HomeCricketCricket Ireland needs a stadium to capitalise on growing turnover

Cricket Ireland needs a stadium to capitalise on growing turnover

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This month is a significant one for Irish cricket with Ireland starting their T20 World Cup campaign in the US and high-level discussions about the proposed national cricket stadium expected to intensify between Cricket Ireland and the government.

Ireland may have lost their opening World Cup match to India, the sporting and economic powerhouse of world cricket, in New York on Wednesday, but the 20-over tournament will allow Cricket Ireland, led by long-time CEO Warren Deutrom, to network, raise funds and “tell Irish cricket’s story,” which is one of unlikely success.

Since taking over Irish cricket’s governing body in 2006, Deutrom has grown Cricket Ireland’s annual turnover from €250,000 to €16m and helped Ireland to become one of the 12 full member nations of the International Cricket Council (ICC), meaning the senior teams can play in four- or five-day Test matches, the traditional pinnacle of a rapidly changing sport.

Cricket Ireland has invested heavily in high performance to the point where the national teams will play 46 matches this year across men’s and women’s cricket, the men’s ‘A’ team (known as the Wolves) and the under-23s, but the lack of international-standard pitches in Ireland has led to a number of ‘home’ fixtures being played in England and the UAE.

Ireland play most of their home games at a temporary, 11,500-capacity pop-up stadium in Malahide, which costs Cricket Ireland “hundreds of thousands” of euro to erect.

In years when Ireland can guarantee sell-out fixtures and international television rights can be sold, such as last year’s three-match T20 series versus India (21,000 tickets, television audience of 185m), Cricket Ireland can generate approximately €3m from broadcasting and sponsorship.

However, the organisation recently had to postpone a four-match home series against world champions Australia after projecting a six-figure loss, an “embarrassing” situation that Deutrom said would be avoided with the construction of a national stadium.

The government gave its official backing to the project last year, and a site has been identified at the Sport Ireland campus in Abbotstown in north-west Dublin, but Deutrom has stressed that “time is running out” if Ireland is to take a more significant role in co-hosting the 2030 T20 World Cup alongside England and Scotland.

In practical terms, cricket pitches require three years to bed in for use in men’s internationals, so development needs to commence in 2025 or 2026 “at a push” if the pitch is to be laid, tested and played on by 2029, according to Deutrom.

Cricket Ireland is pushing for a 15,000-capacity stadium between permanent and temporary seating, with potential for future expansion, and a prospective budget for the project is still to be agreed.

“Time is running out. We’ve got a very, very narrow window in which the government needs to make a decision, and we need to put the case forward that this requires significant investment,” he says.

“If we only have a small venue that’s going to be capable of hosting say 8,000 to 10,000 people such as Malahide can currently encompass, the likelihood is we’ll only be able to host maybe four or five games max out of 55.

“We will have been a full member Test nation of 13 years’ standing by the time we get to 2030, it is right that we are looking to host matches not just in the group stage, but in the Super 8 [second group] stage as well by then, which means there is an opportunity for us to host somebody in the region of 15+ matches in that competition.”

EY Ireland is putting together a report with the economic and social case for the stadium, which Deutrom believes will “copper fasten” Cricket Ireland’s case, but he warned that the opportunity to build a national stadium in time for the 2030 T20 World Cup may be lost unless key decisions are made in the coming weeks.

“We’re still working in the art of the positive. The discussions we’re having with the government are very positive. We just don’t have a final decision yet around what is the funding envelope available to help us to ensure that it can be the success it deserves to be,” he clarified.

“Unfortunately, every single time we build up a pop-up stadium at Malahide and disassemble it we have nothing to show for it other than the match memories, the broadcast and of course some revenue, but it’s not the revenue we think the business and the sport should be taking.

“We’d much rather invest money into players and programmes rather than temporary infrastructure.”

After 15 years in which Cricket Ireland has focused on high performance and improving the senior national teams, the organisation recently “rebalanced” its budget towards the grassroots and growing participation in the sport with additional funding of €2.35m this year.

Cricket Ireland agreed a budget of €16.1m for 2024, with new funding for children’s and educational activities, the re-established Club Fund, development staff for the provincial unions and umpire training as well as a 50% increase in funding for the women’s high performance programme among other areas.

Deutrom now wants Cricket Ireland to “be able to invest in all parts of the sport” after achieving ICC full member status and witnessing the improvement of senior national teams with the emergence of leading players such as Josh Little, Harry Tector, Orla Prendergast and Amy Hunter.

“The role of the governing body is to not just have success at the top end, but it’s by ensuring that you have growth in your sport, the sheer numbers,” he said.

“Currently, we have to make sure that probably one in every two or three cricketers succeeds in a way that the likes of India only need one in every 5,000 cricketers to succeed, so we have to make sure that we optimise as many players as we possibly can.”

Immigrant populations present a “massive opportunity” for cricket in Ireland, and Deutrom estimates that 60% of people playing cricket in Leinster are from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, who will increasingly come through Cricket Ireland’s pathways and structures with the new investment.

Cricket Ireland is also increasingly collaborating with business groups and state agencies to tap into markets that Irish businesses would otherwise ignore – Deutrom points to the dearth of coverage of business stories in countries outside of Europe and the US in Ireland’s Sunday newspapers.

Enterprise Ireland held an Ireland-India Business Forum to coincide with India’s visit in 2022, and Deutrom engaged with the Department of Foreign Affairs’ South Asia desk ahead of the recent T20 series against Pakistan with a view to greater strategic collaboration.

“It’s the obvious and best way to be able to get into that particular environment, and I think it’s so clear that cricket can absolutely help reach Ireland PLC across the world, outside of Europe and the US, in a way that no other not just sport but Irish cultural entity can,” he said.

With 1.3m followers, Cricket Ireland has a bigger following than the GAA and the FAI, and cricket more widely is followed by around 2 billion people, with India and south Asia more generally now established as the global epicentre of the sport.

“These are the stories that we’re trying to tell the government about our ability to be able to penetrate new audiences in a way that other sports can’t,” Deutrom said.

Cricket Ireland’s CEO will discuss the business case for the stadium with Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin at Ireland’s matches against the US and Pakistan later this month.

Beyond the budget, there are matters to be agreed such as Cricket Ireland’s ownership stake in the stadium, and alternative revenue streams such as selling the naming rights and opening the site up for concerts, conferences, and food & beverage activities.

Warren Deutrom, CEO of Cricket Ireland. (Pic: Oisin Keniry/Getty Images)

Junior Minister for Sport Thomas Byrne, the most prominent figure involved in the stadium discussions, commented recently that cricket stadium would be “the next cab off the rank,” and Deutrom believes Martin travelling to Florida for the games is “an excellent sign”.

“Hopefully it will be obvious to the Minister how big an opportunity the T20 World Cup is for the island.”

Photo: India vs Ireland – Ireland’s Paul Stirling with teammates ©INPHO

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