07 May

The Pakistan Super League (PSL) team Multan Sultans co-owner Ali Khan Tareen and Indian Premier League (IPL) team Kolkata Knight Riders CEO Venky Mysore have registered their interest in investing in teams in The Hundred. The England and Wales Cricket Board's (ECB) 100-ball competition was due to start in July, but has been postponed until 2021.

The ECB initially designed the funding without the involvement of private investment in its new styled city-based tournament, but the financial fallout of the Covid-19 crisis - which could cost the English game as much as £380 million (US$470m) - could prompt a softening of that stance. Chief executive Tom Harrison said last week that the pandemic could force the ECB into "a place where we have to look at some of those opportunities".

Tareen - whose father Jehangir is a long-time close advisor to prime minister Imran Khan - told ESPNcricinfo that he believes potential investors should have at least some links to the team they want a stake in. Having owned a house in Hampshire for the best part of a decade, Tareen wants, if possible, to invest in the Southern Brave, whose men’s team will play at the Ageas Bowl just outside Southampton and the women’s team at County Ground in Hove.

"I'm a Hampshire boy who loves Hampshire cricket," he said. "I see it as a way to benefit the counties, so they get more money. If someone with no connections owns a side, they wouldn't give a hoot about counties. Why would they? Someone like me, who's an actual Hampshire fan, sees the real attraction of external investment as my opportunity to help Hampshire.

"There shouldn't be a case where the teams are sold fully to a random owner. I've heard of problems occurring at the CPL when owners haven't been vetted, as well as the Global T20 in Canada. The ECB cannot afford to have issues like these happen to their league.

"What I suggest is they find people not to own and run teams, but to contribute financially to them because they care about a team or have connections to that area. Even right now, one person doesn't run the team, a board runs the team. Maybe that one person then gets to sit on the board for a year. They can then help grow the profile of their side and by extension the league in different countries, and leverage local connections. I get that most owners would want to control a side, but this isn't about that."

Tareen, whose Sultans side finished top of the PSL's group stages thanks to a data-driven strategy before Covid-19 curtailed the season, said that his ties with coaches and backroom staff could help Southern Brave succeed. "The likes of Andy Flower, Nathan Leamon, Azhar Mahmood, who've been involved internationally, perhaps I'd be able to convince them to join up more? That would benefit both the team and the county. As a Hampshire fan, to be a 10% owner, have a board seat, travel with the team, give your own input, is a massive attraction."

Each county will receive an annual sum of £1.3m (US$1.6m) from the competition, and Tareen said that any private investors should keep in mind that the rationale behind The Hundred was in part to ensure the financial viability of the county game. "The counties are the main stakeholders from this and they need to benefit from The Hundred. With more money, they could benefit cricket in their region. The spirit of the investors needs to be that of benefactors, not profiteers."

Under The Hundred's existing model, all eight teams are owned by the ECB with no private investors. Last week, a report by the advisory firm Oakwell Sports recommended that the ECB should consider selling equity in the teams to reduce the financial hit of Covid-19, and to help "unlock the south Asian, UK-based fanbase". The report's authors included Mike Fordham, who helped launch the IPL in 2008 and supported a private ownership model while working as head of The Hundred for two-and-a-half years at the ECB.

Mysore, the CEO of Kolkata Knight Riders' parent company Red Chillies Entertainment, which is owned by Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan, said that he had met with two ECB representatives "three or four years ago" while the possibility of private investment was being floated, and had engaged in "some interesting conversations" with Harrison in 2015 when the pair were in Barbados. Red Chillies purchased the Trinidad and Tobago franchise in the CPL in 2015, renaming the team Trinbago Knight Riders a year later.

Unlike Tareen, Mysore suggested that the group's interest in the competition would likely demand a controlling stake in a team. "A passive investment doesn't make sense for us," he told ESPNcricinfo. "If I go there I want to build a business. We probably do it better than anyone else: we know how to manage from a distance and how to leverage all aspects of running a cricket franchise.

"If you go to Trinidad and Tobago - TKR is a household name, during the season if you walk into a restaurant everyone is wearing a TKR jersey. That's the value that we bring. It has to be a meaningful partnership for us, and it has to be something where the league can also leverage our expertise, otherwise it doesn't make a lot of sense.

"We'd be very open to evaluating it and would be very keen on it if it came about, but we don't know all the details right now. As and when [the ECB] are ready, and if they ask us to evaluate it and send us a proposal, we'd look at it very positively and we'd be very keen."

Mysore said that if the company did invest, the ECB could "rest assured" that the Knight Riders brand would help to engage South Asian fans, both in the UK and overseas. "One market that TKR have been able to tap into is the diaspora in the US," he said. "There's a huge market there, and there's a large number of people that fly into our games from Miami or New York. We can help unlock that market in the UK and bring in new viewerships from the diaspora from round the world.

"[The ECB] have to figure out their situation - I know all the counties are involved, and how you balance all these things is important. I honestly don't know whether the model can be tweaked sufficiently to bring in brands and other investors because of all the other stakeholders who are involved there. That's going to be their challenge. [Private investment] would make the tournament much bigger."

Any shift towards involving private investors in The Hundred would require counties' approval, and there is likely to be a review into the competition's viability when the ECB's incoming chairman Ian Watmore begins his tenure in August. The ECB decided against such a model in order to maintain control of the new teams but there would likely be no shortage of willing overseas investors. Kings XI Punjab's owners purchased the St Lucia Zouks in February, while the companies behind PSL teams Peshawar Zalmi and Lahore Qalandars have previously expressed interest in global expansion.

John Stephenson


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