Deep Extra Cover’s Terry Wright went to Edgbaston and talked to Neil Snowball, Chief Executive of Warwickshire County Cricket Club, of the Birmingham Bears and of Stadium Edgbaston.
In the first part of our exclusive interview, Neil talked of how they are restructuring things under new Sport Director Ashley Giles and gave an insight into their plans for the club both on and off the field.
Here, Neil talks about international cricket at Edgbaston as well as engaging with the community, but Terry begins by asking about the debt the club owes Birmingham City council.
“The relationship is as good as it’s ever been”
There is an elephant in the room, in the form of the £20m debt owed to Birmingham City Council who loaned the money to fund the ground developments.
Maintaining a positive relationship with the Council is vital, so how is this going?
“The feedback is that the relationship is as good as it’s ever been, we’ve worked hard with the Council, we do a lot with Marketing Birmingham,” Neil explained.
“We’ve been very active with them, helping them as they attract inward investment, whether it’s from overseas or elsewhere in the UK.
“I’ve developed a very good relationship with (Leader of the Council) John Clancy and (Deputy Leader) Ian Ward and previously with (ex-Chief Executive) Mark Rogers as well who’s moved on now so I think the relationship is very very strong.”
“In terms of the servicing of the debt we’re in a good position as long as we continue to trade well and as long as we continue to get a supply of major matches we’re in good shape.
Are there any new developments in the relationship between the Club and the city?
Neil is able to reveal one new piece of information.
“Since we last met, I’ve been invited to get involved with the Birmingham bid for the Commonwealth Games. We’re focusing on a bid for 2022 and I’ve joined the bid company as a non-executive Director so that’s also a good opportunity to work with the other leaders in Birmingham and bring another major event to the city which would be great.”
Work in the community: “We won the Business of Cricket Award for the best community engagement of the 18 counties”
When Deep Extra Cover last spoke to Neil, he put emphasis on the need for the club to be involved in the local community, with a particular focus on those of a South Asian origin. So it made sense to get an update on progress in this area.
“It’s a never-ending challenge as well as an opportunity that’s very important to us.
“We appointed a chap called Ravi Masih at the end of last year who was previously at Aston Villa in a similar role. He’s come in as our first Head of Community Engagement. We’ve never had anyone in that role before and he’s really pulled together a lot of the activities that we’re doing.
“The Edgbaston Foundation, our charitable trust, is starting to evolve, with a number of different strands – a focus on youth, so education, engagement, developing the Edgbaston classroom programme.
“We work very closely with the Warwickshire Cricket Board so any community outreach that involves cricket is delivered by them.”
As for the South Asian links, they also seem to be progressing.
“The South Asian Project last year really was huge, that was a big part of why the Pakistan Test was so successful. We actually won one of the BOCA awards, the Business of Cricket Awards presented down at Lord’s, for the best community engagement of the 18 counties so that was a real achievement.
“Ahead of the Champions Trophy, we have the Edgbaston Fan Trophy which is Indian Supporters against Pakistan Supporters.
“We’ve also just announced a new partnership with St Basil’s trying to address youth homelessness and we did our first event just a couple of weeks ago. We did a sleep-out at Edgbaston which involved about ten of the staff and twenty or so business and community leaders including David Urquhart, the Bishop of Birmingham.”
“So it felt that last year we took a big step forward in terms of being more of a community type of club, pulling together all the different strands.”
International Cricket at Edgbaston: “We’ve got a strong relationship with the ECB. They respect the way we deliver our major matches.”
A large stadium like Edgbaston is only viable if there is a steady stream of big matches. There is a good schedule for the three season 2017-19. After that, things are less certain, as Neil confirmed.
“Until we’ve got a piece of paper that’s signed by us and signed by the ECB, it’s always in the back of our minds.
“I would say that we’ve got a strong relationship with the ECB. They respect the way we deliver our major matches. They know that we can sell more tickets than anyone outside of London. Our customer scores for delivery are some of the best in the country. And England win here. So that’s quite a powerful combination which puts us in a good place.
“However, to be honest, there’s still a lot of uncertainty about the Future Tours Programme. Even though all of the international grounds would love to crack on with the allocation, to be fair to the ECB, they are not entirely sure what it is they are allocating at the moment. We’re not sure exactly how many Tests there’s going to be, how many ODIs, how many International T20s.
“But what I can say, we are right in the middle of all those discussions and what we are all urging the ECB to do is to get on with it based on what knowledge we do have but also to try to give us as much certainty for a longer period of time.
“It’s not guaranteed but we’re pretty hopeful that one of those new T20 teams will be based at Edgbaston. So in effect, that would give us four additional major match days because we would expect there to be big crowds.”
Developments around the ground: “We’ll have fantastic facilities and a great location with parking and hotel accommodation”
Although the major ground development project was completed over five years ago, there are plans for further changes in and around the stadium. We asked Neil to update us on these.
“There’s a planned project to build flats on the Pershore Road side of the ground. It’s at the contract stage and they would look to start probably around March or April next year. They are looking to complete towards the back end of 2019 or early 2020. That will transform the area because what we’ve got now is a magnificent stadium but all the area immediately around it’s a bit rough and ready.
“That’s also where the relationship with Birmingham City Council comes back in. We’ve been working with them to see, once the apartments have gone up, whether there’s any opportunities to upgrade and develop the far end of the ground, particularly the Raglan end and Priory Stand.
“So we’re always looking at how we can continue to evolve but this stadium is a bit like the Forth Bridge, you never stop painting it, you never stop maintaining it, you never stop polishing it.
“As far as our surroundings are concerned, the other thing is a hotel. There’s the plot of land across the road that’s had permission for a hotel for a long time. It’s owned by Calthorpe Estates and they’ve got a developer. We’re in regular contact and they are hopeful they may start work on it this year.
“If they do, that will be great. It’s nothing to do with us commercially but it means that from a conference and events perspective, we’ll have fantastic facilities and a great location with parking and hotel accommodation
“That will really help us add to the bottom line in terms of the joint venture.”