Cricket Interview Surrey CCC

Meet the Member: “My vision is to create the first specialist cricket state school”

May 25, 2023

Steve Elworthy has been around the game of cricket for a long time leading on the first Twenty20 World Cup in 2007 and the 2019 World Cup here in the UK. He is now into his second season as CEO of Surrey CCC, in this interview we discuss his journey in sport and his exciting plans for the future of the club.

So Steve to kick off, take us through your journey in sport?

Well, it started out as effectively as soon as I could walk. I grew up in a really sporty house with both my Dad and brother being big cricket fans. I grew up in Zimbabwe and we had a really close knit family and there was a really strong community feel that was based around the sports club. Like most kids growing up I played other sports as well and I really enjoyed my athletics and golf.

In the early 80s the family moved to South Africa where I continued playing cricket while studying and I ended up with an electrical engineering diploma. After I finished my education, I started playing cricket regularly, was awarded my first professional contract, which was obviously good news and I was first called up to play for South Africa when I was in my 30s, quite late from a cricket point of view. I also got a flavour for English cricket as I played some club cricket in the UK and also playing for Lancashire and then Nottinghamshire before I retired. 

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I had been doing a marketing diploma part time, while I was playing, so when I retired I successfully applied for the role of Sponsorship Manager for Cricket South Africa (CSA). That was in 2003 and because we were hosting the Cricket World Cup that year the Commercial Director for CSA moved over to work on the tournament and I ended up taking his job after only six months.

A couple of years later we were awarded the first World Twenty20 and I remember our CEO saying we needed someone to run it and I managed to secure the role. Looking back it is so funny how a decision I made then has had a massive impact on my life.

That was the start of my role as tournament director and after the tournament in 2007, the ECB offered me a two-year contract to look after the 2009 Ashes and then next edition of the World Twenty20 the same summer. That was a two year contract and 15 years later I am still here. I worked on the Champions Trophy in 2013, the Women’s World Cup and Champions Trophy in 2017 and the Cricket World Cup in 2019. Then in 2020 covid hit and I helped develop and organise the ‘behind closed doors’ Covid bubbles and the internationals at the Ageas Bowl and Emirates Old Trafford. 

And of course most recently this job became available when Richard Gould moved from this position to be CEO of the ECB and I have now been here for 15 months.

This is your second season as CEO of Surrey, what are your goals for this year both on and off the field? 

My main aim for the first season was really assessing the club and ground and getting my feet under the table to understand the scale of the club. I had some idea of the size of the club from working with them as a host venue for international tournaments, but what I hadn’t got my head around was the breadth and depth of this Members club. We are one of the biggest counties in the country when it comes to membership. We have got a membership base of around 19,500 and they’re very supportive and influential in the club. 

We were also aware that, after Covid, the world changed and is evolving and as a club we have to be aware of that. I took some time when I first arrived to determine what and how we needed to shift our position to reflect that change. I then set about determining our long term ambition for the club, with the input of the entire club, to map out our long term ambitions. This was backed up with strategic priorities developed year on year to meet those ambitions.  As an example, sustainability became a strategic goal as our supporters and commercial partners wanted to know what our long term ambition was in this space, so we have committed to being net zero by 2030.  

We are very lucky that we have got a really strong pathway of talent, both boys and girls, coming through but we need to ensure it is accessible to anyone who wants to choose cricket as career. For me, I see the club more as a social enterprise which understands its position in London, and more importantly, in the local area. Lambeth is one of the most deprived areas of London and if we want to be the most inclusive sport in the country, then we as a club, need to play our part in making that happen.  

It is going to be really exciting to work on this plan over the next few years and watch how we can develop as a club. 

In your eyes what are the challenges that are facing county cricket as a whole at the moment?

The first problem that is staring everyone in the face is that there is a huge amount of cricket that is being played at the moment, in both international and domestic cricket. But I also think that presents a really exciting opportunity for us as a sport because we have so many entry points for different people to get engaged. There is something for everyone.

At the moment there is a lot of congestion in the season due to the different formats because at the moment I do think there is too much cricket being played. There is only so much grass (pitches) you can play on and the players can only play so often. I do think the game as a whole needs to address this issue over the next few years. 

It is easy to be negative about the domestic game in the UK but I think if you look at the quality of overseas professionals that are playing over here at the moment then I think that is a massive testament to how English cricket is perceived overseas. 

Some counties face different challenges to others. As a ground where international cricket is regularly played, you have a Hundred team, and fantastic support in the T20 Blast, your problems are different to smaller counties. Do you sympathise with the challenges they face?

Absolutely, every club has its own challenges no matter what the size of it. Yes, we probably have a stronger balance sheet than a lot of the counties out there but if you look collectively at all the first class counties, regardless of size, they are all doing a great job in their respective localities.  

I think if we can get to a place where clubs can become financially sustainable, which is no mean feat, then they can really look into ways that they can grow. A lot of the smaller counties which do not hostinternational cricket are reliant on the domestic game, so we need to make that as vibrant as possible. 

Financially, they may be smaller clubs but they are absolutely vital to the ecosystem that is the domestic game here in England which then feeds into the international team. 

How is the global T20 calendar changing the way you operate as a county?

I think, like I touched on earlier, that there is probably too much cricket being played at the moment. But from a players perspective you have to be able to manage your time but it can provide you with some unbelievable opportunities to earn life-changing amounts of money. 

As a club, we have to make decisions around certain players who are more suited to playing multiple formats than others. It is tricky and all very case specific, but it is a challenge that a lot of counties are dealing with at the moment.

With the current commercial climate proving particularly tough for many sports, what challenges are the county’s facing to grow revenues and how are they overcoming these?

I think there are a couple of things particularly in this area that we have paid particular attention to over the last year. As a club we have to try and diversify our income as much as possible because while we are pretty consistent with our matchday income through tickets and hospitality, we need to try and come up with new revenue streams. 

The new Galadari stand has given us fantastic opportunities to host events throughout the year in an iconic setting. We have found now that people want extra experiences around events and we are uniquely equipped to deliver that. They love the open space, the views of London, standing by the pitch, watching close up the players in the nets, they want to play softball cricket on the outfield or go into the nets and face the bowling machine.

We are seeing a lot more of these trends around the county circuit, you will see CEO’s utilising their spaces as much as they can. You can see clubs are really trying to move their economic dependence and become more self-sufficient.  

One of the biggest challenges counties are facing is converting T20 fans into county championship fans and then members, how do you try to do that?

Yes, this is really something I have been grappling with since the first Twenty20 World Cup back in 2007. Over time I have realised that it is actually more of a natural progression from T20 through to county or Test fans. As people get older they naturally move from one to the other, so I think we don’t need to do too much when it comes to trying to convert people straight away.

I like to think about it as a sort of music analogy. Your taste in music generally evolves as you get older and I think cricket can be the same. So you start fans out on T20 or the Hundred and then naturally as you get older you move to longer formats of the game.

So for me T20 and The Hundred is all about getting as many people as possible in the grounds. The aim then is to convert them into playing, or volunteering, or officiating, or even possibly working in cricket which would just be fantastic.

County cricket fans are in the vast majority in the older, white demographic, we have seen the work being done by the ACE programme which started here to try and get more black players on the field. What are you doing in terms of trying to grow fanbases in different communities? 

This is something I am really passionate about and is the reason we are doing so much work in the local community. For a start, we have to work to make sure that our ground is accessible for people in the local area. 

Just to touch on the fantastic work being done by the ACE programme, which is something we are very proud to have started here and to see it rolled out by lots of different counties across the country is really encouraging. There is also some great work being done with the ECB’s South Asian Action Plan. 

In September we are starting a new initiative in three state school, sixth form colleges in the local area. These are at George Abbott, Lillian Baylis and St Francis Xavier. The idea is that pupils can apply to attend these sixth form programmes and they will be able to play cricket as a part of their curriculum and receive fantastic coaching. It is more of a socio-economic inclusion programme rather than a specificaction plan. 

My vision is that we create the first specialist cricket state school. There are private schools and universities that are specifically strong in their cricket offering and we want to create something similar with state schools right here in South East London. We have a large Portuguese community right on our doorstep here at the Oval and with a program like this, what is to say that soon we will have players coming from that community.  

There’s a lot of talk about trying to get Gen Z involved in sport at the moment, how are you tackling that challenge?

To be honest, both of my kids are Gen Z and I am learning every day.

It really is the million dollar question in sport at the moment, if we have learnt a few things about Gen Z is that they care a lot about the experience and you only get one shot to impress. If they don’t like what you offer them they could turn their backs on you pretty quickly. We do have some really solid data from the ECB via Two Circles to try and guide us as much as possible though. 

We know that Gen Z have some disposable income and want to attend live sporting events, but they aren’t basing the decision purely on the quality of the on-field product but a lot more on the overall experience at the event and whether or not they will have a good time. 

Because of this we have actually recruited a Head of Fan Engagement last year whose job it is to make sure that the overall experience is as good as it can be. We have got a better understanding of what oursupporters are looking for. We have seen a massive increase in sales of non-alcoholic drinks and we have also introduced a lot more healthy and foodie options. People don’t just want Fish and Chips or Burger and Chips anymore they want healthier options, such as duck wraps, but the processing time for awrap is a lot different to Fish and Chips so it is a big undertaking and that in turn increases waiting times. All factors that need addressing when looking at your customer experience.  

It is a lot of work but if we create a great experience then they will keep coming back and like we said earlier hopefully down the road they become full members of the club.

Cricket Interview Surrey CCC