It was announced in January that UK-based online car retailer Cazoo and insurance company Liverpool Victoria (LV=) were stepping away from their respective sponsorship deals with English cricket.
Cazoo served as the title sponsor of 100-ball cricket tournament The Hundred over the last two years. GlobalData estimates that it paid $5.5 million in total to be associated with the eight-team (for both the men’s and women’s editions) competition in the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
Meanwhile, LV= has been serving as the title partner of both the County Championship and England home international Test Series matches, including the 2023 Ashes series. The partnership also sees LV= donate $1.2 million towards the Funds4Runs initiative, a joint scheme with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), which focuses on areas and groups within the community lacking access to cricket or grassroots funding for it. GlobalData estimates the LV= deal to be worth $1.25 million across three seasons, running to the end of September 2023.
The relinquishing by Cazoo and LV= of their roles with English cricket will deeply concern the English county clubs, many being deep in financial struggle, especially in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. Just two months before this news, many first-class cricket county clubs had been disappointed with the ECB’s decision not to accept a reported $484-million private equity offer to gain a majority share of The Hundred, which would have provided the counties with a much-needed financial boost as they battle the rapid rise in inflation that has put them under further financial pressure.
Many of the smaller first-class counties in English cricket have also raised major concerns about how the money generated from The Hundred has been distributed. The eight host counties whose teams compete in the competition are raking in far more money than the ten first-class counties yet to have a team competing in the tournament, with real apprehension that a new divide is being created in the county game. Therefore, the smaller counties will hope that the ECB efficiently secures new sponsors and potentially even investors who would inject much-needed cash into county teams unable to benefit directly from The Hundred.
Owners of the multi-million-dollar Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises which have become a major force in world cricket over the last few years have continued to seek opportunities to expand their brands globally but have yet to enter English cricket. They will be keeping a close eye on the situation in which the ECB has found itself, having to pursue urgent financing.
Eight of the existing ten IPL franchises own a team in a T20 league outside of India, in the Caribbean Premier League, International League T20 in the United Arab Emirates, or the SA20 in South Africa, the most recently launched competition, where all six teams are owned by an IPL franchise. The Rajasthan Royals franchise has put on record their aim to grow the sport across the world and consequently expand the franchise’s popularity across all cricket markets. They and Kolkata Night Riders have expressed interests in becoming associated with English cricket in the future, potentially through buying teams in The Hundred.
IPL franchises have also identified the United States as a sports market in which they want to be involved and are looking to buy teams in USA Major League Cricket, a new T20 competition that aims to transform American cricket and provide one of the best platforms in the sport for the world’s most elite players. The growth of IPL franchises strongly indicates that the sport is becoming dominated by franchise cricket, which is good news for the bank accounts of cricketers but worrying news for the future of test cricket, the most traditional and respected form of the game.
There were reports in March 2021 that the ECB was looking to lure IPL franchises to English cricket by offering them stakes in The Hundred. The eight IPL franchises were said to have offered a 25% stake in the eight teams of the competition. The ECB also tested the idea of offering a share of the media rights to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in an attempt to attract star Indian players such as Virat Kohli to the tournament and provide broadcasting of The Hundred and English cricket as a whole with a major boost in popularity in the cricket-obsessed nation of India. However, it was unable to strike a deal with IPL franchises and the BCCI.
The commercial difference between the IPL and the ECB’s latest competition The Hundred is vast. The 2022 IPL generated $86.5 million in total from commercial partners, which included $45.19 million from the Tata conglomerate. Tata has been the tournament’s title sponsor since Chinese smartphone maker Vivo decided to pull out of their deal early three months before the start of IPL 2022.
In contrast, The Hundred 2022 competition only generated a total of $13.035 million from commercial partners, the most lucrative deal being Cazoo’s title sponsorship This highlights the clear financial gap between the IPL and The Hundred and underlines why the involvement of IPL franchises in English cricket could be pivotal in attracting global brands, especially Indian brands, to partner with English cricket competitions. This boost in sponsorship would be critical in improving revenues for the ECB, counties, and players.
The IPL demonstrated its financial muscle through the competition’s latest media rights deal. In June 2022, streaming and TV rights for the IPL over the next five tournaments were sold for $6.2 billion. Viacom18 secured the streaming rights for an estimated $3.18 billion whilst Disney-owned Star India retained the TV contract for $3.02 billion. This latest media rights agreement places the IPL amongst the highest-ranked sports leagues besides the English Premier League and the NFL in cost-per-match terms.
It provides further evidence that Indian franchises becoming involved in English cricket could provide huge financial benefits to the ECB. With Indian franchises participating, viewing figures for competitions like The Hundred would likely significantly increase through the interest of millions more Indian fans. Therefore, the value of the media rights of The Hundred would be expected to increase significantly in India. Indian franchises might be expected to favor the T20 format in England, but the shorter format of The Hundred potentially provides a unique selling point for India’s knowledgeable cricket fanbase.
IPL franchises are here to stay in cricket and are expected to become a greater force as more franchise-based teams are created across the globe. It is very possible that the ECB will invite the Indian cricket franchise owners back to the negotiating table to discuss introducing their franchises into English cricket, whether through The Hundred or even the T20 Blast. This is a pivotal moment for the ECB commercially as a financial boost is needed for the professional counties still struggling from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and for the amateur clubs as so little funding is now available at the grassroots, especially for junior-age cricket.
The introduction of cricket franchises could be a turning point in growing the sport commercially in England. In driving this forward it is essential that necessary reviews and reforms are completed in England and Wales cricket after the Yorkshire County Cricket Club racism scandal that erupted in 2021, with major reputational damage to the county game and the withdrawal of sponsorships. It would also be helpful to The Hundred’s dual men’s and women’s format if the inaugural women’s Premier League cricket tournament in India in March 2023 is a commercial and broadcasting success.
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