CEO Update: May ’24

Friday 31st May 2024

Kent Cricket

CEO Update: May ’24

We’ve now completed the first part of the season and at last, it seems that the weather is starting to improve. For this latest CEO Update, I’ll start by providing a few thoughts around on-field matters.

However, much of my update will focus on off-the-field topics where there continues to be considerable speculation in the media about the expansion of The Hundred and the sale of the teams. There are many misleading headlines, unfounded tales of deals already being done and plenty of speculative figures flying around and indeed, this has been the case for some time.

This topic was the focus of the conversation at a special Members’ Forum held on Saturday 11 May at Canterbury, on Day Two vs. Worcestershire when over 100 Members joined us and raised some excellent questions. Whilst the Forum is a closed environment, I’ll share some thoughts and reflections from that session and these will also address the continuing media headlines.

By the way, if you’d like to attend future Forums, there’s still time to become a Member for 2024, giving you the opportunity to hear news and views first-hand and to have your say.

County Championship Cricket – Season to date

We’ve played seven Vitality County Championship matches; half the four-day season done; with five of those matches against teams in the top positions in of Division One.

We have drawn three, lost three and won one match. It’s been a challenging period with injuries impacting the squad and whilst the stunning victory at Old Trafford was a real highlight, we also know that we’ll have to work hard in the second part of the season to climb up the table.

I’d like to say a special thank you to Adrian Llong and his hard-working Grounds team at Canterbury and Beckenham. They consistently strive to create award-winning pitches which make for good cricket. It’s not a simple task – given the weather and soil conditions – and as the Worcestershire and Essex home pitches showed, getting the balance between bat and ball can be a challenge, but we’ve seen some terrific battles on our pitches this season already.

Vitality Blast – Just seven days until our first home match!

With two away matches kicking-off our T20 season, we’re all now gearing up for our first home match at The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence against Somerset on Friday 7 June. A monumental amount of work is going on behind the scenes at all levels of the Club, to ensure that the spectator experience is as good as possible at ‘Fortress Canterbury’.

In terms of our squad, Australia’s exciting fast-bowling prospect Xavier Bartlett has arrived in Canterbury and led by Sam Billings, we’re excited to get underway as the Kent Spitfires for another white-ball Summer. Zak Crawley and a number of first-team players have been getting into T20 mode by playing for the Second XI this past week.

Our T20 home opener against Somerset, held during Pride Month, is another opportunity for us to welcome cricket fans, old and new, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. At Kent Cricket, we’re steadfast in our commitment to make the game of cricket accessible to all, and during Pride Month, we actively celebrate the LGBTQ+ community so they feel valued and welcome at any Kent Cricket match. Canterbury has the highest percentage of people who identify as LGBTQ+ in the county of Kent and the annual Pride Canterbury event is one of the biggest in the county, with over 30,000 visitors every year.

We’re also looking forward to hosting another T20 double-header with the South East Stars next Sunday, on 9 June, before our T20 match with Middlesex. Just taking a look at the Stars’ squad in their most recent Charlotte Edwards Cup T20 match, a tournament named after a Kent & England legend, six players in the side that faced Western Storm at Beckenham are products of our Female Talent Pathway. I hope to see many of you supporting our Kent Women stars in regional competition, and the whole South East Stars squad, on what will hopefully be an exciting day of T20 cricket. All Kent Spitfires vs. Middlesex tickets include entry to South East Stars vs. Central Sparks.

We look forward to an exciting campaign which will culminate at The Spitfire Ground, Canterbury with our final South Group match, the ‘Friday Finale’, against Surrey on Friday 19 July. We regularly sell out this fixture and it promises to be a great way to bring the curtain down on the group stage of the Vitality Blast.

Project Gemini – Growing The Hundred

Project Gemini is the ECB-led project looking at the introduction of external investment to and expansion of The Hundred. As I said, it’s generating considerable media coverage but much of what you are reading is speculation; any suggestion that there is final agreement across ECB and the Counties is misguided.

As the project progresses, all counties – Hosts and Non-Hosts – are being asked to indicate our approval step-by-step, and these are “decisions” you see being talked about in the media. To-date, all decisions are non-binding but Counties are being asked to sign up to a direction of travel only. It really is a case that “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.

There’s a huge amount of work going on and it’s extremely complex. As the discussions and negotiations continue, a number of professional advisors are engaged by both ECB and also the Counties. It is important for the good of the game and for Board members who have Director responsibilities that all parties get good advice.

All 11 Non-Host Venues, supported by advice from Herbert Smith Freehills, the globally renowned law firm, submitted our position to ECB and Host Venues in a joint letter early this month. Kent and our fellow Non-Host Venues have some reservations on certain aspects of the proposals and we are continuing to seek professional advice since the changes will change the ecosystem of cricket forever.

We have to accept that as a current Non-Host of Men’s international cricket and The Hundred – and without diversified income streams such as a hotels – there is a gulf already between not just Kent, but all Non-Hundred Host Venues and the Hundred Host Venues.

We’re therefore seeking to secure a financially sustainable future for Kent Cricket which supports and rewards our enduring role in growing the game at all levels and creating future players for England. It’s notable that Kent has had more players drafted to date in both of The Hundred tournaments than any other of the 38 first-class and national counties.

We also want to see an open pyramid which will provide aspiration and hope for all Counties – we accept that there may be minimum criteria – but the amazing achievement of our footballing friends and neighbours at Bromley FC have shown what is possible with good leadership, vision and investment – the fact that they now must replace their astroturf pitch with grass to enter the English Football League is part of competing in the pyramid.

For over 150 years, our purpose has been to compete for the top trophies in a County structure in Men’s and Women’s cricket and we want commitment from ECB that this purpose remains.

Negotiations are ongoing, and at times challenging but there is general agreement that ECB, Host Venues and Non-Host Venues all want a deal to be done for a variety of reasons and that we will get there, assuming that the final proposition, is sensible and we do not consider it to be prejudicial to Kent or English cricket.

As soon as there is material progress, we will update our Members and supporters. In the meantime, I would urge you to treat media speculation with caution. I can assure you that the game – ECB, Host Venues and Non-Host Venues – are working together to develop a solution that moves everyone forward and sustains all levels of the game for years to come.

The Importance of Beckenham for Kent Cricket

Once a deal is done, the Gemini project promises a significant capital injection to all Non-Hundred Host Venues, plus on-going revenues from a growing tournament.

Some may describe this as a windfall; in practice, I prefer to look at it as giving us choices.

We have stressed at the AGM and in our Reports and Accounts the importance of Beckenham for Kent Cricket. Not only is it a bridgehead into South East London but it offers our only realistic option to retain a seat at the top tier of English cricket.

With Beckenham, we have a first-class cricketing venue, spread over 24 acres with a local population in our four Kent London boroughs of 1.2 m people. Importantly, we hold an option to purchase the freehold albeit for a limited period of time only.

If we remain a Canterbury-centric business, we will almost certainly have to accept our fate as a shire county and Non-Host Venue for an expanded Hundred tournament. We would remain forever in the geographic shadow of Surrey and effectively become a feeder county for them, not an easy thought to digest with our thriving recreational cricket community, and our track record of producing players for county cricket and England.

This is not a choice between Canterbury or Beckenham.

The game is growing and we need more pitches, but we need both venues to be financially sustainable. Beckenham represents a growth and investment opportunity; Canterbury is more a sustain and maintain strategy.

We continue to work hard on the Beckenham opportunity within the broader context of the Gemini discussions and potential inflow of capital.

The Evolving Governance models in Cricket

Even with the Gemini capital investment, and a new stadium in South East London at Beckenham, we – like most of the Host Venues – will need to attract outside investment from partners if we’re to dine at the top table in 20 years’ time.

In addition to assessing the pros and cons of our current model, we’ll need to consider a number of alternative options; private investment, some sort of demutualisation, a strategic overseas partnership. Northants, Durham and Hampshire already have varying degrees of private ownership, and Yorkshire has recently suggested they might follow. Again, these are complex conversations and questions around governance are ongoing at Board and Executive Director level. We’ll keep you updated with any material progress.

Women’s & Girls’ cricket in Kent

After the disappointing outcome of our Tier 1 bid, the hard-working and inspirational team of staff, volunteers, players and coaches have responded by hitting the ground running this Summer. There have been some excellent performances amongst our Kent Women squad, from both established players and exciting young talent, such as 15-year-old all-rounder Genevieve Jeer, who took 5 for 11 and top-scored with 46 in the Horses’ first match of the season at Polo Farm against Middlesex.

Our continued focus on on-field performance and success for Kent Women is so important. Our captain, Megan Belt, provides amazing leadership of the group. As well as leading from the front on-the-field, she was an integral member of the Tier 1 bid team.

The ECB tender document referred to “geographical spread and population density” being overlaying conditions and through the process, it became clear that being located so close to Surrey was not going to increase the chance of our bid succeeding.

We were told that geographic coverage was crucial to expand the Women’s professional game but in practice placing geography above track record and prioritising promises over performance means that the past success of Kent and others such as Sussex counted for little. The past failure of other Counties to produce female cricketers and provide access to high quality facilities like Beckenham was seemingly rewarded. The irony that the lead image for the Glamorgan website article announcing their successful bid featured our own Tammy Beaumont (Kent Women’s Cap No. 39) in a Welsh Fire shirt was not lost on the bid team.

We were deeply uncomfortable with the ECB Board decision to award 10, not 8, places in Tier 1 in the period 2025-2029 and this was compounded by the subsequent decision to bring forward Yorkshire’s entry to 2026, subject to meeting certain criteria.

We’ve made our dissatisfaction very clear to ECB, but we don’t feel that legal challenge is the way forward. We’re determined that this must not be the end of Women’s cricket in Kent but the beginning of a new era.

We are in the process of developing a plan for Tier 2 that will harness all of the resources and passion for Women’s and Girls’ cricket in Kent. We have the most powerful engine in the depth of our recreational game, the excellence of our pathway and Beckenham. We’re urging the ECB to commit to opening up Tier 1 to Tier 2 teams by 2029 and we are forming a working group designed to plot a path to Tier 1 Women’s Cricket by this time.

Let’s be clear; competing in women’s cricket will cost money. In football, Chelsea Women recently announced losses of £4M; no surprises since women’s sport remains in growth mode but that kind of commercial performance is not sustainable for any business.

We need to have a strong business model to underpin our goal. ECB will be funding Tier 1 teams to the tune of £1.6M annually against, we understand £200K annually for Tier 2. That means we’ll need to work hard to generate our own revenue to close some of the gap. We’ll therefore need the support – both passion and financial – of members and commercial partners.

At the Forum, we floated the idea of Members paying an extra subscription amount for Women’s cricket and I’ve been delighted to receive feedback and emails after the Forum supporting this idea. This would be an option, rather than a mandatory part of our Membership offer.

172nd Canterbury Cricket Week: Friday 21 – Wednesday 26 June

Our Friday night Vitality Blast T20 at home to Essex, the ‘Battle of the Bridge’, and our Vitality County Championship match with Lancashire, who will reportedly have England’s best-ever bowler James Anderson in their side, will be the setting for the oldest, continuous cricket festival in the world.

A lot of work across all areas of Kent Cricket is going into Canterbury Cricket Week to ensure that it’s a celebration of cricket in Kent across all levels, and we hope that our Festival Week will be an occasion that our Members and supporters are rightly proud of. We’ll be sharing more details on Canterbury Cricket Week very soon.

Members are reminded that they have two complimentary guest passes to exchange for tickets, allowing friends and family to join them during our Championship match with Lancashire, to introduce them to what it’s like to be a part of the Kent Cricket Family.

What next?

As you can see, there are huge changes going on in the world of cricket and with change, comes challenge and opportunity.

We must work tirelessly to ensure that Kent Cricket retains a place at the top table of English Men’s cricket, that our Kent Women are able to compete in Tier 1 of the Women’s domestic structure and that our vision for Beckenham – our bridgehead into London – is realized.

Picture what you want Kent Cricket to look like for your children and your grandchildren. A thriving welcoming County Cricket Club, proudly representing our communities across Kent and four London Boroughs and giving inspiration and opportunity to future generations.  That is our shared purpose.

Vitality Blast is back in Canterbury next week!

  • The most exciting form of county cricket – international T20 & Hundred stars feature for county sides in a format that usually lasts around three hours – the perfect sporting night out!

Buy your T20 tickets here

Scramble your squadron for a choice of Friday night socials this June & July and enjoy discounts on tickets for groups of six or more!