Forget about strawberries and Pimm’s at Wimbledon or tedious football transfer speculation, this summer the sports scene is all about cricket – in the words of Sky Sports, ‘This can only be an Ashes summer.’
Starting this week (8 July), the five-match Ashes series between England and Australia means the spotlight will be on Test cricket – the traditional long form of the game which takes five days to play and can easily end in a draw. Coverage will shift away from the shorter Twenty20 format, which dominated sports pages last month when England hosted the ICC World Twenty20 Championships.
The Twenty20 game emerged seven years ago. With both teams limited to just 20 overs each to bat, matches can take just a couple of hours to complete, and frequently feature furious and exciting run chases. Twenty20 reached its apotheosis last year, with the launch of the wildly successful – and hugely commercial – Indian Premier League. The format perfectly plays to many spectators’ desire for instant gratification and consumption, bringing the values – and value – of the long-format game into question.
‘Twenty overs cricket is attracting a new, wider and more evenly gender-split audience,’ says sports marketing and management consultant Tim Wright of TW Sports. ‘With the younger demographic, the branding is more vibrant, modern and dynamic than was the case with the classical imagery of Test cricket.’
As the 20-over game develops across the world, branding and good design is vital to take advantage of growing markets, says Wright. As chief executive of the IPL’s Deccan Chargers team this year, Wright appointed consultancy Navyblue to build on the strong elements of the original Deccan Chargers brand and create imagery that would ultimately convey a world sports franchise. Navyblue reworked the Chargers’ charging bull emblem and developed the brand around key words, such as dynamism, aggression, strength and resilience. It was important to be poised to take best advantage of the growth in licensing and merchandising, says Wright.
Where the charging bull, or the names and emblems of UK Twenty20 teams, such as the Sussex County Cricket Club’s Sharks, clearly speak of high energy and entertainment, images conjured by Test cricket or domestic first-class cricket are often of elitist club members, stiff upper lip restraint and dull statistics.
The Test brand is certainly more complex and layered, having evolved over almost 150 years, and, according to Chris Lightfoot, chief executive of sports-focused branding consultancy Whitestone International, it has a much longer narrative. ‘Test cricket is seen as the pinnacle of the game, a true Test of mental strength, strategy, technique and stamina,’ he says.
Whitestone has been working with the England and Wales Cricket Board for more than six years, formalising the organisation’s brand, its identity and implementation, as well as the different competitions under its remit.
During the nail-biting 2005 Ashes series, played in and won by England, the ECB’s first concerted marketing campaign helped Test cricket cement its place as the UK’s top summer sport (see box).
Of course, popularity was mainly thanks to the success of England captain Michael Vaughan and his team, but the marketing, through initiatives such as the large-scale viewing screens of Cricket in the Park, played a great part.
‘Our key message was it was England’s big summer. It was bold, and we changed the tonality very much towards the mass market, away from the perceived
“MCC member”-type,’ says Lightfoot. ‘It was about getting support behind the team and getting people involved.’
That approach continues this year, with messages about fervently fought battles and the gladiatorial contest between England and Australia. But underpinning that narrative is the unshakable ethos of cricket, stresses Lightfoot.
‘You have to come at [the marketing] from a whole series of directions,’ he says. ‘We’ve established a clear brand understanding, which is that Test cricket is the pinnacle of the game, deeply involving and socially engaging. [The marketing approach] is about using every avenue and media channel to build these stories. You don’t come out with a single statement.’
According to the ECB, it doesn’t need to be a question of either/or when it comes to cricket formats. This season, the organisation is encouraging all forms under the Great Exhibition campaign, which highlights the headline acts of the Ashes and the Twenty20 World Cup, as well as other formats at county and grassroots level – such as 50-over one-day cricket.
‘Because there’s so much cricket, distinguishing too much between them can be counter-productive,’ says Tom Johnson, event brand manager at ECB. ‘Rather than looking at brand development on a format basis, we do it more on a series level. It’s country versus country, series by series, rather than Test match versus Twenty20.’
Players and administrators are determined that Test cricket, with its traditional rivalries, must survive, but, ultimately, market forces will decide whether Test cricket will have to cede its primacy to Twenty20. Wright adds, ‘And the world of design has a role to play in maintaining the consumer relevance.’
The 2005 Ashes series:
- Channel 4’s audience share hit an all-time high of 23% on the final day of the series – its normal average share is around 8%
- ECB research showed female audiences rose from 26% to 39%
- ECB membership increased by 200%
- Percentage of the population able to recognise three or more England players rose to 43%, beating ECB’s target of 10% by 2009
- Following their victory over Australia, England’s team was recognised with an open-top bus parade through London, and each player received an MBE
- The Royal Mail issued a set of commemorative stamps costing 68p each – the cost of sending first-class mail to Australia