Surrey CCC is the largest county club in the country with commercial relationships and outputs that match some of the biggest football clubs (helped by key partners such as JM Finn), and is the envy of every cricket club in the world. But all of this counts for nothing unless you are winning cricket matches, which is why winning two trophies this year was so important.
There are three formats of cricket; T20 is by far the most watched across the world and often drives capacity crowds of 25,000 at the Kia Oval, a one day format where teams play 50 overs a side, and the County Championship which replicates Test cricket at County level.
The Championship is played across 14 games, with each game lasting up to four days. Crowds average a couple of thousand but if the weather is poor the numbers can be fairly sparse. To a casual observer one may think that the Championship is the poor relation of all the formats but in fact the reverse is true; it is the one format that everyone cherishes, and have done for over 140 years. It is part of our heritage and culture. For the players it represents the ultimate ambition at county level; a long and tiring season where your technique and fortitude is challenged. It can test our supporters because it is normally played on a workday hence the low attendances, but we are discovering that those at the ground are simply the tip of a massive iceberg now that digital opportunities are providing our supporters with the ability to follow the Club in real time.
As well as those at the ground we have many more following our live radio commentary; normally 5,000 or so. The quality of the commentary is excellent, and not far off Test Match Special (TMS) quality. Our match against Yorkshire this season was broadcast live on the internet using six cameras as part of an experiment and we were rewarded with over 50,000 viewers. Add to that the many people checking the scores regularly on the BBC website, Cricinfo and Twitter, or following the daily progress through The Times and The Telegraph, and we quickly see that support for the County Championship across the country is measured in the millions every week.
Our membership has risen from 7,000 to 12,000 in seven years.
Surprising but true, and extremely important because these same people provide the support for the England Test Team which always plays to sell-out crowds at the Kia Oval and elsewhere. Provided that the County Championship remains strong, Test cricket in England will always thrive. Test cricket in some countries is struggling and needs additional support, but iconic series such as The Ashes, which will be played here in summer 2019, continue to create some of the best competition and sportsmanship in global sport.
Our Club is underpinned by its members, and is governed by a Committee elected by the members. We are a welcoming and growing club: our membership has risen from 7,000 to 12,000 in seven years as we have sought to provide better facilities, improved service and great cricket. We have a core base of 180,000 supporters and 400,000 customers on our database.
Cricket is the be all and end all for Surrey CCC. Our Director of Cricket is Alec Stewart OBE, one of the most respected figures in world cricket, and over the last five years he has been the guiding hand that has brought us to where we are now. I would compare him to Arsene Wenger, but he is an avid Chelsea fan and so that would get me into trouble.
Alec has moulded the playing side into his own image; hard working, talented, diligent and focused; with a very strong team ethos. These attributes are not skin deep, they pervade the whole cricket organisation from the Under-9s to the senior squad. As well as helping to deliver success for Surrey, our individual players have also benefited. Surrey provides more players for England than any other county.
Jason Roy is one of the most gifted white ball batsmen in the world and a potential Test player, but seven other players have already made their Test debut since 2016: Tom Curran, Mark Stoneman, Sam Curran, Ollie Pope, Ben Foakes, Rory Burns and Zafar Ansari. This is an incredible record and matched only by Yorkshire in the last 25 years.
We are also leading the way in the rapidly developing women’s game. Our captain, Natalie Sciver, is one of the most exciting players in the world and this year led our Surrey Stars team to victory in the Kia Super League, the leading domestic competition in the country. As I write, she is about to play for England in the World T20, one of five Surrey players in the tournament.
Cricket is very healthy at the moment and many Club venues have expanded stadium capacity to try and keep up with demand. We will shortly be increasing the capacity of the Kia Oval to 27,500 and Lords is doing something similar. 2019 will see record attendances for cricket in England driven by all three current formats. The World Cup (one day cricket) takes place in June, the T20 Blast will deliver ticket sales of 1 million across the 18 counties in July and August, and The Ashes Test series concludes in September. What a summer for cricket enthusiasts or anyone wanting to develop an interest in the game. We will be working hard to make sure that the cricket is great and the spectator experience is awesome.
From 2020 things get a little more complicated as the governing body, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has decided to add a fourth format to cricket based on 100 balls for each team. This has not been well received by many existing cricket followers who regard it is an unnecessary gimmick but the ECB believe it will be a tool to attract new followers to the game. The 100 is not expected to be adopted by India or Australia who instead focus on T20 for short format cricket.
‘The 100’ will bring even more change in due course because new teams will be created, separate from the existing county Clubs. The identities of these teams are not yet known and players will not automatically be selected based on which Club they currently play for, or where they developed and learned their skills. Instead players are likely to be selected by an American style draft system; which will certainly be a novelty for UK sport.
Whether it will be a raging success is still being debated, and much work still needs to be completed prior to the start of the competition in July 2020. The Kia Oval has been provisionally selected as a venue because we have an excellent record in selling tickets to new supporters (60% + of those that come to a Surrey T20 match are first timers).
So we at Surrey CCC have a great summer to look forward to in 2019, and our ambitions remain bright and challenging. We want to keep winning trophies, and retaining the Championship is our first priority. Off the field we have a large new stand project incorporating conference facilities that will begin in October 2019 and be completed by April 2021, and we have plans for a hotel on an adjacent site. We also want our club to keep growing both commercially and in terms of members and supporters. Anyone can join, at any time. Go to KiaOval.com and you can become a member right now! We hope to see you in the summer.
JM Finn is the longest standing partner of Surrey County Cricket Club