A three-tier structure and change in ownership model will be introduced to the domestic women’s game from 2025 in a radical shake-up overseen by the England and Wales Cricket Board.
Currently first-class counties host Central Sparks, North West Thunder, Northern Diamonds, South East Stars, Southern Vipers, Sunrisers, The Blaze and Western Storm in a collaborative regional model.
But the 18 first-class counties and MCC have until March 10 to submit bids to own, govern and operate one of these eight hubs, first established in 2020, which will be restructured as a ‘tier one club’.
They will feature in the ECB’s professional 50-over and T20 competitions from next summer, while there will be two lower divisions, with tier two expected to have 10 to 14 teams and tier three 16 to 20.
While there is not yet a consensus on whether the existing hubs will change their names, the ECB hopes aligning the women’s game with the first-class counties or MCC can bring a sense of togetherness.
Beth Barrett-Wild, the ECB’s director of the women’s professional game, said: “There is an element at the moment with how the women’s and men’s professional games are set up, they are slightly separate.
“There is this sense of otherness around women’s teams. We want to make sure we’re really embedding that within the game and that the players in particular have that stability moving forwards.
“The women’s cricket landscape has shifted enormously, which means perhaps there is a recognition that to have a thriving, sustainable, relevant future, that is having the men and women together.”
The existing regional model has been centrally funded by the ECB, ushering in significant progress in the professionalisation of women’s cricket in England and Wales.
It is hoped a switch in ownership model can broaden commercial appeal, but the ECB will continue to provide funding – as they do for the men.
Already committed to investing a minimum of £1.3million annually into each of the eight women’s teams, an extra £4-5m per year will be contributed to the new venture.
There is a recognition tiers two and three will not initially be a professional network and there will be no promotion or relegation in the pyramid during its first four editions from 2025 to 2028.
ECB chief executive Richard Gould said: “All we know is that investing in the women’s game is the single biggest opportunity for cricket, not just in this country but across the world.
“We are not putting the hurry-up on the women’s game at all, so we’re not saying this is an amount of investment and we need to see X amount of return.
“We are in this for the long term and we are hoping that over the next five, 10 or 15 years, we will see a significant uplift in broadcast revenue and ticket sales for the women’s game.
“We want it to be a fully-fledged, sustainable, commercial, professional game. We know that’s going to take a long time because we’re making up for lost ground over many decades.”
Barrett-Wild revealed there had been “really positive conversations across the board” among county chief executives and chairs about the tender submission process.
A panel comprising of members of the ECB board, its ECB executive team and independent experts will oversee the venture and it is anticipated the identities of tier one clubs will be announced in April.
Barrett-Wild added: “I really do believe that there is a lot of passion for this and we will get some brilliant submissions. There will be tough decisions to make in terms of where those teams end up.”