to furlough their players, a mark of their respective financial strengths, but Gould says it is actually the bigger Test-match ground counties who are currently at more risk of lost revenue.

“For most ‘non-Test ground’ counties it is the case that around 70 per cent of their overall income is generated through the ECB’s staging of England matches and the television and media rights’ money,” he said. “For us, only about 20 per cent of income is guaranteed from that source.”

Gould, previously chief executive at Somerset for six years before joining Surrey in 2011, said he was confident that all 18 first-class counties would want to play some competitive cricket at the end of the summer.

“I’m optimistic,” he said. “Yes, all 18 counties will have to do their own sums and all have very different business models, but one and a half years is a very long time not to have people coming into your ground.

 “Of course, it depends on how much time we get in which to put domestic cricket on, and we would certainly not be looking to do anything that goes against government guidelines, but the situation is moving relatively quickly.

“We are currently drawing up plans of what might be possible, in terms of having spectators in the ground, and for us at the Kia Oval it is obviously reasonable to plan how we put safety measures in place to allow us to house, say, 3,000 to 4,000 in a 25,000-seater stadium.”

Gould said it was important for counties to do all they could for the benefit both of their members and wider supporters, who want to watch cricket if they can, and also for players who want to further their careers and, in around 150 cases nationwide, have the opportunity of earning themselves extended contracts.

Even if no spectators were allowed, he added, counties would be able to stream live coverage of games through Facebook, You Tube or via county websites.