Tom Ainscough, Associate Director
The UK lockdown bit hard in January. A typically melancholic month made all the more oppressive given our confined circumstances. For the cricket fans amongst us, though, the glut of Test matches occurring across the world during the month provided a glimmer of light.
New Zealand secured their berth in the inaugural World Test Championship Final, Joe Root amassed runs effortlessly in Galle, and India conquered Australia at its very own fortress, The Gabba. There was much to enjoy elsewhere, too. Pakistan downed South Africa in a rare home series, and a depleted West Indies XI pulled off a breath-taking win in Bangladesh, courtesy of Kyle Mayers’ unbeaten 210.
That seems a far cry from a year ago, when players were taking pay cuts and headlines focussed on a dire loss of revenue within the game. Now, there is much to feel positive about – more so given the recent announcement on the potential return of fans to stadia in June. Cricket in England and Wales has not just survived the pandemic; it is arguably returning stronger than ever before.
All this stems in no small part from the ECB’s industry-leading execution of the bio-secure bubbles last summer, which saw the West Indies, Pakistan, Ireland, and Australia arrive in the UK for summer tours. The West Indies were the first international team to travel during the pandemic, and whilst COVID-19 cases were still being reported in the UK, no positive cases were returned from the ECB’s multiple bubbles.
Having spent a month in one with the West Indian team myself, capturing content for both their hygiene partner Lifebuoy and Cricket West Indies, it was clear to see the incredible work that went on behind the scenes by the ECB and our CSM Live colleagues allowing live cricket to return safely. The template has since been replicated all around the world. Significantly, it enabled the ECB to fulfil broadcaster entitlements, as well as their commercial partner obligations.
Across the summer, that enabled the UK’s 15.1M cricket followers to enjoy live action not just through long-standing broadcast partner Sky Sports, but also its terrestrial partner BBC Sport. ECB research showed that more than six million people who tuned in to the two IT20 fixtures on BBC One last summer had not watched any live England Cricket on Sky Sports in the preceding three years.
Whilst the reach has increased, so too has the diversity of the audience. Compared to England’s 2017 Test Match Series against West Indies, a further 2.2M female viewers watched the 2020 instalment.
All of which bodes well for the belated arrival of The Hundred in the summer, with fixtures from the new competition to be broadcast across the BBC in July and August. That new tournament will be headlined by a standalone women’s fixture at The Oval. After 12 months in which women’s sport has often been side-lined, such an innovative step is an encouraging illustration of the ongoing commitment being made to the women’s game in the UK.
In Britain, women’s sport typically makes up just 4-10% of the nation’s sport column inches. Yet, news of this history-making tournament opener was carried in 90% of all print, broadcast, regional and online coverage relating to The Hundred on the day of its player draft – including Good Morning Britain and BBC Radio 1. In other words, Fran Wilson and Mignon Du Preez were the story of the day, rather than David Warner or Andre Russell. That novel approach will have gone some way to ensuring the tournament is on the radar of the 5m new fans the ECB is looking to bring into its ecosystem during the competition.
Evidently, the appetite for commercial partnerships remains strong. Cinch will adorn the England Teams’ shirts from May onwards, LV= has returned as title partner of England’s domestic Test Series and of the County Championship while Lifebuoy, Sure, KP Snacks, Vitality and Cazoo have all partnered with The Hundred. Here at CSM, we are certainly looking forward to making our cricket brand clients’ partnerships work hard this summer, whilst bringing fun, new, innovative fan-first concepts to market.
With the men’s team competing in nine Test Matches against India, before a T20 World Cup and The Ashes, and the women’s team also hosting India, with one eye on next year’s World Cup in New Zealand, the sport is riding the crest of a wave. After all, how many governing bodies can claim to be World Champions in both their men’s and women’s teams?
For more information on CSM’s work in cricket, please contact Tom Wylie: firstname.lastname@example.org