The England and Wales Cricket Board has announced an emergency funding package worth £61million to keep counties and clubs afloat during what could be “the biggest challenge in the history of the game”.
The coronavirus crisis has forced the domestic campaign to be postponed until at least May 28, although the governing body’s own modelling takes into account the possibility of the entire 2020 campaign being cancelled.
The resulting loss in revenues presents a dire problem during what should be the sport’s peak commercial months and the ECB response has been swift – with £40million dropping into the accounts of first-class counties and county cricket boards on Wednesday morning.
That money involves bringing bringing forward some promised payments and removing restrictions around others, with more than £20million also being made available in the form of interest-free loans and grants. At present no new money is being borrowed by the ECB but further stimulus has not been ruled out.
Announcing the measures, ECB chief executive Tom Harrison said: “It is no exaggeration to say this is the biggest challenge the ECB has faced in the history of the game, the modern era anyway and certainly in the ECB’s history.
“The impact on the sports environment is massive from Covid-19 and we won’t know the full impact for a few months. We are aware the effects will be long-standing and they will be very significant for us. We are doing everything we can to try and make sure that we keep the cricket network in business.
“The aim is to give certainty in these extremely difficult times and to keep the lights on. This is just the start of addressing this massive challenge and we have to work together because every area of the game will be impacted in the event that most or all of the cricket season is lost.”
Monthly payments which would usually be passed down by the ECB in May, June and July will be issued immediately, as will two years’ worth of facilities maintenance money. The latter is usually ring-fenced for work on the ground and venues but is now unrestricted.
Staging fees – which grounds pay back to the ECB for the right to host international matches and major domestic events – will be suspended for four months and waived for any games which fall by the wayside. At the organisation itself Harrison, who earns almost £720,000, will lead the way with an as yet undefined pay cut – “of course I will,” he said – while the prospect of furloughing some non-playing staff is under consideration.
As previously confirmed by the PA news agency, centrally contracted England players will not be approached to take a pay cut but may discuss the option on a voluntary basis.
Harrison added: “There is more pain ahead if we lose a substantial portion of the season. We are building scenarios where we can take further steps as needed. We don’t think this will be the end of it.”
While a completely barren season is a real possibility, major considerations have also gone into what would happen should cricket be back on the agenda before the end of the summer.
The most lucrative matches will be favoured – meaning men’s internationals, the Vitality Blast and the inaugural season of The Hundred. Harrison admitted the latter competition, a new format designed and promoted by the ECB in a bid to draw a new audience to the sport, could be pushed back to 2021 if there were restrictions on fans entering the grounds.
“All scenarios are on the table, we will have to take a view on what is possible,” he said.
“It is not just about being behind closed doors for The Hundred, (but) it is one of the issues we are grappling with.
“We will have to have discussions in a few weeks about getting crowds into stadiums. If that is not going to be possible and we can serve cricket fans in this country in some way then we will look at that. We will put safety of players and those working in the game at the heart.
“The government will control all big events so we’d need DCMS approval for any cricket we want to play.”
Hope remains that cricket can survive the current pressures intact and Harrison believes it can play its part in a wider national celebration when the outlook improves.
“We are thinking creatively about what this moment might be like when the nation comes back out and to have cricket be part of that,” he said.
“Cricket can be part of that healing process.”