A lifetime at the crease

The MCC is putting a spin on its membership schemes in a bid to raise the readies to replace the Grand Stand. Liam Robb reports
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The Independent Online
The Lord's Ground in North London, home of the Marylebone Cricket Club, needs to find pounds 13m to finance the replacement of its crumbling Grand Stand. No great challenge, you might imagine, for what is, after all, the most famous cricket ground in the world. The truth, however, is that Old Father Time is feeling just a little bit brassic.

While annual gate receipts from international matches usually approach the pounds 5m mark, the bulk of this has to be paid directly to the Test and Country Cricket Board (TCCB). And although the club earns income from other sources, such as catering profits from the Lord's shop and broadcasting rights, there is still likely to be a major shortfall.

The boffins at the MCC have therefore come up with a cunning plan. To wit, in return for some hefty cheques, the club is about to start offering life memberships to every current member. And here's the rub: the price is based on when members are expected to pack up their pads for the last time and retire to that great pavilion in the sky.

Although life membership will not confer any rights or privileges in addition to those enjoyed by other categories of full membership, nonetheless the MCC proudly announces that the words "life member" will be emblazoned in gold on the front cover of the new passes. This will undoubtedly impress the boys down at the Carlton Club, but will the new memberships offer value for money?

Let's start with the price for the youngest members - those born in 1957 or later. The oldest in this band will be aged 39, and the cost of life membership for these cricketing spring chickens comes in at pounds 4,000. With annual membership rates set to increase by more than 8 per cent next year to pounds 166 per annum, it would cost these members pounds 4,316 until the age of 65, when the annual fee is reduced by roughly a third. Presuming they live for another 10 years, another pounds l,000 or so can be added.

For the older members - those born in 1936 or earlier and who are knocking on retirement's door, the fee is reduced to pounds 1,750. At current rates, annual membership would cost pounds 830 until the age of 65 and, again, roughly another pounds l,000 until 75. For those born between 1947 and 1956 the price is pounds 3,500, dropping to pounds 2,500 for those born between 1937 and 1946.

In reality, these presumed annual membership fees - based on next year's published prices - are likely to increase each year; the membership is a captive market and annual fees have historically risen faster than the Retail Price Index. We can, therefore, dispense with the trouble of formulating a discounted cash flow model in order to decide whether it is worth forking out a lump sum now or continuing to pay on an annual basis.

Quite simply, for all but the very oldest members (who may feel it prudent to nip down to Harley Street for a thorough check-up before parting with their money) taking up the life membership option would appear to make sound financial sense.

However, although an overwhelming 93 per cent of members sanctioned the method for raising the extra money, the scheme is not without its controversy. In addition to the life memberships already described, permission has been obtained to elect 250 new life members from the waiting list, those who have yet to be allowed to join the elect.

Those on the list - which numbers an astonishing 9,500 and equates to a 20-year wait for those at the bottom - will be approached in the order in which their names appear in the club's candidates book. Should they decided to take up the offer, it will set them back pounds 10,000 apiece.

Because these are additional memberships, Colin Maynard, manager of the MCC office, is eager to stress that those at the top of the list will not get elected to membership any slower than they would have done. "The committee was quite insistent that those without pounds 10,000 were not put at a disadvantage," he proclaims.

There will doubtless be more than a few crusty old colonels bemoaning the queue-jumpers. Before they do, Mr Maynard wishes to remind them that this is not the first time the MCC has administered such a scheme.

A similar system was used in 1864 when the election of 26 life members raised pounds 780 to buy the original lease of the ground from one Mr Dark. In 1899, 200 of those on the waiting list stumped up pounds 200 each with the money being used to finance the building of the Mound Stand and Clock Tower. And in 1924 the system was again used to raise money to build the same Grand Stand which is now set to be demolished.

The most recent scheme was in 1928, when the price for queue-jumping was still a meagre pounds 200 and pounds 40,000 was raised, allowing the club to buy various houses in Grove End Road and Elm Tree Road so that the then occupants would not have to suffer the inconvenience of having a well-struck cricket ball disturb their afternoon tea. Of the 200 who took up the offer, 22 - more than 10 per cent - are still alive. "For pounds 200 apiece they have had exceptional value for money," says Mr Maynard.

The new pounds 10,000 figure has been arrived at using exactly the same formula applied in previous schemes: 66 times the annual subscription, rounded up or down. "We don't yet know - and we will be interested to find out - how far down the list we will have to go before 250 take up the offer," says Mr Maynard. "Although we will, of course, be approaching those at the top of the list first, I would be surprised if too many took advantage of the scheme - since they will be elected to membership relatively soon anyway."

The offer is open until 31 December. For those further down the list and with pounds 10,000 to spare, it may be time to start crossing your fingers. That famous red and yellow tie could be yours sooner than you might have hoped.

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