English cricket has won with a £400m private equity bid for The Hundred

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has received a £400m private equity approach that would see it relinquish majority ownership of The Hundred as it raises funds to inject into the sport’s cash-strapped counties.

Sky News has learned that in recent weeks the governing body has received an offer from Bridgepoint Group, the London-listed buyout firm, to buy a controlling stake in the game’s new format.

A source close to the ECB said this weekend that Bridgepoint had offered to buy a 75% stake in The Hundred, potentially injecting £300m of new money into English cricket.

Allan Leighton, the president of the serial company who has worked with Bridgepoint on a number of its investments, is said to have collaborated with the firm in developing the proposed offering.

A bid is unlikely to succeed at the current time, the source added.

If the deal progresses, each of the 18 counties that make up the sport’s national foundation would receive a sizable sum at a time when many of them have seen their financial woes deepen in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An insider described Bridgepoint’s offer as “groundbreaking” and suggested it likely would garner widespread support from county presidents.

The ECB’s response, however, is expected to be cooler, with a new management team likely to take a more skeptical approach to ceding control of the sport’s new money-spinner.

Richard Thompson, the former chairman of Surrey County Cricket Club, was recently sworn in as ECB chairman, saying he wanted it to become “the most inclusive sport in the UK”.

He oversaw the appointment of his former county colleague, Richard Gould, as the governing body’s new chief executive.

Mr Gould, a former chief executive of Bristol City Football Club, was an outspoken critic of The Hundred during his tenure at Surrey.

Coincidentally, the 2022 edition of the 100-ball format saw the Oval Invincibles – based at Surrey’s home ground – win the women’s tournament, while the Trent Rockets were crowned the men’s champions.

According to the ECB, more than 500,000 people attended matches during this year’s competition, with a record attendance of 271,000 for women’s matches.

More than 14 million watched at least part of the tournament on Sky Sports – which shares a parent company with Sky News – and the BBC, the ECB added.

Sanjay Patel, chief executive of The Hundred, said in September: “It’s been great to see more families, more children and a record number of attendees at the games this year.

“The Hundred is all about welcoming more people to cricket, and it did that again this year.”

Bridgepoint’s interest in taking over The Hundred is said to be designed to “boost investment” in English cricket, and particularly the development of the women’s game, according to a person familiar with its bid.

The private equity firm has a long track record of investing in elite sport, having for years owned MotoGP and InFront, the media rights agency that helped orchestrate the commercial development of the Winter Olympics.

More recently, she has proposed a deal that would see her invest in the Women’s Super League in football, although talks have failed to result in a formal deal.

Bridgepoint’s bid for The Hundred has emerged as wealthy Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises prepare to sign up for key England players including England Test captain Ben Stokes and his predecessor, Joe root.

The county’s game finances have been difficult for many years, with many skepticism that 50 over cricket will survive in the long run.

Earlier this month, England were crowned T20 world champions after beating Pakistan in the final in Melbourne, Australia.

Both Bridgepoint and the ECB declined to comment.

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