|David Harker - CEO, Durham County Cricket Club|
|Profile of the week|
Wednesday, 11 January 2012 13:01
David Harker has been the CEO of Durham County Cricket Club since 2000. He joined the Chester-le-Street club in 1991 when Durham became the first county to turn professional in seventy years having worked at PwC (then PriceWaterHouse). Harker has overseen great success both on and off the field at the 1892 born club, including the side's back-to-back County Championships of 2008 and 2009, and the ground’s elevation to international status, and, from 2013, Ashes host.
By Mary Meyer
What makes Durham stand out from the other competing counties in the bidding war for international matches?
I think our geographic position, obviously, is part of it. We are a kind of out post for English cricket in the north of England. The fact that we are a new county and a new ground means that we come to it quite fresh in terms of appetite and a genuine desire to want to stage these games and to stage them well. We want to give the customer an experience they’re going to remember favourably. We can’t possibly be the oldest or biggest ground in the country but we can be the most friendly and welcoming.
You are one of the few ltd companies in cricket – why do you think other clubs have not chosen to follow this business model?
In order to become a limited company, the existing membership of the traditional members clubs has to sacrifice their ownership of the club and, for some of them, that’s not necessarily something that they’re going to want to do. For us, it was something that we quite simply had to do because we needed to raise capital in order to develop the ground. If you are in a position where you do not need to raise capital and the members club model works, there’s no need to change but, for us we, could not fulfil our ambitions as a club by remaining as a members organisation.
Right from the outset we were a company limited by guarantee so, although we couldn’t raise capital and we weren’t a limited company in that sense [initially], we were not a members club in the traditional usual sense. I think in all honesty we probably behaved like a members club and the members just thought of us being a members club and weren’t aware of the legal distinction.
The Radia brothers now have a 90% plus stake in Durham – who are they and why have they bought into DCCC, and what are your views on the benefits of foreign ownership?
Really it’s Guatam Radia in particular. He doesn’t want to excite the publicity, that isn’t why he’s got into it; essentially, he is a business manager, a successful business man in India, and he’s a long-standing commercial partner, colleague and friend of our Chairman Clive Leach. Gautam is a big cricket fan, as you would expect, and he bought into the ambition of the club and what we’re trying to achieve and was happy, therefore, to make that initial investment and get the ball rolling.
I think we operate in a global economy and I think we play a global game. I think if you’ve got people who are interested and motivated for the right reasons then their origins are not really an issue.
You oversaw a very sensitive fan-led renaming process of the Riverside. How did you go about this? What are your views on renaming of stadia and the involvement of supporters through social media?
I think we recognised that if you just take the money from the sponsor and the fans don’t buy into the name then nobody wins. The fans are disgruntled and the sponsors suddenly find that they’ve invested in something which has caused a lot of controversy. For our sponsor Emirates, they’re keen to support the region (they fly out of Newcastle and they want to be seen as part of the region) so it wouldn’t be helpful to them to alienate some of our supporters. So, although there will always be those who don’t buy into this whole commercialisation of naming rights etc, we wanted genuinely to open it up to fans and let the fans decide.
We explained to them the commercial benefits to the club of having a sponsor like Emirates involved – not just in terms of the pounds, shillings and pence but in terms of the brand association and the awareness that that would give us - and, that naming rights was part of the deal. Emirates were keen that the fans should have say in what the name should be. The whole process actually worked quite well.
At some venues it works better than others. I think you can’t blame clubs for wishing to leverage all of their assets and to try and drive their commercial values. I think if it is done sensitively and you take the supporters with you, then it makes sense. They’re the ones that seem to stick.
Obviously with cricket being a summer game, the stadium is underused and much of your redevelopment seems focused on non-cricket revenue. How long do you think it will take to become independent of the reliance on revenue from international cricket?
In terms of a timeline, I don’t think there’s a categorical answer other than we believe it is possible. In order to have that degree of independence, you have to have the assets around the place which aren’t themselves dependent upon cricket. Our next phase of development is focused on the development of the hotel and the development of conference and banqueting facilities. They will give us a degree of independence once they come to maturity within two or three years of being developed.
I don’t think you can say there’s a clear line but there is a very clear strategy that income from international cricket or income from the sport does tend to be fickle – you can’t always win, you can’t always be successful – but, if you can have a cash generating business that underpins your sporting activity, then that’s kind of the goal for all of us in sport – to make the business self funding. Unfortunately, few of them are, because, as soon as you make a few quid, you tend to spend it on the talent. With the salary cap in cricket, that is less of a temptation and therefore, hopefully, we are able to build a long term sustainable business.