The Hundred: ECB seeking private investment in eight teams rather than whole tournament

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is "starting to pursue" private investment in The Hundred teams, says chief executive Richard Gould.

The Hundred, a 100-ball tournament launched in 2021, is currently funded by the ECB, with capital filtered down to the associated counties.

Gould said discussions had led to investment being sought at team level rather than in the tournament itself.

"We're looking at how that might manifest itself," Gould told BBC Sport.

"The Hundred is a good vehicle for private investment to come into the game."

Private investment in cricket has grown with the owners of Indian Premier League teams - the world's biggest franchise league - investing in sides in South Africa, the United States and the United Arab Emirates.

The ECB has invested a further £100,000 in salaries for the women's game for 2024, but both the men's and women's players earn significantly less than in franchise tournaments in India, which has made it difficult to attract the world's best overseas players.

"Most of our counties are privately-owned members clubs. That has provided a great stable base for a number of decades but, sometimes, in order to be able to compete on a global scale we need to bring in private investment also," said Gould at a launch event before the new English domestic season starts on Friday.

The Hundred was created by the ECB to attract a more diverse audience and to fit into shorter broadcast slots.

A record 580,000 fans attended matches in 2023, with 41% of tickets sold to families and 30% to women.

However, the tournament has faced criticism from traditional cricket fans, who are unhappy with how some of the 18 counties are represented in the tournament.

The eight Hundred sides see counties combined, such as Yorkshire and Durham at Northern Superchargers, but others face lengthy journeys with fans of Somerset and Gloucestershire having Cardiff-based Welsh Fire as their nearest side.

Asked if there was a danger that investment at team level may result in money being harder to filter down and teams feeling more marginalised, Gould said he did not think that was the case.

"The way that our sport is organised and governed, everything under one umbrella, does allow us to make sure that any money that is available is invested in the area that is most appropriate and where we'll get the most return," said Gould.

The ECB are committed to the tournament until 2028 in a broadcast deal with Sky Sports, and Gould feels investment will take the tournament to new levels over the next five years.

"The excitement levels will significantly increase," he said.

"We'll be able to make sure we retain and attract all the best players in the world and have a game that either broadcasters, supporters or new fans want to be involved with.

"I'm very excited by what that could bring for the whole ecosystem of cricket, whether that is franchise led teams or county clubs."

Sam Billings, who captained Oval Invincibles to the 2023 men's title, told BBC Sport: "We want to be the second-best competition in the world, so it is how we do that.

"It might be a partnership, and that is a really key word, because if it is and it is always invested back into the fabric of our game then those are the key components, because ultimately we still want the English game to be incredibly strong in 50-100 years."

The 2024 edition of The Hundred begins on 23 July, with selected games on BBC TV.