Is The Hundred A Success? – Being Outside Cricket

“By any measure, The Hundred has been a huge success” – Glamorgan CCC chair Mark Rhydderch-Roberts

“The reality is The Hundred has been a huge success both from a ticketing and TV perspective. It is also an extremely important revenue stream for the game of cricket, generating roughly 25% of the ECB’s revenue which funds the broader game of cricket, and helps maintain a viable 18 county ecosystem.” – Surrey CCC chair Oli Slipper

The Hundred has gone well: the obvious reason is the success [of Southern Brave] on the pitch, but I would also point to the public, families, and new watchers of cricket coming in, which has been very strong.” – Hampshire CCC chair Nick Pike

“The third year of the Hundred brought good attendance figures, better matches in the men’s competition and decent viewing figures. The concentration of talent into eight teams, instead of 18, drives up standards, and from a standing start it was clear on Sunday that the teams have built a fan base in just three years. It is a success story.” – Nick Hoult, Telegraph correspondent

There appears to be a growing consensus, at least by people within the cricket establishment, that The Hundred is a ‘success’. But by which measures, and who for, are questions without clear answers.

Being Profitable

When the ECB first proposed a new T20 competition to the counties in 2016, the main objective was simple: Making money. The IPL currently earns about ten times as much from TV rights than India internationals, and the same thing might be possible in England. This would finance English cricket (and the cash-strapped counties who had to vote in favour of the project) for generations to come. A report by Deloitte suggested that an IPL-style competition might initially make an annual profit of £31.9m, with the obvious potential to far exceed that if it caught on like the IPL has in India. A foolproof business case.

Unfortunately for Deloitte (and the counties), they had not reckoned on the calibre of fools available at the ECB.

The original proposal was for the new (and presumed to be T20 format at the time) competition to follow a low cost, high return model. Annual costs were expected to be £13m, with roughly half of that spent on players’ wages and the rest being almost the minimum necessary to coach, host and produce a televised sports event. A lean, simple approach to creating a new sports league.

What almost inevitably followed was an all-encompassing form of mission creep, where the new competition would not only have to make money but also directly address every other issue English cricket faces. The ECB missed out on the chance to trademark and license the T20 format when they introduced it at the professional level, so a new format had to be created. The average attendee at English cricket matches is aging, so lavish in-ground entertainment will be provided in the form of fireworks and live music to attract a younger crowd. Ticket-buyers at cricket matches also tend to be wealthy, so entry to The Hundred was to be heavily discounted. Participation is declining, so The Hundred would be partnered with a youth club cricket scheme to boost the numbers of kids playing the game. Women’s cricket was suffering from a chronic lack of investment over decades, and so the Kia Super League would be partially integrated with the men’s competition. Former marketing executive Tom Harrison wanted more information about cricket fans in order to better tailor their product and advertising, and so a bespoke app was designed to gather as much of their personal data as possible.

Each of these additions came with a cost, in terms of both money and increased complexity. The expenses more than tripled from the original projections, which in turn reduced the potential profits considerably. Even with all of these add-ons, the ECB has declared that The Hundred has made an annual profit in each of its three years so far; £10m in both 2021 and 2022, £15m in 2023. These figures have been widely questioned though.

The most thorough external examination of The Hundred’s claimed profits came from a review conducted by Worcestershire chair and chartered accountant Fanos Hira. After looking at the ECB’s actual account books, he determined that additional costs which were not publicly declared by the ECB (such as core ECB staff members working on The Hundred) meant that the competition actually made a loss of £9m in its first two years. Given that the ECB declared a £20m profit in this period, this would imply The Hundred has £14.5m of added annual expenses which must be considered.

Everything up until now has been purely about running costs, the losses made since The Hundred actually began in 2021. They don’t factor in the tens of millions of pounds spent in the years before 2020 which led to The Hundred taking its current form. Marketing and design consultants creating the team names, the team colours, the on screen graphics, the custom fonts, or the surveys and market research carefully crafted to give the answers which the ECB executives wanted.

Nor do they include the £24.7m ‘dividend’ payments to the counties and the MCC. To be clear, these amounts were not included in the initially projected £31.9m profits either but would at least have been covered by the money earned by the new competition. Instead, most if not all of these ‘dividends’ are being paid from the ECB’s central funds which primarily come from Test cricket’s Sky TV deal.

All of which brings us to the elephant in the room when it comes to The Hundred: It only works if someone else is paying the bills. The ECB might rent the eight largest cricket grounds in the country for a month, but it’s Test cricket that’s still footing the bill for their continuing existence. Owning a 15,000-30,000 capacity stadium isn’t cheap with maintenance, electricity, refurbishment and staff needed to keep it open, and the hosting fees from The Hundred will barely make a dent in that.

The players are also only paid for one month out of the year, with their counties footing the bill for the other eleven. Not to mention the decade or more of training the counties have to pay for, so that those cricketers progress through junior pathways, second XIs and finally the first team to the point where they are worthy of inclusion in a Hundred squad. Test cricket essentially funds all of the costs related to a player (secure long term contracts, training, medical fees, etc) through the central payment counties receive from the ECB.

It is a wonderful business model if you are able to persuade other people pay all of the costs necessary for your investment to grow. The question the ECB needs to answer is whether that is sustainable in the long term.

One possible explanation for the ECB’s profligate spending might be the incentives on offer to those who were in charge of delivering The Hundred. Tom Harrison and several other executives controversially received a £2.1m bonus between them, ostensibly for achieving several targets within the sport. It seems likely that some of these benchmarks related to the new competition which became The Hundred. If a cutthroat executive is told that they will be paid a bonus based on attendance rather than profits, surely all of them would sacrifice the latter to boost attendance even one iota?

Being Valuable

It has been reported that offers have already made to buy The Hundred. Bridgepoint Group apparently bid £400m for a 75% stake in the competition in 2022, which would place its total value around £530m. ECB chair Richard Thompson responded by suggesting that he would only consider selling everything for a figure in the region of “quite a few billion” pounds. More recently, the idea has been mooted that the host counties would receive stakes in their Hundred team which they could sell to private investors.

One thing which must be acknowledged is that even considering the sale of teams or the competition as a whole means that Plan A has failed. The Hundred was supposed to be very profitable from Year 1, with the ability to grow from there to near-IPL revenue. You don’t sell a goose which is laying golden eggs.

The first response I have seen from most cricket fans to this news is bewilderment. If The Hundred is losing money every year, why would anyone else want to own it? There are three fairly solid reasons why: Profit, speculation and power.

For all of the issues listed in the previous section, it would be very simple for someone to come in and make a profit with The Hundred. There are so many absolutely unneccesary expenses which could be cut with almost no difference to the final product. There’s genuinely as much money being spent on fireworks at a group game as there is at some towns’ November 5th fireworks displays. The marketing budget for each team is ridiculously high, and could be reduced by about 90% whilst still being higher than a county’s T20 Blast spending. Developing a bespoke app for ticketing or a non-monetised fantasy game adds no financial value and could be replaced with cheaper alternatives. Last, and perhaps most importantly, there would presumably be no more £24.7m ‘dividend’ payment to the 18 counties and the MCC because they would no longer be ‘shareholders’ in the competition.

The analogy I would use to explain this is a shop in a great location and with a strong fundamental business model which has the misfortune of being run by absolute idiots. A smart investor will look at this shop and think “I’m not an absolute idiot. I could buy this place cheaply, fix its main issues within a week and turn it into a goldmine.”

At the same time, it is no secret that several counties (*cough*Middlesex*cough*) and perhaps the ECB themselves are desperate for more money, which is rarely conducive to wise decision making or holding out for something’s full worth. On a very basic level, I don’t trust anyone in English cricket not to screw themselves over when dealing with successful business leaders and highly competent lawyers.

Potential investors might also believe that The Hundred as a whole will increase in value over time, and seek to make profit on their purchase by selling it at a later date. This is speculating. It could be short term investment where they attempt to make it profitable as quickly as possible, and then sell it on. Alternatively, they could hold onto their stake for longer and collect the annual income whilst hoping that its value increases over time.

It seems likely that the process of private investment in The Hundred will be slow and gradual, with investors perhaps purchasing a minority stake in a team to start with, which brings us to the third benefit for investors: Power.

Right now, the ECB and counties have total control of The Hundred. They can add and remove teams, rename them, change the schedule or format, even scrap the whole thing if they wanted. The moment an outside investor becomes involved, every one of these things becomes significantly more difficult. Wealthy people don’t just hand over large sums of money without contracts and safeguards in place to protect their investments, which will ultimately mean any changes to the competition going forward would need to be negotiated with shareholders who only care about making more money for themselves.

Becoming the ECB’s partner in The Hundred could aid investors in broader ways too. The ECB has proven to be a very forthright supporter of Sky in all respects, and if IPL team owners were to co-own most of The Hundred’s teams then the ECB would probably be more amenable to (for example) supporting IPL-friendly measures at ICC meetings. An Indian billionaire might look at the possibility of extending the IPL (and its international window) to four months and consider that a £20m investment in London Spirit is worth it if it makes it more likely they can make more profit with their main team.

Creating A New TV Audience

There is an argument that everything mentioned so far is largely unimportant. Who cares if The Hundred is costing English cricket a bit of money if it’s drawing in new fans? Or, as the ECB probably calls them, customers.

The primary means The Hundred’s using to achieve this bold aim is airing up to 18 matches on free to air TV (currently BBC Two) every year. This is after a void of fifteen summers without regularly scheduled, live English cricket available to the majority of the viewing public (The number of caveats in that last sentence is because there were still England highlights, several seasons of the IPL and occasional single matches such as the 2019 World Cup final on FTA TV). Over fifty hours of exciting T20 cricket, much of which is in prime timeslots, will surely build a new generation of cricket fans!

It has not worked. This is not so say that The Hundred has not attracted any new people to the sport at all, but not in any great number. Certainly not in sufficient quantities to justify also losing millions of pounds every year.

TV figures are quite obscure in this country, which usually makes talking about ratings difficult due to a lack of information. Fortunately, The Hundred is one of the most popular women’s sports competitions in the UK (a topic which will be covered later) which means that it features prominently in the Women’s Sports Trust‘s annual reports. These reports in 2021, 2022 and 2023 include detailed breakdowns of how many people watched both the men’s and women’s Hundred in each year, which allows us to see how the competitions are faring.

In terms of the total number of people watching any part of The Hundred (known as the ‘reach’ of a programme), it has declined year on year. In 2021, the total number of people who watched was 16.0 million, which has fallen to 12.1 million by 2023.

This is a 24.4% decline from the first year. Essentially, people gave it a chance when it launched but did not come back to it afterwards. This year’s Women’s Trust report also includes the average viewing figures (the mean number of people watching a programme at any given point in time) for both Sky-exclusive matches and the 18 which are shown on BBC 2.

Average viewing figures 2021 2023 % Change
Men’s BBC/Sky Games 1,021,000 771,000 -24.49%
Women’s BBC/Sky Games 628,000 428,000 -31.85%
Men’s Sky Exclusive 431,000 275,000 -36.19%
Women’s Sky Exclusive 127,000 134,000 +5.51%

From these numbers, we can infer that average BBC-only viewing figures in 2023 were roughly 500,000 for men’s matches and 300,000 for women’s (by subtracting the Sky-exclusive totals from the simulcast games). This presents a significant problem for the ECB, because these are almost certainly below what the BBC would have been hoping for.

The men’s Hundred occupies prime timeslots on weekday evenings and weekend afternoons, which brings with it certain expectations. Only Connect typically attracts well over two million viewers a night on BBC 2, for example. Not only are the BBC paying the ECB for permission to show The Hundred, but it will be very expensive for them to produce relative to a studio quiz show or a reality/documentary show like Fake Or Fortune? or Bargain Hunt. I expect even repeats of these popular shows would attract more viewers on BBC 2 than The Hundred, at a fraction of the cost to the BBC.

In short: The Hundred is very poor value for money for them.

Sky were obviously quite happy with the first year’s ratings, which is why they extended their TV deal before the 2022 Hundred even began for a further four years to 2028 (It is not clear whether they anticipated a 36% drop in average men’s match viewers, so it is possible they feel differently now). It is noticeable that the BBC has not renewed their own TV deal yet as we enter its last year. To put that silence into context, the current free-to-air TV deal was announced over two years before it was due to begin. It seems likely that the BBC are not interested in bidding for live cricket again. Not only that, but other broadcasters might look at these ratings and make the same decision. Almost the whole point of The Hundred is to attract new fans to the sport through exposure to as many people as possible, and it’s not inconceivable that it won’t even be on terrestrial TV at all next year.

The Hundred follows the typical scheduling format of T20 competitions, which means prioritising and maximising the TV audience. No overlapping men’s matches, at least one of which is played every day, and all during the prime TV viewing hours. This compares to the T20 Blast which uses the more typical UK sports model, aiming to maximise attendance through matches being largely scheduled on weekends and Friday nights. It is therefore interesting to note that the T20 Blast’s group stages attracted an average TV audience of 187,000 in 2021 compared to the men’s Hundred 275,000 (for Sky-exclusive matches) in 2023. Obviously The men’s Hundred still attracts 50% more viewers on average, but it is also costing Sky significantly more than 50% extra in terms of rights, marketing and production costs.

But all of this isn’t even really the worst part. You may remember that a lot was made during The Hundred’s launch about how it would appeal to a younger demographic, to “mums and kids”, which would help secure the long term future of the sport. This is why The Hundred uses garish colours, bold designs, hosts pop acts during the break and otherwise does everything a middle-aged marketing executive can do to scream “This is for you, kids!”.

Even in this small, limited objective it has not worked. Of everyone who watched The Hundred (either men’s or women’s) in 2023, 7.2% were aged under 16 and another 15.2% were aged between 16 and 34. Or, to put it another way, 77.5% of the people who saw last season’s competition on TV were 35 and over. To put that figure in context, 49.3% of the UK population is aged 39 or less. It’s not just that average viewing figures have declined, but they aren’t even the viewers that the ECB wanted.

Attracting New Fans To The Grounds

One objective of The Hundred was to bring a new audience to English cricket grounds, with England and county cricket fans being generalised as “pale, stale and male“. The Hundred has had some limited success in this objective. The number of tickets ‘sold and issued’ increased from 510,000 in 2021 to 580,000 in 2023, but at a great cost. Literally.

The typical ticket revenue for a season in The Hundred is in the area of £6-7 million, in large part because tickets are being priced very cheaply to expand the range of people who can afford them, but the annual budget for local advertising, entertainment (pop acts, DJs, etc) and fireworks is over £12 million. This means that the tickets are effectively being sold at a loss.

From the fan’s perspective, getting to watch two games for less than half the price of a T20 Blast ticket is exceptional value. How many fans of white ball cricket would honestly turn that down?

When a retailer offers a product at a loss (called a ‘loss leader‘), the intention is typically to bring new customers in who you will then persuade to buy more things and in this way make your money back (and more). An example of this is when UK supermarkets reduced the price of baked beans tins to as little as 3p in the 1990s.

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been any obvious indication of benefits being felt elsewhere in terms of ticket sales. The T20 Blast has seen a large drop in attendance since The Hundred began, from 920,000 in 2019 to 800,000 in both 2022 and 2023. The Charlotte Edwards Cup also had very low crowd numbers compared to The Hundred, despite sharing the majority of the players with the women’s Hundred teams.

One obstacle that The Hundred faces in acting as a conduit to other cricket competitions is its placement in the schedule. The T20 Blast and Charlotte Edwards Cup both largely take place in June whilst The Hundred is in August. This means that even in a scenario where a new cricket fan enjoys a match in The Hundred and might be interested in broadening their horizons, they face a 10 month wait until the next professional T20 matches in this country.

The other obstacle would be the absolute and total lack of effort on the part of the ECB. I have followed @TheHundred on Twitter since it launched, and also signed up to The Hundred’s mailing list in 2020. Neither one has mentioned the T20 Blast once in that time. For a competition meant to rescue county cricket, this seems like an oversight.

It could also be a mistake to blindly assume a large proportion of people attending are ‘new’, rather than pre-existing attendees. County members have access to exclusive pre-sales and bargain prices for The Hundred, as well as some counties including The Hundred in county membership packages. According to Surrey CCC’s latest annual report, an average of 3,732 members attended T20 Blast games in 2022 compared to an average of 3,115 Surrey members at each Oval Invincibles home game. The drop in Blast attendances might also indicate that some people who had been attending county matches have switched to The Hundred instead.

Growing Women’s Cricket

The women’s Hundred is, by almost every metric, a success.

The total attendance in each of the three seasons (reaching 310,751 in 2023) of the women’s Hundred are the highest competition attendances in women’s cricket. Higher than any ICC World Cup, higher than the WBBL, higher even than the debut season of the Women’s Premier League. In terms of total viewing hours, it was the most-watched women’s competition on Sky Sports in 2023 beating the Women’s Super League, the Solheim Cup and the T20 World Cup. It is widely regarded as one of the top 3 women’s T20 competitions in the world, being able to attract overseas players of the highest calibre.

Any success the women’s Hundred has garnered is almost entirely thanks to COVID-19. Looking at the planned schedule for 2020, the women’s Hundred is clearly considered a lesser competition in every respect. It features 4 fewer group matches than the men, because the men’s teams played against their local ‘rivals’ home and away but the women’s teams didn’t. Of those 28 women’s group games, only 9 would have been at the team’s home venues (each team hosting once, except for 2 at Old Trafford) whilst 4 would have been at amateur club and school grounds. 12 of the group games overlapped with each other and only 9 didn’t overlap with a men’s match (either in The Hundred or the Test series occurring at the same time). The women’s final was due to take place at Hove on a Friday night, rather than at Lord’s.

Sky would not have been able to broadcast the majority of women’s matches, and some may not even have had streaming or radio commentary available. 310,751 people wouldn’t have been able to watch the women’s games because the grounds they were due to play in couldn’t even hold that many. Welsh Fire were due to only play a single match in Wales.

In short, the women’s Hundred was initially designed by the ECB not to maximise exposure but to minimise costs.

When the ECB was organising the 2021 competition, they implemented protocols which meant that COVID-19 testing was required at every venue. It was not practical to manage this at multiple grounds simultaneously, as the originally planned schedule would have needed, and so they decided to make every game (bar the two openers) a men’s/women’s doubleheader. When people saw women’s cricket, both in person and on TV, they enjoyed it (or at least as much as they did the men’s games) and the women’s Hundred exploded onto the scene.

Unfortunately, this early success has not resulted in the ECB treating the women’s competition with as much respect and importance as the men’s. The Hundred in 2022 was scheduled at the same time as a women’s international T20 competition, something which would never have happened with the men, which meant the women’s Hundred started later and had 8 fewer matches than the men’s that year. On the other hand, at least there was one women’s game in the evening because neither of the following seasons did.

The scheduling of women’s matches is very important because the status quo perpetuates the narrative that the women’s competition is significantly less popular or less marketable than the men’s. There have been precisely two women’s matches which have not been used as the support act to the men: The 2021 and 2022 women’s openers. The 2021 opening games saw a peak TV viewership of 2m for the women’s match and 2.5m for the men’s. In 2022, the first men’s game had an average of 520,000 BBC viewers compared to 510,000 for the women’s.

Other than these two matches, almost every other women’s game is in a time slot which compromises people’s ability to watch it either live or on the television. In 2023: 20 women’s matches were during working hours on a week day, 6 matches were at the same time as a men’s game and shunted to a secondary Sky channel, and another 6 matches began on a weekend morning. Only the women’s ‘eliminator’ (semi final) and final did not face any of these three significant obstacles to building an audience. By contrast, only 2 men’s group matches were played during working hours.

The women’s games also don’t receive much benefit from the extensive and expensive entertainment at The Hundred matches. The fireworks and live music, costing on average £200,000 per game, all largely take place after their match is finished. If someone who wasn’t already a cricket fan wanted to go to a game purely for a band and a fireworks display, which is the whole point of having them there in the first place, they could skip the women’s match and barely miss a thing.

There is virtually no cross promotion from The Hundred for the women’s regional teams, despite them sharing virtually identical rosters. Whilst this is also true of the men’s teams, it is far more impactful with the women’s. Men’s county cricket already has its own fanbase, built over a century or more. The women’s regional teams literally didn’t exist four years ago. Nor do the Charlotte Edwards Cup or Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy have official social media accounts run by the ECB. The Hundred’s social media accounts are by far the most popular domestic women’s cricket accounts in this country and yet are almost entirely silent 11 months of the year. It is a waste.

The ECB’s undervaluing of the women’s Hundred occurs in the financial sense too. In 2023, the women’s competition was responsible for approximately 39% of the overall attendance and 33% of the overall Sky TV audience for The Hundred. This alone would account for over £14m of revenue, even before you begin to consider the high prominence of women cricketers in terms of sponsorship. According to the ECB, the entireity of women’s cricket in this country earns £10-11m per year. There is no possible way that could be true, unless the ECB believes that a viewer or attendee of a women’s cricket match to be worth less monetarily than one of a men’s match.

Nor is the women’s Hundred seemingly being considered by the ECB when it comes to discussions about the competition’s future. When the proposal regarding the sale of The Hundred franchises (which consist of both men’s and women’s teams) to private investors was mooted, it is stated that only men’s professional cricket which will receive the proceeds. There is also no mention of whether team owners will be under any obligation to promote their women’s teams at all. When the idea of expanding The Hundred to 10 teams was floated, the question about where the extra women cricketers will come from when there are only 8 professional domestic teams for the competition to draw from was clearly a secondary concern. The women’s Hundred appears not to be a factor in the debate at all within the ECB.

There is one thing people seem to value about the women’s Hundred though: It acts as excellent political cover. To question or criticise any aspect of The Hundred is to oppose the growth of women’s cricket, at least in the minds of some. There are undoubtedly some dinosaurs who loathe women’s sports on principle, but being able to paint everyone who thinks The Hundred has issues as being one of them is a handy tool in any debate on the subject. A real bargain, considering they are paying women 2.85x less than the men in the tournament.

Increasing Junior Participation

One of the many issues that The Hundred was supposed to address was the lack of kids playing at their local clubs, which were having to close through a lack of interest. The main vehicles for the competition to achieves its aims were All Stars and Dynamos cricket. All Stars is an 8-week programme designed for 5-8 year olds launched in 2017, and Dynamos is a follow-on scheme for 8-11 year olds was launched in 2020 and specifically tied in to The Hundred.

There is very little promotion of All Stars and Dynamos Cricket within the coverage of the tournament although, as with attendance, the competition’s position in the cricket calendar does not help with it taking place after the junior cricket season has effectively ended. All Stars and Dynamos programmes typically begin in May, nine months after The Hundred is on television. However, there also seems to be no advertising of either scheme from The Hundred’s social media or mailing lists either.

What makes this particularly egregious is that All Stars and Dynamos Cricket are used to promote The Hundred quite extensively. One of the very first questions you are asked when you install the Dynamos mobile app is: “Which Hundred team is your favourite?”, which leads to the colour themes taking that team’s colours. The app features videos of cricketers in their Hundred kits demonstrating the various skills or drills used. Kids in the Dynamos scheme are given free The Hundred trading cards.

To be clear: I’m not against any of this. I want more children to become cricket fans. My issue is that it is only working in one direction. Kids playing cricket should be encouraged to watch it on TV, but kids watching it on TV (and their parents) should also be encouraged to go to their local clubs.

In terms of the total number of kids in the All Stars/Dynamos programmes, it has decreased every year The Hundred has been held so far. It was “over 101,000” in 2021 (which was before the competition began), “over 100,000” in 2022 and “just over 97,000” in 2023. Likewise, there has a slight decrease in girls within the programmes from 27,000 in 2021 to 26,752 in 2023.

From these figures (and the ECB doesn’t release broader participation data), you could honestly make the argument that The Hundred is hurting junior cricket participation in this country.

Conclusion

Everything about The Hundred ranges from a missed opportunity to a fundamentally flawed concept. Even the women’s competition, the one shining beacon of light in the whole thing, fails to lead anywhere else beyond attracting an audience for itself.

Obviously it works out pretty well for some people. Anyone employed as a marketer or PR consultant in North London, for example, or the eight ECB executives who pocketed a huge bonus cheque. A large selection of mediocre men’s T20 cricketers also have good reason to be thankful.

Beyond that, the greatest success The Hundred has had is in persuading people to say that it’s successful.

Thanks for reading. If you have any comments on this, the Test series or anything else, please leave them below.

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