Tom Harrison, the ECB’s chief executive, has suggested the Hundred could be expanded to include teams from “the northeast and the southwest” in an attempt to reconnect with working-class communities.
Harrison admitted “tough choices” had to be made when the new tournament was set up but said he hoped that, if the first five-year cycle went well, there would be “opportunities for growth” which could help cricket “redefine its connection” with communities that have been priced out of the game.
In an interview with The Cricketer magazine, Harrison also insisted that the BBC had not been behind the decision to cut innings to 100 deliveries per side in the new competition, but had urged a move away from traditional county identities.
“The Hundred presents opportunities for growth in the future,” Harrison said. “I would love to have had the northeast and the southwest in the Hundred. We just didn’t have the available funding to do it and to do it successfully.
“This is the first five-year licence for the teams. We had a proper bidding process. In any other process you wish you could serve everyone. This is a world of tough choices.
“Let’s see what happens in five years’ time. If we can have more teams serving more fans, that is a brilliant ambition to have, resulting in the success of the tournament.”
This year’s inaugural competition will see eight new, city-based teams go head to head. Durham missed out on being a host venue, and will instead be linked to the Leeds-based Northern Superchargers, while in the southwest, Somerset are partnered with Gloucestershire and Glamorgan under the Welsh Fire name – which was a point of some contention during the development process.
“Cricket needs to redefine its connection with the working-class communities,” Harrison said. “Take Durham and the northeast. Cricket used to be the working man’s sport, where mining communities would spend their weekends. We need to rediscover and reconnect with that.
“In London, certain African-Caribbean communities have been priced out of cricket. The passion is still there; people used to turn up at The Oval in their droves.
“So paradoxically cricket doesn’t need to be positioned as a middle-class sport. In the future as our competitive landscape becomes ever more complex and intriguing, we have to be as big and relevant as we can be.”
That relevance is, Harrison insisted, more important to the ECB than turning a profit, which was why the decision was taken to cut the length of games to ensure they fit into a 150-minute window.
“No, I do not,” Harrison replied when asked if he saw the Hundred as a “money spinner”.
“It’s a competition designed to demonstrate that cricket can be bigger and more relevant to more communities in this country than it currently is,” he said. “We have loads of gauges [of success]. Sell-out crowds will take some time. We have a measure of 60 percent which is where we hope to get to.
“County cricket is doing a fantastic job, continuing to grow, particularly the Blast. But it’s predominately white, male, 50-plus. We are trying to reposition the game as multicultural, gender-balanced and younger, more family-orientated.”
So, the BBC didn’t ask for the length of games to be cut to fit its broadcast window?
“No, absolutely not,” Harrison said. “There’s this perception out there that sports sit cap-in-hand to TV companies. [But] the 150-minute window was born out of research and consultation; speaking to families. We don’t take decisions like this on the back of a 30-minute conversation [with the BBC].
“The revenue models for sport are changing. With the Hundred we are hopefully creating a billion-pound property for cricket in the future, to safeguard everything we hold dear. This potentially allows us to mitigate whatever happens in the media – hopefully the media becomes more competitive… hopefully Netflix goes out and spends millions on global sport, Facebook and Google, too.
“The Hundred gives us an opportunity to create a second huge property that can help us answer the question about diversified revenue in the future.”
Asked if the BBC said “no to counties”, Harrison replied: “Absolutely, yes.” The BBC and ECB later clarified that the broadcaster had not made such demands. Both parties reiterated, however, they were happy with the current structure of the competition including the new team identities.
Elsewhere in the interview, Harrison suggested none of the major Test-playing nations favoured a move towards four-day Tests, though there could be a place for them in exceptional circumstances.
“I’ve been positioned as the champion of four-day Test cricket,” Harrison said. “I am not. There are no plans over the next few years to introduce four-day Tests in England, certainly not in the World Test Championship or the Ashes. [But] it’s not a binary argument. I’m cautiously supportive of four-day Tests, in certain geographies, in certain times of the year, against certain opposition, in a cluttered calendar, when we’re facing enormous pressure on schedules.
“Four-day Test cricket does answer some questions some of the time. It’s not the answer to all of our problems, and our own problems. That’s not to say we might not play another four-day Test at some stage, against Afghanistan and Ireland for instance.
“There’s no support for [four-day Tests] from India, Australia and us and that’s quite a powerful lobby.”