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Page last updated at 16:07 GMT, Thursday, 17 February 2011

Bosses fear one of the 18 county clubs could go bust

Andrew Fletcher
Reporter, BBC Radio 5 Live

lancashire chief executive Jim Cumbes
Cumbes is warning of big losses at Lancashire

Two leading county cricket bosses have voiced fresh fears that one of the 18 clubs could easily go bust.

Leicestershire chief executive Mike Siddall told the BBC any repeat of last year's financial losses would see his club "struggle to stay in business".

Lancashire counterpart Jim Cumbes describes that county's latest figures, due out in April, as "frightening".

Cumbes indicated they would top those of Yorkshire, who last week announced a loss of nearly £2m for 2010.

Siddall and Cumbes said changes to the domestic game, together with the effects of the economic downturn, mean counties are struggling harder than ever before to stay afloat.

Looking ahead to Lancashire's figures, Cumbes said: "I think I'm safe in saying that the loss will be the biggest in county cricket, no doubt about it. Over the 23 years that I've been at this club, I think we've only ever made two losses.

"OK, the profits weren't massive but they were decent and, this time, we've suddenly switched the whole thing around and we're going to be making a massive loss."

Lancashire have a specific problem with plans to develop their Old Trafford ground. These are currently bogged down in a legal dispute which has cost the club £1.5m so far.

It's essential we don't ever lose the kind of money we lost last year because, if we do, we would struggle to stay in business

Leicestershire chief executive Mike Siddall

Cumbes says county cricket is proving hard to sell. He cites the familiar complaint about England stars such as fast bowler James Anderson only being available to turn out for their counties a few times a season because of international commitments.

He also thinks the clubs are being asked to host too many games, particularly in the Twenty20 competition .

The Lancashire chief executive added: "Last year, we increased the number of games from 10 to 16 for each county. The result was that overall, other than for two or three counties, the attendances were stagnating or they fell - in our case they fell.

"But, of course, your costs go up because you're staging more games, particularly in the big grounds. I think, quite frankly, a lot of people got quite weary of the games towards the end."

That view is shared by Siddall, Leicestershire having made a loss of £400,000 in 2010. He said: "We tried hard to market them [Twenty20s]. There was a lot of support from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). But I think the cost of coming to eight home games was more than our supporters were willing to bear."

Lancashire's Old Trafford ground
Legal problems have hit plans to develop Old Trafford

County cricket clubs rely on the ECB for a large part of their income. Last year, Leicestershire received £1.7m from the governing body. But the money comes in instalments, which are lower during the winter. Siddall says it is increasingly difficult to obtain bank loans.

He added: "I know what a struggle it is for us at present and it's absolutely essential that we don't ever lose the kind of money that we lost last year because, if we do, we would struggle to stay in business. But, when I look around at the performance of other counties, the pressure is really on."

Some counties are managing to succeed off the pitch despite the challenges they face. With most counties yet to announce their figures for 2010, Nottinghamshire, Somerset and Worcestershire have confirmed that they made profits of up to £189,000. The previous year, just over half of the clubs were in profit.

But it is the size of some of the losses which is causing concern, at a time when English cricket is hoping to capitalise on the Ashes success in Australia.

The ECB says it is very conscious of the current economic climate and the financial status of some first-class counties.

A spokesman told the BBC: "From an annual income of £114m in 2009 the ECB distributed nearly 40% directly back to the 18 first-class counties.

"The ECB has already placed on record its desire to reduce the volume of the fixture programme, making the schedule more consistent and sustainable. Positive consultation has been held with the counties to achieve this goal for introduction in the 2012 season."

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see also
ECB will review Test allocations
11 Feb 11 |  Cricket
Old Trafford name could be sold
13 Oct 10 |  Lancashire
County chief in financial warning
06 Oct 10 |  Middlesex
Leics confirm board appointments
15 Oct 10 |  Leicestershire

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