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Yorkshire County Cricket Club seeks Mena investors

YCCC Yorkshire County Cricket Season 2023 Imago/SW Pix via Reuters
Yorkshire County Cricket Club is seeking investors to help develop the sport in the Middle East

The Middle East could play a pivotal role in the future of county cricket in the UK, according to a leading sports economist.

It was revealed this week that Yorkshire County Cricket Club has recruited the services of audit and advisory firm Grant Thornton to seek out investment from potential backers in the Middle East.

Simon Chadwick, professor of sport and geopolitical economy at Skema Business School in Paris, told AGBI: “England remains one of cricket’s spiritual homes, albeit with some challenges ahead – particularly what happens to traditional, five-day county matches. 

“Yet there is clearly some value in other, shorter forms for cricket that are drawing large crowds, lucrative sponsorship deals, and big TV contracts. 

“This suggests that there are interesting times ahead for cricket, if appropriate funding and management are in place.”

Yorkshire CCC, which owns the historic Headingley ground in Leeds, is seeking investors. It owes around £15 million ($18.7 million) to grant-making body the Graves Trust, and payment in full is due by October 2024.

The club’s CEO Stephen Vaughan said: “We believe that by investing in Yorkshire County Cricket Club, a strategic investor will not only make a significant impact on the club, but also contribute to the growth and development of the sport both in the UK and across the Mena region.”

A large proportion of the target investor pool is based in the UAE and India, with additional names from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Grant Thornton told Reuters.

It added that sovereign wealth funds, family offices and private equity investors were being looked at “as part of a wider refinancing exercise” at Yorkshire, but did not give further details.

One of 18 first-class county clubs in England and Wales, Yorkshire’s first team is the most successful in English cricket, having claimed 33 county championship titles (one of which was shared).

The club, however, is emerging from a turbulent period following a racism scandal, which resulted in six-figure pay-outs to former players and whistle-blower Azeem Rafiq and the subsequent sacking of 16 individuals.

Local interest

The UAE is home to the International Cricket Council (ICC) and has played host to top international matches in the long format, one day internationals and T20.

It has staged matches from the lucrative Indian Premier League, while the DP World ILT20 by Emirates Cricket Board debuted this year.

Oil giant Saudi Aramco is currently the sponsor of all of the Dubai-based ICC events through to the end of this year, which includes this year’s one-day World Cup in India.

Haroon Ahmed, partner at Grant Thornton UAE, said: “Cricket is a growing sport in the region, and we believe that Yorkshire County Cricket Club is uniquely well-positioned to capitalise on this opportunity.”

However, Chadwick suggested the Middle East may not be the only region looking to take advantage of cricket’s popularity.

He said: “It is also worth keeping in mind that South Asian migrants in the US are also behind a growing interest in cricket. This suggests there are further, global, opportunities ahead.”

The Middle East is already heavily involved in the sporting sector.

Gulf states hold investments in football, golf, Formula 1, cycling and wrestling, while several high-profile boxing matches have been held in Saudi Arabia. The 2029 Asian Winter Games will take place in Trojena of Neom, Saudi Arabia.

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