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The Club Debate: How can we fund our field of dreams?

Rich Evans by Rich Evans
@Rich_Wisden 6 minute read

Ahead of the new season, Rich Evans looks at the steps that clubs can take to make themselves more financially sustainable.

Cricket clubs are now run like businesses. More than ever, it requires a sizeable amount of time, experience and dedication to keep a club’s doors open, let alone enough smiling punters coming through them. It’s so much more than assembling a ragtag XI and a batch of egg ’n’ cress sarnies. Committees and sub-committees are busy plotting their clubs’ ongoing survival.

Now’s the time to get our houses in order ahead of the new season, but what opportunities exist to fund clubs and boost their communal offering? And is the cost of club cricket sustainable?

Down to business

Cricket is high maintenance and club treasurers are all too aware of the financial pressures. “Our second team have entered a level that requires panel umpires, so our top-two teams will need to pay four umpires for 18 games a season,” says Phil Mist, chairman of Bicester & North Oxford CC.

“They’re £45 each, so £90 per game. Balls cost £36 for two and teas are about £75 per game. You’re looking at well over £2,000. Those two teams will bring in 11 match fees of £7; even though we’re making profit when we play away, it’s more than eaten up by home games.”

The Clubmark-accredited club, which hosts Oxfordshire county sides, are fortunate that the groundwork is provided by a sports association, which Mist believes saves them circa £18,000 per year.

“A basic cricket club turns over between £3,000-£5,000 of costs,” says Robbie Book, chairman of the Club Cricket Conference (CCC). “Small clubs spend large amounts on the ground, booze and equipment. You get income from players, but generally if you make £500-£1,000 profit [a season] you’re doing very well. That’s not much, but it keeps you just above the water line.”

When Warboys CC chairman Martin Croucher oversaw a merger with St Ives Town CC in 2018, it was quickly down to business. “I was asking questions like: What is our budget? What grants are available? What funding opportunities are there? What’s going in and out? And how do we cover costs with ongoing match fees and yearly subs? Very few clubs will see that cover expenditure in its entirety, so you rely on fundraising and grants.”

Fundraising, sponsorship & membership

Asset-owning clubs – the number of which are likely to decline with increased urbanisation and a downscaling of local councils’ ground maintenance budgets – find self-sufficiency easier than those who rent or wander, with function rooms and bars providing means of generating income. “We are heavily dependent on the bar,” Dan Porter, chairman of Stock CC, tells WCM. “It isn’t the be-all-or-end-all – it’s about playing cricket – but our bar turned over £4,500 last year. That’s significant revenue – we’re doubling our money.” A card machine behind the bar certainly comes in handy.

While time pressures have also impacted post-match socials, Book agrees it’s important for clubs to monetise their facilities as best they can. “If you have a bar, make sure you’re running it at a profit. Rent out your properties, don’t be afraid to tell people to bring their own food but get people spending money at the bar. Milking your facilities is the single largest thing you can do. You’ve got to make sure your facilities are in prime condition to attract people and build your reputation locally.”

Your club may be able to acquire a match-day sponsor or advertising for your boundary boards, website, clubhouse, stumps or scoreboard. A race night, dinner-dance, cricket week or junior cricket festival can also be effective avenues for fundraising, advertising and community relations, while quiz nights, match-day raffles and in-club fantasy leagues are easy, fun ways to raise a few bob.

Money can be a prickly subject, however, especially with regards to match fees and annual subs; even though many would concede that £10-15 for a day’s leisure represents good value. My club has considered charging a higher membership fee for those who consistently shun fundraising events. While we’re a large club with lofty ambitions, we don’t own our own facility and the coffers are bare. These realities have been relayed, but many people see themselves as customers rather than volunteer participants. It’s an attitude which is hurting the game.

Local & national grants

“There is big money available in cricket if you tap the right source, engage them, gain their trust and make yourselves known in the community,” says Book, who is one of five trustees of the Club Cricket Charity. “Proper community clubs are places where children feel safe – if clubs serve the community, the community will serve them. But you’ve got to be active. You can’t just expect people to come knocking. The most obvious avenue, which is often ignored, is local sponsorship – the lifeblood of most clubs. Do your research and go for obvious targets, like the local estate agent or printer.”

Croucher’s St Ives & Warboys CC receive a contribution from the local parish council which supports children in sport, enabling them to offer half-price match fees for juniors playing adult cricket, while the chairman’s employers, BGL Group, who own Compare The Market, fund the club’s coaching and equipment.

“Start looking for possible grants,” adds Book. “Start by going onto the ECB website; they don’t advertise it well but there’s a wealth of information on the various types of grants available. But make sure you’re eligible; there’s no point wasting your time with the bureaucracy if you don’t qualify.”

Book believes having an overseas player will make you ineligible for many grants: “They don’t say so, but they’re not going to give you money if you’re handing it over to somebody else.”

There are many funding streams open to cricket clubs – normally smaller amounts up to £10,000 for things like kit or coaching – and larger capital-based schemes, such as replacing or extending your existing pavilion. Such applications are labour-intensive, but devising a clear project plan can provide the framework for multiple applications to the ECB, Sport England and landfill operators’ community funds. With different criteria and deadlines, advance planning is essential.

Bureaucracy and red tape have no doubt hampered clubs’ ability to apply for Clubmark status – a Sport England initiative – but changes are believed to be afoot to smoothen the process. Without the Clubmark badge, Book says “it’s very difficult” to access these grants. “From the ECB it’s almost impossible, but from other resources it’s not.”

Donations & charity appeals

Some clubs are lucky enough to have benefactors and well-connected businesspeople willing to fund passion projects, but it can come with conditions, while scaling up the business beyond its means can prove fatal, such as paying first-team mercenaries who have little affinity with the club. Yet private sponsorships are often required to keep clubs afloat, and parents of junior cricketers can play an integral role in fundraising and recruitment.

While many clubs have raised funds to support local causes, some have created their own charity appeals – an avenue only recommended for community clubs who experience real hardship. Northants Disability County Cricket Club recently started an online appeal for £4,000 to cover costs for the next two seasons. It’s a route that enabled Aldwick CC to rise from the ashes in 2017. Manning the phones in the control room at the local fire station while working a night shift, Ian Guppy was alerted to an arson attack on the pavilion at his local club, where he was one of the skippers. It was all but destroyed. “I set up a crowdfunder on day one and we got £10,000,” the NatWest Outstanding Services to Cricket (OSCA) winner told wisden.com. “As a committee we were thinking, ‘Now we’ve been given this opportunity, we must grasp this. We’re no longer just 12 or 13 friends who play cricket – we must run this as a business.”

The show must go on

Despite the challenges, Book believes the cost of club cricket and the clubs themselves are sustainable with the right support network. “If you don’t become part of the community, you’re not going to become a recipient of the community,” he concludes. “That’s the most important message. It will open doors you didn’t even know existed. If you can get the community on your side, they will come. It really is the field of dreams.”

Useful links:
ECB funding hub: https://www.ecb.co.uk/be-involved/club-support
Donate to The Club Cricket Charity: www.theclubcricketcharity.org

Brought to you in association with NatWest, Wisden’s Club Cricket Partner, supporting cricket at all levels for almost 40 years and a proud partner of the ECB and Chance to Shine. NatWest CricketForce helps local cricket clubs to make more from their money through free online advice and toolkits

Follow @NatWest_Cricket and #NoBoundaries on Twitter to find out more

Read more club cricket stories

First published in issue 29 of Wisden Cricket Monthly. Illustration by Joe Provis


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