English county giants Surrey feel the strain due to coronavirus

By: AFP      Published: 06:42 PM, 28 Jul, 2020
English county giants Surrey feel the strain due to coronavirus
Spectators sit socially distanced leaving spaces between groups as a precaution against the spread of the novel coronavirus as they watch the friendly county cricket match between Surrey and Middlesex at the Oval in London. AFP

The coronavirus pandemic has had serious ramifications across English county cricket, with even giants Surrey facing "huge financial strains", their CEO Richard Gould told AFP on Sunday.

Gould said that having made around £45 million ($58 million) last year they would take a £30 million hit this year with cricket starting late due to the lockdown imposed in March. Gould was speaking as Surrey played bitter city rivals Middlesex on the first day of a two day friendly at the Kia Oval which also saw the first fans permitted to watch a sporting event.

A crowd of 1000 members from both clubs were allowed in to sit in alternate rows in the 1845 Stand -- so named after the year Surrey came into existence. Demand had been colossal -- "the phones rang off the hook" said Gould -- 10,000 of Surrey's membership of over 13,000 ringing within the first hour.    

However, whilst that showed how enthusiastic is the desire to return to watch live sport it still does nothing for the finances. Surrey rely on ticket sales for 90 percent of their total revenue, while it is not the same across the counties, with some reliant on the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) for 80 percent of their revenue and 20 percent from supporters.

Surrey is such a drawcard that for county games -- which elsewhere are largely sparsely attended -- they can attract crowds of 8,000. "The impact of the coronavirus has placed huge strains on the club financially," said Gould.

"We had a good year last year that meant we had a little bit left in the piggy bank that we're working through. And that's why in many ways we're so keen to be a part of the trials because we want to be sort of first out of the blocks to try and get some normality back in the business side of things as well."

'Shock absorber'

Gould -- who has been in situ since 2011 after filling the same role at Somerset -- said he had never faced anything like this before in his career in sports administration. "Business wise it is the biggest challenge I have ever faced," he said. "Turnover last year was around £45 million, this year we will lose probably £30 million of that. That impacts on everyone and everything."

Gould said they just had to grit their teeth and take the punishment. "We have to just make sure we can keep going and be in a healthy enough position for next year," he said. "We will get through it but some assistance here and there is always welcome. This (having the members in for the friendly) is significant assistance for restoring confidence for fans to attend matches."

Gould, though, says he fears what the fall-out would be should COVID-19 return with a vengeance next year. "Hopefully everybody has reserves they can rely on to act as a shock absorber this year," he said. "But we can only play in the summer and if the sport was significantly affected next year then I think there would be a lot of problems within the game."

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