Surrey: County champions have Premier League-sized ambitions

Surrey champions
Surrey won the title in 2018 after winning 10 of their 14 games

Beers at The Oval will continue to be poured right side up, but Surrey are a county eager to match Premier League football for ambition.

The county champions forecast unprecedented money to be made this season, have big plans to expand their historic London home and demonstrate grand ambitions to "go global".

Across the capital they have looked at how Premier League clubs Arsenal and Tottenham prosper, with Surrey chief executive Richard Gould studiously taking notes.

Spurs' £1bn state-of-the-art stadium has wowed since it opened last month. That is, all except for the way their beer is served with a 'bottom up' system.

"That is just weird stuff that we are not going to get involved with," Gould laughed.

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Tottenham Hotspur Stadium: BBC Sport takes a look inside

Beer aside, however, Gould wants Surrey to be sized up to clubs beyond the boundary rope.

"Rather than just look at what is happening in cricket, we want to see ourselves as a global player," he told BBC Sport.

"We try and understand what Arsenal are doing next or Tottenham. We look at Spurs' new ground and it is mind blowing in terms of development they have put in.

"Past are the days when sports administrators would say it's all about the sport, come down and watch and have a cup of Bovril.

"Now it's about the supporter and customer experience. People want to arrive and not queue, get their beer and decent food, meet friends and socialise before and after the game.

"There are lessons to be learned, definitely."

'As big as a Premier League top-10 club'

For the ninth successive year Surrey have reported a pre-tax profit, with the members-owned club making £2.7m on a turnover of £31.7m in the 12 months up to 31 January, 2019.

This year, with The Kia Oval hosting World Cup matches as well as a Ashes Test match, projections are that the club will bring in more than £40m for the first time in its history.

The figures don't compare with Premier League riches because of the billions that top-flight football earns in television broadcast rights, but without it Surrey are as lucrative as clubs in the top half of the competition.

FA Cup-final bound Watford, who are 10th in the top-flight, turned over £128.2m last season, with £108.8m earned from media and broadcasting.

"We are up there with some top-10 Premier League clubs if you take broadcast out, which is £2m for us," said Gould, who previously worked as commercial director of football club Bristol City and is the son of FA Cup-winning Wimbledon manager Bobby Gould.

"It is important for us to understand where we seek to be.

"When you look at the Premier League, there isn't a more ambitious sporting set up possibly anywhere in the world.

"Football clubs have extremely large and loyal supporter bases. In cricket in the past, support has been loyal but the base not so big. In many ways it has been a very well kept secret.

"County Championship clubs sometimes get stick for their brand being old fashioned, but we play in front of sell-out Twenty20 crowds, membership is very strong (nearly 13,000 and up from 7,000 in 2012) and we think there is a lot of strength in these brands. The club has been around since 1845."

'Money without titles is irrelevant'

In the coming 18 months Surrey will invest £50m on building projects, which includes the first phase of a ground expansion to make The Oval Britain's biggest cricket ground with a capacity of 40,000 by 2023.

They will also move into the hotel market with the purchase and redevelopment of the Ovalhouse Theatre beside the stadium.

Already the club's off-field business, Oval Events, brings in almost half of all its revenue.

Research by Sheffield Hallam University into the financial state of the county game showed that Surrey's average income over a three year period was almost twice as much as their nearest rivals.

Even their profits in the past have been bigger than the turnover of some smaller counties.

Their label as cricket's richest county has never been more true.

That tag, however, fitted uncomfortably with the club until they lifted the County Championship title last year, breaking a 16-year drought, and won the women's Kia Super League competition.

"It did grate," Gould said. "People are looking at you saying, 'well, you have all this money but you are not doing anything on the cricket pitch. So what is the point of you?'

"It does get to a point when people question what you are about? Are your values about the corporate business or are they about the club winning matches? We have tried to be about the latter.

"There is no fun being the chief executive of a sports club that makes money that doesn't win cricket matches. I can say, 'look we have made some money'. Yeah so what? If you don't win a cricket matches it's irrelevant."

'Wealth doesn't guarantee success'

Surrey's bottom line was given meaning in emphatic fashion last season with a largely homegrown squad winning the County Championship title under club great, Alec Stewart.

The former England captain, whose father Micky won a number of titles in south London before being emulated by his son decades later, has lived through generations of change at The Oval.

"I've been involved since I was in a pushchair," the director of cricket smiles as he recalls "shabby stands" of a bygone era.

"The ground has changed 100%. Since I first arrived nothing is as it was because everything evolves and the club continues to evolve."

Drastic changes have also been needed along the way, with even the money-making goliath running into financial trouble in 2010.

Twenty staff were made redundant following poor Test-match ticket sales and low T20 competition attendances.

The club's finances then were reliant on money brought in by international fixtures, with the T20 competition - which has already sold 27,000 tickets for this year's event - regarded "an also ran" revenue stream.

"Surrey had some real tough times but at the moment we are enjoying good times and we have earned that right," added Stewart.

Ollie Pope and Alec Stewart
Surrey's Ollie Pope received his first England cap from his county boss Alec Stewart at Lord's last year

"Just because you have wealth doesn't guarantee success on the field but it does give you an an advantage.

"It makes it easier, perhaps, when I ask for something, because more than likely I will get it. But it still has to make a return, because there is no use me knocking on the door of the chief executive asking for something and performances are woeful because then he won't answer the door."

He delivered last season with a long-awaited county crown, but has also helped Surrey, a club that went 13 years without having a new England international called up, produce five of the past nine Test debutants.

And yet, he argues that he has far from "cracked" anything as he tries to continue to push the club to greater on-field glory.

"Our target and my goal here is very much to make sure that we become the best county in the country and that we produce players for England," the 56-year-old said.

"We are starting to do that, but we have to continue. Once you think you have done it and mastered it is the day that people run past you."