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15th May 2010

David Harker gives an insight into the Emirates partnership

What does this deal mean for the club on the pitch – can we expect new signings, continued domestic dominance?

This deal just helps to reinforce our general commercial activity. It isn’t tied to any specific recruitment or indeed any specific development around the ground but rather adds to the club’s ongoing commercial revenues.  We are always looking to be competitive – if we need to recruit players to do so, then that’s something that we will seek to do.  The fact is that we are pretty close to the top of our salary cap in any case and our preference has always been to develop young people, so there isn’t a pressing need to recruit right now.

Emirates have already helped with the last pre-season tour to Abu Dhabi – are we going to see more overseas commitments for Durham CCC?

It is certainly something that we are looking at. Look at the assets that we have in terms of cricket knowledge and cricket development ability; whether or not we could exploit those assets overseas, be it the Middle East or India or any other territory for that matter, is something we’re exploring. The world of cricket has changed dramatically in the last twenty years and it is now genuinely a global game.  There are opportunities for progressive clubs to get out there and to raise their brand awareness, and be involved in the development of the game overseas. So, yes, it is something I would like to see. That isn’t a condition of this sponsorship but certainly the relationship with Emirates will help with that.

Are there any visual changes at the stadium that supporters can expect to see as a result of this deal?

I think we will see more Emirates branding around the ground but that will be all.

Off the pitch, Durham has big ambitions in terms of stadium development and in other areas. Is this going to help that and in what ways?

I think it goes beyond the financial input. I think one of the things we still perhaps struggle with is awareness – even in the North East there are still plenty of people who have never been to this ground and don’t know exactly where it is. So within our own region there is a lot to do in terms of promoting the club and what it does, which of course is more than just the cricket we play on the field in the summer.

We have a very active charitable foundation, we host a whole range of meetings, events and conferences here throughout the year and we have the occasional concerts.  I think the involvement with a brand that is as well known and respected around the world as Emirates is, can only do us good.

Emirates’ connection with the region is primarily through Newcastle International Airport – what do they hope to achieve in the region through this sponsorship?

I think what Emirates have is a commitment to those places they fly to and from and they were very keen to reinforce their presence at the airport by becoming involved in the local community.  I think they looked around the North East to see where they could be supportive and where they would gain benefit through a strong partnership.  I’m delighted that they decided that the county cricket club was an organisation they wanted to work with and support.

What can you reveal to us about the actual nuts and bolts of the deal? How much is it worth over what period?

Over what period is fairly straightforward – it is six years. And, in cricket sponsorship terms, the cash value is significant.  Beyond that, these matters are always commercially sensitive and we won’t be divulging any more details. But it is clearly a very good deal, especially in the current climate, and particularly for a cricket organisation. So we’re very, very pleased with it.

As part of the deal, Emirates has stadium naming rights and you’ve got an interesting way of delivering that.  Can you explain?

Yes, I think we’re in a fortunate position with our home ground, which is strictly called the County Ground, Riverside, although it is commonly referred to as just Riverside.  We have created an opportunity to both raise awareness of the stadium and the club, but also to give our supporters an opportunity to be involved in that naming process.  We didn’t want to force a name upon the home – there was no desire to do that – and our approach is to let the supporters have a say in what they think the name ought to be. 

So, in partnership with Emirates, we’re running a great competition on this website.  We’re asking the public to come up with suggestions for the stadium name and one lucky person will win a phenomenal prize – two Emirates flights to Australia (and back!) along with a pair of tickets for every day of the first Ashes Test later this year, in Brisbane from 25th to 29th November.  The competition might flush out some interesting and innovative names, or of course it might be that there is an overwhelming favourite that we choose.

I don’t think that this ground has that emotional tradition of St James’ Park or another stadium that has been around for a hundred years or more, but we’re respectful of the fact it is Durham CCC’s home and the club has been here since 1995.  We’d like those people who come and support and take an interest to have the opportunity to help create the name.

What plans have you got to establish cricket more in the hearts and minds of the people of the North East?

I think it would be fair to say we live in the shadow of football clubs to a certain extent.  Quite clearly we are not football and we do not wish to compete with those clubs on their terms. Cricket is a very special game because of the nature of it and the spirit of it.  I think we’re fortunate that we now have different and distinct forms of the game which appeal to a wide range of people. 

With the advent of twenty20 we have a game which is played over three hours and is every bit as exciting – I would say even more so – than football, or any other sport you care to mention. It’s very straightforward, very accessible, very popular with young people of both sexes, and I think that’s an audience we’d like to develop.  I’m not saying I would necessarily want to attract a football audience as such, but a family audience that is looking for new sporting entertainment. We have that, which sits very well, in my view, alongside the traditional, well established forms of the game.

How do you think your existing membership will embrace an influx of new supporters and fans?

Well, I hope they will recognise that new people coming to cricket, in whatever form, has to be good for the game generally and for this club in particular.  We’re not in a position to be, and nor would we want to be, an exclusive club, as we can’t be sustained as a business on that level.  Cricket is still the nation’s summer sport and it’s the second most popular sport in the world.  Durham CCC represents the centre of excellence for cricket in the whole of the North East and therefore encouraging participation in, and support of, the sport is very much a part of what we do.

How has the way that the Durham CCC business is structured helped the process of securing the Emirates sponsorship?

We’re probably one of only two limited companies in cricket and I think it’s helpful as the structure allows us to do commercial deals in ways that the business community understands.  It’s very difficult for large commercial enterprises to engage with members’ clubs where they need to negotiate through a whole series of committees – it’s just not what they’re used to.  So I think the way that we operate here, with a high quality board of professionals, is of significant assistance when negotiating sponsorship deals such as this one with Emirates.

Do you think that the fact that this ground will host an Ashes Test in 2013 was a key selling point that attracted Emirates?

I’m sure that was helpful, but the extent to which it was a deal maker or breaker, I really couldn’t say. Clearly the more high profile events we have here, the greater the exposure of the ground there will be, which in turn will provide greater exposure of the Emirates brand and that’s something that’s important.  Actually, I think the key driver for Emirates was the desire to be involved in the North East community in some way and we offered them that opportunity.

Emirates has got quite an impressive portfolio of sports sponsorships around the world – do you think you’ll be able to forge links with some of those other clubs, events and organisations?

I certainly think we’ll do that as part of our learning process on the back of this.  Durham CCC is still a relatively new organisation trying to compete ambitiously in an ever changing, increasingly global sport, so a relationship with a company like Emirates can only do us good in raising the bar in terms of how we operate.

If we can tap in to expertise either at Emirates or through their other partners, in cricket or other sports, that’s something we would like to take advantage of.  It’s part of, if you like, the added value from our point of view.  Clearly, if we can demonstrate that we can work effectively with a successful brand like Emirates, then we can pretty much work with any of the major blue chip companies around the world.

Does this deal give Durham more ‘clout’ on the domestic cricket scene?

I don’t think the deal in itself will give us more clout but I think it reinforces the message that we’re an ambitious club and that we aren’t finished yet.  We’ve never been involved in this game to make up numbers.  We want to align ourselves with successful and impressive organisations and the fact that we’ve been able to do this deal with Emirates reinforces that.

The stadium development plans have been talked about regularly in the last few years – is everything on track?

Yes, in terms of the timetable we’re working to. Quite clearly we need to raise funds to develop the stadium; it’s something that occupies most of our time at the moment, particularly in difficult markets. We’re working hard at it and I’m sure that ultimately we will be successful. The Durham CCC ‘project’ has come a long way, but we still have much to and there will be plenty of challenges that we have to overcome over the next few years. Securing Emirates as main club sponsor is a significant achievement and we’re delighted to be working with such a great organisation, but it represents just one of many milestones that we have to reach as a business and as a cricket club.