ECB secures counties agreement on Hundred 'direction of travel'

Trent Rockets and Oval Invincibles celebrate with their trophies Getty Images

The privatisation of the Hundred has moved a step closer after the ECB achieved broad agreement with the 18 first-class counties and MCC over its proposed "direction of travel".

The English game has met regularly across the past nine months to discuss the future of the tournament. ECB chief executive Richard Gould said last month that there was "strong consensus" that the eight teams - which are currently owned by the board - should be opened up to private investment.

This would be achieved by creating eight new companies and gifting 51% of the shares in them to the relevant host county: Surrey, for example, would be majority shareholders in Oval Invincibles. The remaining 49% of shares would be sold centrally by the ECB to interested parties.

The board asked the counties to agree upon a "direction of travel" by Friday. ESPNcricinfo understands that while there is still some wrangling over how the proceeds from the sale of the ECB's shares should be split, the counties have given their non-binding approval for the sale process to continue.

The 11 non-host counties expressed their concerns to Gould earlier this week and are seeking independent financial advice. "The non-host county position is that, as in any financial arrangement of this type - and you're talking hundreds of millions of pounds - that we would have our own proper, impartial advice and that's what we're now seeking," Jon Filby, Sussex's chair, told the BBC this week.

But many of them are struggling financially and have business models which depend heavily on central funding from the ECB. A recent study in the Cricketer magazine found that five counties have required emergency financial help from the ECB in the last two years. Gloucestershire posted £1.2m losses last year, Middlesex are under special measures after breaching ECB financial regulations, while Worcestershire's head of finance said in their last annual report: "Financial sustainability remains a paramount concern".

The Telegraph reported that in the latest model, money raised from selling the ECB's stake would see 10% given to the recreational game and the rest shared by the counties. The first £275 million would be shared 19 ways - between the 18 counties and MCC. The next £150m would be shared between the 11 non-hosts, and any further proceeds shared 19 ways again.

One county chief executive told ESPNcricinfo that the non-hosts - of which his club are one - are generally supportive of a deal but believe its details must be right for all parties to avoid entrenching the divide between richer and poorer counties.

The host counties will decide how much of their 51% stake in the teams they wish to keep - if any - and the remainder will be sold centrally by the ECB as part of the sales process. Lancashire and Surrey have both held recent consultations with members to keep them engaged with the latest developments.

The ECB has appointed Raine Group, the New York-based investment bank, to manage the sale process, which it hopes to complete later this year after using the 2024 edition as a shop window for the Hundred. IPL franchises have been sounded out, while Gould has also reported interest from investors in the US and from the UK.

Additional reporting by Andrew Miller