The Footballer's Son Bowling Over The Oval

 
Andrew Cave
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BRITAIN-ROYALS
Richard Gould (R) accompanies Surrey chairman Richard Thompson (L) and Prince Charles during this summer's ICC Champions Trophy at The Oval (Source: Getty)

Richard Gould's family business is football. His father Bobby scored for Arsenal in the 1969 League Cup final and then famously won the FA Cup as manager of the "Crazy Gang" Wimbledon outfit that shocked Liverpool at Wembley in 1988.

Meanwhile, his brother Jonathan manned the nets as a goalie for Celtic and Coventry City but Richard failed to make the professional grade at football or cricket, "I was never good enough," he opines.

Instead it is with spreadsheets and executive suites as chief executive of Surrey County Cricket Club, that Gould’s talent is being put to the test.

So far he is having a good innings. Revenues have increased from £23.6m to £32m since he took the CEO's chair in 2011, while last year the club made pre-tax profits of £1.6m.

That’s nearly half the £3m of the previous year - an Ashes year with higher corporate hospitality margins. But with The Kia Oval having recently hosted its 100th Test, Gould is in confident mood.

T20 A Game-changer

“The difference over the past five years for us has been the explosion of the Twenty20 format,” he says. ”T20 has been a game-changer.

“Our NatWest T20 Blast game against Middlesex in July sold out about a month before. We’ve been selling out more T20 games over the past five years and this year is our best ever. We sold out three matches in eight days and we will sell out five of our seven home T20 games this year.

“Back in 2011, we would not have sold out a single county game. Our maximum crowd would have been 12,000-13,000.

“The external view is that nothing changes in cricket but actually everything has changed in cricket in the last ten to 15 years.

“I think cricket has done a very good job of a Doctor Who-style regeneration, whilst still maintaining the history, heritage and traditions of Test matches.”

Gould expects Twenty20 to contribute £4m to revenues this year – four times the level of 2011.

However, he admits that Surrey took longer than some of its county rivals to focus on the format as a key earner after its creation in 2003, largely because its focus remained on selling out England games.

Test Matches Still Special

Surrey pays the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to host its annual Test and one-day international.

Tests account for about half the club’s revenues. Non-match day use of The Kia Oval is also contributing handsomely, with the hiring out of hospitality suites for conferences and other events bringing in £4.6m this year, compared to £1.2m five years ago.

“Tests used to account for much more of our revenues but we have sought to balance the business and we now host something like 1,500 non match-day events a year,” says Gould.

“The ground gets used by lots of City corporates. We even let out some of our hospitality boxes as office space when there are no Test matches on.

“We have about 12 companies, mostly in sports media and publishing, who use us in that way. During the Tests and one-day internationals, they vacate the space and work from home. We’ve been doing this for about three years. They get to see T20 matches as a perk as part of their rent.”

There’s also a “significant” sum from sponsorship, with South Korean car manufacturer Kia having been Surrey’s ground and club sponsor for seven years, taking over from insurance group Brit. Kia has recently extended the relationship for another three years.

Gould is targeting further revenue growth to £40m over the next five years, with Surrey having dropped its initial opposition to the ECB’s proposed additional city-based Twenty20 format from the 2020 season.

Surrey has yet to discover whether it will be a venue for the new format, which will see eight new teams created.

Oval Expansion

However, most of the growth is slated to come from the club's planned £50m extension of its famous Kia Oval ground from 25,500 to 40,000 seats, which would see it dwarf Lords as Britain's biggest Test ground.

The first phase will see a planning application submitted in February for an additional 2,000 seats in a replacement of the Lock Laker stand.

Surrey wants to follow that by replacing the Bedser Stand, with an extra 6,000 seats.

The rest of the new seats will come from extending the OCS Stand, making the Kia Oval the world’s largest cricket ground outside India and Australia.

All this is all contingent, however, on Surrey raising the funding and maintaining its share of Test matches.

Its current staging agreement with the ECB provides the club with Test cricket until the end of 2022.

“A lot of investment in test grounds has gone on in recent years,” admits Gould.

“A lot of debt has been taken on to provide the right international-class facilities.

"In some regards, there has been a bit of an arms race as everyone has sought to build new grounds and new facilities in order to attract international cricket. Sadly it has not been sustainable for all.”

That’s a reference to Durham’s Test status being withdrawn after the club had to request financial assistance last year.

The ECB has subsequently announced a reallocation process to ensure that all its Test venues are able to be financially sustainable.

“The criteria have yet to be decided by the ECB,” adds Gould, “but we will be looking to put our best foot forward by demonstrating that there is significant demand for cricket in London. Our record for selling out is second to none.”

Surrey is structured as a co-operative and mutual benefits society with no shareholders or dividends and all annual surpluses reinvested in the game.

“Everything here is focused on cricket,” says Gould. “We’re not here to make a profit; we’re here to develop cricket.”