Durham cricket club passes to India media moguls' hands

By Ian Reeve
BBC North East Business Correspondent

Image caption,
Durham have been county champions for the past two seasons

On the pitch Durham are going about a spirited defence of their status as county champions.

At the club's Riverside ground Liam Plunkett is running in with some hostility to his bowling.

Ian Blackwell is bringing new meaning to the word "yeomanlike" with his batting and bowling, and in spite of the north-eastern chill crowds are being counted in their hundreds.

But behind the playing scene there are big financial changes going on at the game's newest first-class county.

Quietly and without publicity the club has passed into foreign hands.

Durham is now more than 90% owned by the Indian media figure Gautam Radia and his brother Hiren.

Their stake cost them just short of £2.5m.

'Interest in cricket'

According to Durham's chief executive David Harker the two are associates of the club's chairman Clive Leach - a former media man himself - and apparently little more than sleeping investors.

Image caption,
David Harker: "New owners believe in future of Durham"

"They tend not to take a day-to-day interest in the running of the club," says Mr Harker.

"They don't participate in board meetings. But they are people who have the means, who have an interest in cricket and people who believe in the future of Durham and the future of the stadium."

Mr Harker is also keen to point out that the brothers and Durham have a relationship that goes back to 2008, even if their investment has only now been made public.

New tournament?

However, that investment is starting to look rather canny, given Durham's plans to participate in a new domestic 20 over competition.

The blueprint is India's Premier League, 20 frenetic overs a side and immensely popular.

Image caption,
Supporters may soon be watching a new tournament

Durham is part of a group of counties, who own Test match venues, currently examining the structure of county cricket and exploring the prospect of a new Twenty20 tournament - a tournament that could be a big revenue earner.

Eight teams would participate on a regional basis.

The most likely make-up of a side would have seven home-grown players and four overseas players, most likely Indian - so the rights to the games would be attractive to that country's television broadcasters.

It's believed the eight sides would retain a 51% stake in a new franchise.

The other 49% would be sold. And anyone buying in would make their money from those Indian TV rights.

Market flotation?

A previous proposal suggested that each franchise could be sold for £50m, and the tournament could generate £85m when sponsorship, broadcasting and match-day receipts are totted up.

Image caption,
Fans may one day have a stake in the cricket club

Such figures (albeit formulated before the recession took hold) would revolutionise the finances of the clubs involved.

In Durham's case it could pave the way to a stock market flotation.

"Ultimately that would be something that would be interesting," says Mr Harker.

"Now there's a lot of work to be done before we ever get to that stage. And we're very much aware of where other organisations have perhaps tried and not gone down that route."

But he says that giving the local community the opportunity to have a stake in the Durham cricket business, when it was fully developed, was something "very much in the front of our minds".

Stadium development

A flotation would also allow the two Indian investors a profitable exit route.

Image caption,
The Riverside needs to be expanded for future Test matches

That's for the future though.

At the moment Durham are trying to bring in more investment from their own patch.

They've already wooed local stockbroker Brewin Dolphin into a lucrative shirt sponsorship deal.

But it needs more. Riverside needs to be developed out to a 20,000 capacity, as an Ashes Test in 2013 is looming.

But so too it seems are big financial changes.

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