London will be looking to field a third team in the First if the competition were to increase to 10 sides, which could put the capital in contention with the North East and South West to enter an expanded competition.
The future of the Cents remains highly contested, as debates continue about private investment and the future shape of the competition. In the event of an expansion to 10, it was thought that the North East, Durham, and South West, with a likely combination of Bristol and Taunton, would be set to receive teams.
But a third London side has now emerged as a possible alternative. Although talks are ongoing with stakeholders, a third team in the capital is a possible option. Potential investors could be particularly attracted to a London side, especially if it plays at Lord’s, which is already home to London Spirit.
The idea would be controversial, especially for supporters in the North East and South West. But London has a population of around nine million people and has consistently shown that it is capable of selling out games in all formats of the game, including the First. In Premier League football, six of the 20 clubs are based in London, and the figure has been even higher in recent seasons.
Last month Mark Nicholas, president of Marylebone Cricket Club, said he hoped MCC could get a Hundred team. MCC is not currently the branding of any professional team, with Nicholas stating that he wants the club to have its own side in the professional game.
“There’s a bit of support for him,” Nicholas told The Cricketer magazine. “We are waiting for the ECB to reveal the details. In principle it would be great if MCC members owned and supported their own team.
“Just in general terms I think it’s a real shame that a major cricket club doesn’t have a team to back it up, and when the ECB brings The Hundred to market, it could be a real opportunity for us to fix that.”
London Spirit, the Hundred franchise based at Lord’s, is currently 100% owned by the England & Wales Cricket Board. The team is run by a combination of MCC, Middlesex, Essex and Northants.
If a new Hundred team was created in London, MCC could gain full control of London Spirit, extending their existing relationship with the team, or the new side. Oval Invincibles, the other Hundred team in the capital, play at The Oval.
It is thought that the third team could contribute to the capital’s efforts to tackle the inner city population. Research has found that a disproportionately low proportion of professional cricketers in England are from London. But there would be concerns about a missed opportunity to expand the competition to more areas.
While there are no other grounds outside of Lord’s and The Oval in London with a large enough capacity to host a First game, Kent recently received planning permission to increase Beckenham’s capacity, which can already host around 10,000 spectators . In time, the ground could be able to host a number of Cents matches, acting as a secondary venue for the London team.
Any change to the number of teams in the First would require a three-quarters majority – 15 out of 19 votes – from the 18 first-class counties plus MCC. It would also require three quarters of all ECB members – 30 of the 39 first class counties, the national counties (previously known as minor counties) and MCC.
Private investment expected
In practice a decision about private investment in the competition is likely to come before any decision about taking on new teams – to stay at eight sides, expand to 10 and expand to 18, including all the centers from the 18 top-flight counties , all options. . The new competition structure may not take effect until as late as 2029, after current talks about private investment have been resolved.
It is expected that preliminary directories will be circulated to potential investors in First around May. This will be a major step in the potential sale of the First team to private investment, with the current eight teams expected to go on the market later in the year.
Indian Premier League franchises, private equity firms and sovereign wealth funds are likely to be interested in buying the First side. Kolkata Knight Riders chief executive Venky Mysore revealed to Telegraph Sport for the first time that he wanted to invest in a team in 2020.
All eight First Teams are wholly owned by the ECB. One suggestion put forward was that the ECB could sell half its stake in each team to private investors. These funds could be pooled for the benefit of the game as a whole – with this money split equally between the 18 first-class games, with part of the pot also set aside for the recreational game.
The ECB could then give a 50%+1 equity share to the county which is each team’s main host venue – for example, Surrey in the case of Oval Invincibles. The teams could then decide as they saw fit how to use their control stake – whether to sell it or stay involved.
This arrangement is designed to ensure that the wider English game would benefit from private investment in the First. But there would still be concerns that it would increase the financial influence of the counties that play in the biggest venues, widening the gap within the top 18 counties.