Simon Storey - Derbyshire County Cricket Club's Chief Executive
PUBLISHED: 14:47 26 August 2014 | UPDATED: 14:47 26 August 2014
Nigel Powlson meets Simon Storey at the 3aaa County Ground
It’s 11th June and the 3aaa County Ground is bathed in summer sunshine and looking splendid from the vantage point of Simon Storey’s office.
But Derbyshire County Cricket Club’s chief executive is more interested in what’s happening at Grace Road, where the first team is still looking for its first win of the season in any format of the game. Fortunately it is going well, at last.
We are two months into the 2014 cricket season and it’s not gone completely to plan on the pitch just yet, although off it the club has remained very much on target, with Simon talking enthusiastically about ambitious plans to develop the ground and move Derbyshire up a level.
The 44-year-old joined the club in May 2012 and admits it has been ‘incredibly challenging’ – mainly because the cub has set ‘such ambitious goals’.
It’s only a few years ago that TV commentator Mark Nicholas took a sideswipe at Derbyshire saying the club ‘existed for no obviously justifiable reason’.
That hurt everyone at the County Ground and still provides motivation as Simon sets out to prove the pundit wrong.
He says: ‘The reputation of Derbyshire as a county cricket club needed to be strengthened. We didn’t want Derbyshire to be in that bracket. But it wasn’t a surprise that we were seen as perennial underachievers as the playing budget was the smallest of all 18 first class counties.
‘So we knew we had to grow our off the field revenue, become less reliant on ECB subsidies and become a sustainable county cricket club that could compete. We say “proud to be Derbyshire” and part of that means we have to be competitive.
‘A cricket club has to be run like a business even though it’s a special organisation. So we had to find new revenue streams. That’s what will create a sustainable playing budget at a higher level and ground development is an important part of that. It will improve customer experience and make people want to come back again and again. That experience might be for the players, the media, our members or general spectators. Or it could be corporate sponsors who want to entertain in pristine facilities.’
There has been talk about the club moving, possibly to a site in South Derbyshire but Simon says that for the foreseeable future the County Ground remains the preferred location.
‘We have invested so much money here it would need to be a special alternative for us to move but we have seriously considered it as we were struggling to find a sustainable way of growing revenues here. But following advice from the ECB that we could receive grant help of more than £3m in the next five years, we now have the funding to develop the ground to create that excellent customer experience. We don’t hold the freehold of the ground so we couldn’t raise the cash from the banks.
‘Now I know we will be able to deliver a first class cricket ground with community facilities to stage concerts and events. We will be able to do that here within five years and without taking on any borrowing.’
The club’s landlord, Derby City Council, is ‘extremely supportive’ of the club remaining in Derby. Simon says: ‘We are exploring opportunities to secure incremental aid from the various regeneration funds that are available. Because we will employ more staff and attract more people which will be important to the visitor economy. We have 50,000 people coming here now each year for a variety of events. That’s a huge economic benefit to the city.
‘If we can unlock additional funding we can make the developments more attractive to visitors, which will improve the cricket through the extra revenue which will ultimately make it a more sustainable club with a stronger role to play in the community.’
So what changes are we likely to see at the ground?
Simon says: ‘We want to create the model non-Test Match venue for cricket in the UK. We need to be on a par with a ground like Somerset’s. We are looking for a capacity for 7,000 (it’s currently 5,000). We aren’t looking for a Test Match venue to compete with Trent Bridge as the East Midlands is already well served and some grounds are struggling as England games are in short supply.
‘What we want to deliver is a great experience to everyone who comes to the ground and to open up revenue opportunities 365 days a year.’
In physical terms that means the Gateway Centre will become the centre of excellence for cricket in Derbyshire, with the players moving there from the Lund Pavilion.
‘It will be where all cricket operations for the county of Derbyshire take place,’ says Simon. ‘That means we can do a complete refurbishment of the Lund Pavilion to become a 21st century facility with a bar, restaurant and conference rooms on the top floor. On the ground floor we will develop a meeting and events centre. There’s a huge opportunity to become a premier business centre for Derby as we are blessed with so many things they look for.’
A lot of money generated through the ECB is via media partners, with Sky Sports investing heavily in cricket. So phase two of the development will see a new media centre at the city end of the ground which will also include executive boxes.
The ground was typically full for the home T20 clash with Notts earlier this season but at other times it is quieter than Simon would like.
He says: ‘When you break down the factors of why people attend a cricket match there’s no one magic silver bullet. But there are a number of levers we can pull.’
One of the biggest is outside of Simon’s control.
‘When the sun shines there is nothing better than an evening watching cricket,’ he says. ‘But we can’t legislate for the weather. What we can do is things like when a whole T20 game was lost to rain and we provided a band and other entertainment so people didn’t have to leave the ground.
‘We are competing with Friday nights down at the pub, the kids playing on their X Box. It’s the same pound in the pocket that funds a child’s trip to Alton Towers or the parents having a meal out. So it’s a real privilege for us when they choose to spend that money on cricket. What we must do is give them an experience on a par with any other night out – good quality food, facilities, signage and service.
‘One of the most important things is to become successful. In sport there is a significant number of people who will follow a team which is competitive. We know by increasing the playing budget we can and will become more successful.’
The appointment of Graeme Welch as Elite Performance Director is part of that push forward as well as introducing a new culture designed to create more success.
Simon says: ‘In the close season we will strengthen not only our young talent but will augment the squad with proven match winners.’
That’s perhaps an acknowledgment that young, promising players can’t do it all alone.
Simon admits: ‘We have certainly recognised that young players will develop more quickly and to a higher standard when the role models in the dressing room are exceptional. The strategy remains the same – that we have Derbyshire players making strong contributions to Derbyshire cricket – but where necessary we will augment that with established players.’
Simon takes a pause to check the scores and the news from Leicestershire is very promising. Derbyshire are chasing down a modest total with apparent ease.
He says: ‘What people don’t often know is that in cricket there is a salary cap. It’s not like Premier League football. That cap is at £2m and historically we were under £1m. We have put £250,000 on the coaching and playing budget since I joined and our intention is to increase that still further. So unlike football, cricket has stayed true to the reality of today’s economy and success is achievable.’
At Grace Road, Derbyshire have won by nine wickets, securing their first victory of the season and moving off the bottom of the county championship table.
It seems the club is now moving up both on and off the pitch.
Putting Derbyshire First
Simon Storey’s successful business career had taken him to Switzerland before he gave up on a multinational giant to join Derbyshire, bringing his wife and three sons back to the UK.
He says: ‘My background is quite broad. I started out in sales in a financial services organisation and went through to Johnson & Johnson, a global pharmaceutical company, that resulted in me spending eight years in Switzerland. I got to the stage when it was time for a change and Derbyshire ticked every box.
‘I wanted to have a broader impact on an organisation. Johnson & Johnson has 150,000 employees and is focused very much on shareholder value. Derbyshire needs to be run like a business and we want to deliver value but we have a huge and exciting community remit as we represent a county of a million people, the majority of whom have a strong feeling for Derbyshire.’
A love of the game also helped persuade Simon to make the switch.
‘My father was captain of his local second XI and I was taken to cricket practice at the age of five. So I have always played and followed cricket, although that became less easy when I was out in Switzerland. But I have introduced my kids to cricket in the same way as my father did. We were playing cricket in the back garden in Zurich.
‘I love the team aspect of the game but also the fact that you have to go out there and do your job individually and I like the social side of the game. I’m also naturally competitive. So the opportunity to become involved in the game in a professional capacity was too good to turn down.
‘I also think Derbyshire is a special county as the idea of cricket has transcended all notions of class. In the north east of the county, cricket clubs were driven by the collieries whereas in the south if you go to Repton School it has a history of turning out fine Derbyshire cricketers. The challenge going forward is to make sure that grass roots cricket through the clubs maintains its accessibility – across the county and in the city where there are lots of opportunities to increase participation especially amongst the British Asian community.
‘In the last two years we have experienced the highs of promotion, the lows of relegation but we are always learning. So I have no regrets and as I look forward I’m hugely optimistic.’
There has been a new look to county cricket this year with T20 games spaced across Friday nights and a new 50 over competition, The Royal London Cup, taking place at the end of the summer.
Simon says: ‘While for the purists and the players the LV County Championship is the blue riband event, the harsh reality is that the T20 brings in the crowds and revenue. The ECB has listened to that and has given T20 the best chance of success. It gives us the best opportunity to provide good cricket and get more people in.
‘There is still a discussion to be had as to whether it should take place later in the year. We started in May and I would like that to be a little later, but spreading it out is the right thing to do and Friday nights seem sensible.’
The Royal London Cup starts with a home game against Hampshire on 26th July.
Simon says: ‘It fits in with international one day matches which are over 50 overs but I think the format itself is still answering questions of how it fits into the international calendar. But there’s a great cricket base in one day games. There’s a fascinating ebb and flow in that format. I think playing them all from the end of July through August gives us the chance to talk about a festival of cricket and a summer of one days. If we were to move T20 there next year it would be interesting to see how one day would adapt to allow that to happen.’
Another festival of cricket Simon is fully behind is the annual move north to Chesterfield.
He says: ‘It’s one of the highlights of the season. It’s a beautiful ground at Queen’s Park and it’s an important part of Derbyshire cricket. We represent the whole county so the opportunity to take games to Chesterfield is important. Every year it gets more difficult in terms of the resources needed as we are trying to create a safe and secure stadium environment in a public park and that costs a significant amount of money. But we receive support from sponsors and Chesterfield Borough Council and the more we can make it an event for the whole community and generate excitement about cricket coming to town the more likely is that we will continue to include it on our calendar.’
Derbyshire v Worcestershire
LV= County Championship
Sunday 31 August to Wednesday 3 September – 11am
Derbyshire v Leicestershire
LV= County Championship
Tuesday 23 to Friday 26 September – 11am
To buy tickets, please call the Ticket Hotline on 0871 350 1870 or buy tickets online at www.derbyshireccc.com.