It’s a challenge to step into an organisation with so much history, and especially if that history features big debt.
But Ian Dawson, who joined Durham Cricket as finance director in 2019, says once people saw change happening, those challenges began to ease.
Dealing with debt
The club reportedly faced around £7.5m in debt in 2016, but that same year they received a bail out from the cricket governing body England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to the value of £3.8m to help cover operating costs. However, this also came with a view to changing the management structure.
“The new chief executive came in about six months before me, and started bringing in a whole new leadership team,” says Ian.
“We changed the whole structure.”
“But still people were wary to deal with us until we started doing the right things, demonstrating our plans.”
Ian’s plan as FD was to make the club debt free by 2024.
“So far it’s gone relatively well – the pandemic will have knocked the time plan back slightly, but we’re paying off debt at a rate that’s never been known by the club,” he says.
How the pandemic helped
But even the pandemic allowed for some progress within the club’s financial structure, as it allowed Ian to renegotiate contracts to get more favourable terms and restructure their debt.
“With the help of banks and government schemes at the time, it put us on that path of restructuring quicker than I expected,” says Ian.
The pandemic also enabled the club to buy 100% of a catering business that previously had been a joint venture.
“During the pandemic, the business couldn’t trade for 18 months, but because we bought that we became sole owners and can now get 100% of the profits from it. That allowed us last year to make a profit and this year it’s running some concerts and will really provide growth for the club,” adds Ian.
Due to the pandemic, the club has also transformed its executive boxes – which previously were just used as hospitality spaces – into flexible working spaces.
The club has also put in planning permission for the redevelopment of some of the ground to include a hotel as part of a plan to diversify its revenue.
Moving away from the ECB
“We have a major project on at the moment to try and follow some of our other counties around the circuit and get a hotel on site, so we’re in negotiations, and we’ve seen this is a key thing to move away from reliance on the ECB,” Ian says.
For cricket clubs, this reliance comes partly because the ECB negotiates the broadcasting deals for the league, which each club then gets a share of. This means there is little flexibility to increase this stream of income.
“It’s probably a two year plan from here, depending on the funding around the hotel and planning approval,” Ian adds.
Currently, the business itself is split into four entities – recreational cricket, a charitable arm, events and hospitality business and the professional cricket club. All of this falls within the remit of FD. But for Ian, cricket is more than just his day job.
Ian’s cricket and finance journey
“I started playing cricket when I was eight, at a local cricket club.”
While he pursued accountancy as a job, he also coached cricket – including coaching the current captain of Durham’s professional team when he was 10-years-old.
Ian took a break from his career in accountancy and spent 12 weeks in Australia over the winter of 2006 when the Ashes were on, leaving his job in order to follow the English cricket team’s progress.
After this break, he got a job in Bermuda in the hedge fund industry, before transferring to Toronto and working in a more “traditional financial” role.
But in 2014, he moved back to the UK to work for travel company Hays Travel as a treasury manager, then finance manager.
Throughout this, Ian has kept up his love of cricket and still umpires and coaches now.
“It does help because I’ve got a background in the coaching side, the committees and local admin of the clubs, and even in the programme which helps when you’ve got players who you want to progress through the system in the professional game,” says Ian.
Looking to the future
Now that the financials of the club are in a better position, Ian’s aim for the club is to become sustainable.
“I think my main passion, being a fan of Durham Cricket and being involved in cricket for a number of years, is to make the club sustainable.”
“The club has well documented troubles of the past, but we’ve now put it on a footing where it can progress, and I think it’s a big hope for us,” says Ian.
“I want to keep building this business because we want to support the local area, and the more financially stable I and the other management team can make it, the more people can continue to come and enjoy it.”
IAN’S POWER PROFILE
Who is your hero?
“My former boss at Hays Travel, John Hays. He sadly passed away in November 2020, but he built a business from one travel store in a village to having a turnover that exceeded £1 billion. But the great thing about John was that his focus was on Sunderland, local jobs and local people and his commitment was always the local area.”
What music empowers you?
“I’m proud of the area where I live, so there’s this song that looks on the industrial heritage of Sunderland and the shipbuilding, it’s a link to the past and it’s important to recognise the area you come from and how it’s made. It’s called Shipyards by The Lake Poets.”
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