Keeping the financial wolf from Northamptonshire CCC’s door used to be a relatively uncomplicated business.
In fact, it wasn’t really a business at all.
The club’s Hon Sec AJ ‘Pat’ Darnell would don his top hat (which he wore pretty much every day of the year, except at the FA Cup final in deference to those sitting behind him) and head for Lilford Hall.
There, he would inform the 5th Baron Lilford – President between 1903 and 1921 – what was required to keep the show on the road.
The generous peer, who loved his cricket passionately, rarely if ever failed to oblige in cash or kind.
As for ‘non-cricket activity’ at the County Ground – well, that was called football. Or bowls.
Notwithstanding the impending change of ownership to a limited company following last September’s EGM, the club’s funding model is a tad different nowadays.
Putting the onus squarely on Commercial Director Suzanne Fairey and her team to complement the Steelbacks’ success on the field with a viable operation off it.
“It is absolutely a partnership between cricket and the commercial side,” explains Fairey, who came to Wantage Road in 2015.
“We have four times the number of corporate sponsors compared with two years ago, and we’re working hard to grow that even more.
“We are a small team, though, so it’s chicken-and-egg. As we become more successful commercially we can afford to bring in more people to boost that further.
“But everything is moving upwards at the moment.”
With the best will in the world, it’s hard to equate Northamptonshire’s marketing and sponsorship operation with global sporting behemoths like football’s Premier League and the ATP World Tour Finals in tennis.
But that was Fairey’s ‘beat’ in her previous high-powered role, overseeing Barclays’ £200 million global sponsorship portfolio – including those two titans of the brand.
After 20 years with the company (“travelled the world, did all the glamorous stuff”) she opted for a job nearer home to accommodate the demands of a young family.
Hence the switch to the less rarefied atmosphere of county cricket.
“I was born and bred in Northampton, so to come and work somewhere that’s so intrinsically Northamptonshire has been great. Everybody knows the County Ground, everybody loves it.
“But a couple of years ago it needed rescuing, and I love nothing more than a challenge!
“Selling cricket commercially is very difficult. It’s worlds away from football on every level – TV exposure, revenue and so on. But it still plays a big part in people’s lives.
“I absolutely love it now, which has surprised me because I knew nothing about cricket before…other than the fact that I didn’t understand it!”
Club chairman Gavin Warren has publicly praised Fairey’s efforts in helping to pull NCCC back from the brink.
But the game’s financial landscape is changing constantly – with the grim spectre (aka ‘shining opportunity’) of a new copycat eight-team T20 competition in the offing for 2020.
One of the more understandable portions of a labyrinthine ECB briefing memo seen by The Times newspaper is the intention to show some of the matches on free-to-air TV as well as popular digital outlets.
And Fairey believes that getting into people’s living rooms is vital for cricket.
“ECB is working hard to drive participation through some excellent initiatives, but they must get the game back on terrestrial television.
“I’m not saying it should be at the expense of having it on satellite. You need both, as in football.”
One of county cricket’s plus-points is its variety – Championship for the time-rich traditionalist, T20 for the quick-thrill punter and the 50-over stuff somewhere in between.
“From a marketing perspective it’s a fantastic opportunity because it gives you a broad base of target audiences from different demographics,” says Fairey.
“At a club like ours it’s important to talk to people, and I’ve had some really interesting conversations with supporters at Championship matches about the commercial realities.
“The ‘sandwich-and-flask’ brigade are not going to give us a sustainable cricket club. It’s just not possible.
“So you spell that out in an honest and factual way, making it clear we need something for everyone. T20 captures people’s imagination at the moment and therefore we must supply it.
“That said, we give equal prominence and attention to the four-day game – as a commercial team we work just as hard for a Championship day as for a T20 match. But the audience numbers are obviously different.”
Clearly, winning trophies makes the job of promoting any sports club a bit easier.
Especially if that silverware comes in the most lucrative format.
“We were very quick to move after winning the T20 Blast at Edgbaston last August.
“We’d managed to sell all our shirt sponsorship before Christmas, even the sleeve of the four-day shirt. Even the kit suppliers were surprised!
“Yes, people like to be associated with success – but it’s also about the feel of the place.
“They want to come here, enjoy the atmosphere and be with their friends.
“We can’t guarantee a trophy every year, much though we’d love to, so there has to be more to it than that.”
The ‘more’ includes utilising the club’s facilities for events unconnected with cricket – from concerts to food fairs, conferences to wedding exhibitions.
And Fairey points out (gently!) that this will occasionally mean spectators not enjoying access to all areas on a match day.
“It comes back to the whole education thing, making our supporters understand the realities.
“This year we have 45 match days here – so as a business it’s the non-cricket stuff which will make the cricket sustainable. We must have it.
“We try to keep
disruption to an absolute minimum and never inconvenience our supporters if we can avoid it.
“But if I have to decide between having one of the suites open for six people to sit in the warm at a Championship match, or selling it out for a 250-seat conference – well, that’s a call I have to make.”
In the absence of a latter-day Lord Lilford, it can scarcely be otherwise.