Reviving the White Rose

Examining the similarities between Yorkshire’s financial position now and that of Hampshire 20 years ago when Rod Bransgrove saved the county from ruin

Ben Stokes batting for Rajasthan Royals. Could he and Northern Superchargers be playing in Royal’s pink next year?!

There are some intriguing parallels between the news that Rajasthan Royals are bidding to ‘own’ Yorkshire and the story of Rod Bransgrove at Hampshire. Bransgrove, a pharmaceutical entrepreneur whose major success was in developing HRT,  recently announced he was stepping down as Hampshire chairman after 23 years at the helm. His ultimate ambition to get an Ashes Test match (in 2027) to the ground he chiefly funded with his own millions has finally been realised. He explains in the The Analyst podcast the hurdles he had to overcome to wrest Hampshire back from the brink of extinction, his motivations, and the lessons learned from the experience that other counties in parlous positions could benefit from.

“Most counties these days are run by a board of directors of some sort. They are not committee driven any more. The members committees are having less influence than they used to on the business.  The structures that we put in place – separating the cricket club from the stadium for instance – have been mimicked. We’ve been a catalyst for the improvement in facilities for spectators across the whole spectrum.  We have got 6 or 7 fantastic grounds in the country now.

“You need outside sources of investment [to sustain the county game.] One of the problems counties have always had is they don’t have any real equity. They have their teams but their income is determined by the apportionment of broadcast and sponsorship income passed on by the ECB. I think like many that not enough flows out from the centre. Too much gets stuck at the middle instead of being shared out to the constituents.”

Bransgrove (above at the Ageas Bowl)

Bransgrove (above at the Ageas Bowl) was often regarded suspiciously by the administrators who ran the game, regarding him as a bit of a pariah

Infact he bailed the county out of massive debt, enabling the building of the Ageas Bowl which, with its hotel (costing £40m), golf course and other facilities, has put the county’s business on a much more secure financial footing and given the game a ground to be proud of. He hasn’t profited (financially) from his investment. Infact he had to get rid of his beloved yacht (the hospitality on which had been enjoyed by many England players and supporters on tours to the Caribbean) to fund the Shane Warne and Colin Ingelby-McKenzie stands at the ground. But he sees a new enlightenment at the ECB now which will have attracted the likes of the Rajasthan Royals.
    

“Apart from the team there is nothing that anyone can actually buy at a county if its not a limited company. That limits the ability to raise funds. But as a result of the introduction of The Hundred it is now occurring to the ECB that you need to have some equity value to encourage some inwards investment. They don’t really want to treat investors like they’ve treated me over the last twenty years or they won’t get many. They need to have a different attitude to encouraging people to invest in this sport.”

Ben Stokes batting for Rajasthan Royals. Could he and Northern Superchargers be playing in Royal’s pink next year?!

Bransgrove’s arduous but ultimately successful journey is a blueprint for other counties. The key is to realise (and monetise) their assets. The team and the players are one, yes, but for many the most underutilised asset is their land. That is what the Royals (if their bid is successful) will be looking at. Their lead owner, Manoj Badale, is like Bransgrove, a cricket-loving entrepreneur, who has the good of the game at heart as well as possessing smart business acumen. He will recognise the potential at Headingley and its environs – especially the large Asian diaspora located in the Leeds/Bradford area – just as he did in 2006 when he briefly purchased the commercial rights to Leicestershire (which also had a large Asian population.)

That project was stymied by red tape and blinkered ECB bosses, but now the investment door is ajar, and the opportunity to stage more international matches at Headingley (eg – games between IPL teams – one of which Badale owns – or perhaps even India v Pakistan, which Badale once attempted to stage in Glasgow) will be grasped. It is another way of extending the Rajasthan Royals global footprint too, just as many Premier League teams do with matches or tours on foreign soil. The Royals are brilliant at marketing the game and players could be shared between franchises. ‘Buying’ Yorkshire would also purchase a share in the Northern Superchargers Hundred franchise, and who plays for them (well…sometimes?) Ben Stokes. One of the most marketable faces in the game (and great friend of the Royals.)

Factor in the use of the Carnegie pavilion at Headingley by Leeds Beckett University as classrooms (several of Badale’s businesses are in education) and the fact that the land around Headingley is ripe for development, and you can begin to see a dynamic business opportunity. It could be the saving of a currently blighted but rightly treasured sporting institution.  They might even end up playing in pink….        


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Rod Bransgrove interview

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