International cricket key to Yorkshire CCC financial future

PERHAPS the most significant sentence in Yorkshire’s latest annual report and accounts is this: “The ability to make further significant debt repayments remains dependent on major matches or other one-off events.”

Headingley heroes: Ben Stokes and Jack Leach celebrate England’s remarkable Ashes win at a Leeds venue that has been remodelled over recent years. (Pictures: Getty/Bruce Rollinson)

Paul Hudson, the club’s finance director, thus neatly crystallises the challenge facing Yorkshire as they seek to build on their record operating profit of £6.5m in 2019.

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Without major matches at Headingley (i.e., England games and, specifically, high-profile Tests), Yorkshire will not easily reduce a net burden that stands at £18.3m.

New Facilities in the £43m ew stand at The Emerald Stadium, Headingley. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

The club’s finances, day to day, are effectively managed and perhaps see them make a bit one year and lose a bit the next, but the effect of high-profile fixtures is utterly transformative – it is no coincidence that the club’s previous record profit of £2.3m came in the year (2009) when they last staged an Ashes Test.

The good news is that Yorkshire, as a club, and Emerald Headingley, as a ground, is pretty much unrecognisable from those days and, certainly, from 15 years or so ago, when Yorkshire neither owned their ground nor had any guarantee of international cricket moving forward.

Since then, and especially recently under the leadership of chief executive Mark Arthur, Yorkshire have become a much more professional and accomplished off-field operation, with many talented staff behind the scenes, while Headingley itself has gone from one of the least salubrious venues on the circuit to one of the best, reflecting the burgeoning status of Leeds as a city.

The new main Emerald Stand, opened last summer, is up there with the Radcliffe Road Stand at Trent Bridge, one of Arthur’s finest achievements during his time as the Nottinghamshire CEO.

A general view of action between England and Pakistan looking toward the Emerald Stand during the One Day International match at Emerald Headingley, Leeds. (Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire)

And while he would never claim the credit himself for either development, his influence is suggestive, while the Emerald Stand is also a rich tribute to many others – the aforementioned Yorkshire staff, along with those at Leeds Rugby, Leeds City Council and so on. Through their collective endeavours, international cricket has survived here amid an increasing clamour to stage international fixtures.

Yorkshire’s debt rose amid the necessary ground improvements and ensures that no one at the club is resting on their laurels, but whereas Yorkshire were lagging behind the Jones’s not so long ago, now they are up there with them and, in some cases, observing them through the rear-view mirror.

Arthur’s dream of turning Headingley into one of the top-four international venues in England will always be a matter of subjective opinion, but the fact that you would not baulk at that ambition now – if it has not already been realised – is telling.

Whereas Trent Bridge (my own favourite ground) has arguably gone backwards, with the skew-whiff Bridgford Road stand and, in my opinion, ugly office block/scoreboard next to the pavilion, Headingley has moved forwards.

Indeed, once Arthur succeeds in one of his next aims – to introduce white-padded seating all around the ground, replacing the blue seats that have never been to this particular palate – there will be an even greater sense of style/space. However, as Paul Hudson’s comment highlights, there are no guarantees.

The future is uncertain beyond the next international match cycle that finishes in 2024, with Yorkshire having three Tests before then against India next year, New Zealand in 2022 and Australia in 2023, plus various white-ball internationals.

How the club would dearly love another Ashes Test in 2027.

At present, counties bidding for international fixtures have to demonstrate the ability to sell tickets and generate full houses. They have to satisfy various criteria relating to pitches, atmosphere, the ability to produce England players and so on.

Yorkshire score heavily now in all of those departments and have increased Headingley’s capacity to 18,500, bringing it into line with other major stadia.

Another factor greatly in their favour is that Test matches at Leeds are invariably compelling; last year’s Ben Stokes-inspired miracle speaks for itself, with groundsman Andy Fogarty and his team having, for many years now, produced pitches responsible for great entertainment.

Now Yorkshire must keep adapting to change and improving their facilities.

On that point, indeed, the 
England and Wales Cricket Board has set up a new facilities fund that enables clubs to apply to make further ground improvements.

Do not be surprised to see Yorkshire tapping into this opportunity sooner rather than later in a climate in which standing still is simply not an option.

Yorkshire’s record financial figures for 2019 are clearly a cause for much rejoicing and hearty slapping of backs inside the corridors of power at Emerald Headingley.

But they are not yet a cause for unwrapping the cigars, donning the carpet slippers and uttering the words “job done”.

On the contrary, Yorkshire still need more international games to keep paying off their debt and even one-off events such as The Hundred finals day.

They are better placed than ever to deliver on such goals.