A private equity firm has tabled a £400 million bid for a 75 percent stake in the Hundred, in what has been described as a potentially "game-changing" development for the future of English cricket.
According to Sky News, Bridgepoint Group, a London-listed buyout firm, has approached the ECB with a proposal that could inject up to £300 million of new money into English cricket - a prospect that, despite its pitfalls, is likely to appeal to cash-strapped counties struggling with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, while the Hundred was conceived by the ECB in order to be a brand-new revenue stream - one that can enable the board to wean itself off its dependence on international cricket as the game's primary breadwinner - the expectation is that this particular offer will be declined, with the ECB unlikely to want to cede control over their new product after just two full seasons of competition.
Speaking to The Guardian this week, Richard Thompson, the new chair, hinted at the direction of travel for the Hundred, particularly in light of the explosion of interest in franchise T20 competitions around the world, with the UAE's ILT20 and South Africa's SA20 the latest lucrative additions to the calendar.
"There's a feeding frenzy at the moment," Thompson said. "Rights holders have never seen a rise like the one they have [recently] and the Hundred will undoubtedly get more and more interest as a unique format that finds an audience the others don't.
"We're open but treading carefully in that space. We're not going early. It's just two years old, we can't get greedy, we have to see it play out. The worst thing would be to do something too early, then see the value go through the roof and you've lost out and someone else benefits. It's important to let it grow and develop first."
Although the Hundred has been locked into the ECB's calendar until 2028, the free-to-air element that was so crucial to its inception has yet to be renegotiated from 2025 onwards. However, the huge potential of the women's Hundred is believed to be a particular attraction for the investment group, with the ECB reporting a record 271,000 attendees at women's matches in the 2022 season.
Bridgepoint's track record includes several years of investment in MotoGP, while it has also overseen the commercial development of the Winter Olympics, through its media rights agency, InFront. The group also recently sought a deal to invest in the Women's Super League in football, but failed to reach a formal agreement.
The bid comes at a critical juncture for the future of English cricket, with the sport already grappling with the implications of Andrew Strauss's recent High Performance Review, which recommended, among other things, a reduction in red-ball cricket and a dedicated month-long window in August for the Hundred. Many of the review's provisions are set to be turned down by the counties, with the Hundred's pre-eminence in the calendar already a bone of contention for many.
The ECB declined to comment when contacted by ESPNcricinfo.