Will ‘The Hundred’ Be An Attractive Proposition For Sponsors

‘Embarrassing and shambolic… a total mess’.

No, not the England Cricket team’s performance against Pakistan in the First Test at Lord’s last month, but former skipper Michael Vaughan’s verdict on the England and Wales Cricket Board’s proposal for a new eight-team city tournament, dubbed ‘The Hundred’. It is fair to say that the announcement of a new 100-ball tournament – designed to appeal to a younger audience and attract new fans to the game – has not been an unqualified success.

Critics aplenty have been queuing up to lambast the move as a marketing gimmick, insufficiently distinct from Tewnty20 at just 20 balls fewer per innings, and a format too far for a sport already struggling to cope with T20, 50-over and Test cricket.

It certainly isn’t the ideal starting point for drumming up sponsor interest. But in that respect cricket has been on a sticky wicket for some time now. The ECB struggled to find a sponsor for Test Cricket, after Investec pulled out of their 10-year, £40m sponsorship deal three years early. Two pre-existing ECB sponsors – NatWest and Specsavers – have filled the void. That doesn’t exactly suggest brands are queuing up at the Grace Gates to be associated with cricket.

England’s abject performances on the pitch haven’t helped matters. Nor has the steady stream of negative headlines surrounding the sport over the last year – be it Ben Stokes charged with affray, Australia admitting ball-tampering, or the recent – strongly denied – allegations of English spot-fixing.

Against that backdrop, and the ECB’s very own chairman opining that ‘the younger generation, whether you like it or not, are just not attracted to cricket’, one might assume that ‘The Hundred’ will struggle to garner sponsor interest. But you would be wrong.

There are a few hurdles to overcome before ‘The Hundred’ is a fully-fledged proposition – consulting the players and PCA, finalising the format, gaining MMC and ICC approval – but many brands will already be eying up the opportunity. The tournament is a fresh, new opportunity, unencumbered by any previous sponsor baggage or legacy to overcome, which always plays well with prospective brands. In its previous incarnation as another T20 competition, it would have sat alongside another domestic T20 competition – the NatWest T20 Blast. Now it has differentiation, innovation, and a USP. For marketers it will be less about associating with a new format, and more about an original brand proposition.

That proposition includes both male and female competitions, and will benefit from the ever-increasing brand interest in women’s sport. It will be interesting to see whether the ECB unbundle the male and female strands for separate sponsors, although that could create marketing and logistical complexity, especially given the proposed double-headers. Perhaps a brand will make a portfolio play, much like Isuzu/Subaru with the Wales Rugby team, who have Isuzu on their home shirt, and Subaru on their away shirt.

Aside from the tournament instrinsics, brands will climb aboard if there is certainty about fan interest, and reaching the valuable family and youth audience that the ECB is purporting to target. Which comes down to the marketing, and broadcast platform. This is where the ECB has some trump cards. They recently signed a monster broadcast deal with the BBC and Sky – reportedly £1.1bn over five years – that includes this new tournament.

Creating a format that starts at either 2.30pm or 6.30pm and lasts only three hours was not just so that families attending could get home for kids’ tea or bedtime. Fitting broadcaster slots was arguably a far more significant consideration. The received wisdom is that cricket interest and participation fell off a cliff the minute cricket moved from Channel 4 and the heady days of our 2005 Ashes win, to hide behind Rupert Murdoch’s paywall on Sky. If you show it on terrestrial TV, they will come. Helpfully, the BBC will show 10 of the 36 games live on terrestrial TV, giving cricket – and its sponsors – much needed reach into bedrooms and living rooms nationwide.

The marketing muscle of Sky and the BBC is in the bag, and will help create the requisite buzz and anticipation. But the ECB have their own marketing chops. The Women’s World Cup in 2017 was a case study in engaging a new audience with the right marketing, and an accessible, family-friendly matchday experience. And ECB execs have made many a trip to the Big Bash in Australia, where there’s a ready-made blueprint on how to engage a family audience in a new competition.

In terms of the cricketing calendar, the build-up to new tournament couldn’t be much better, with a Cricket World Cup on home soil in 2019, marketing to the very same Big Eventer family audience that ‘The Hundred’ will be trying to capture. There should be a pretty handy (GDPR compliant) database from that marketing exercise, and some new cricket fan appetites to feed. Throw in a home Ashes Series in 2019 as well, and it is a pretty good time for those ECB execs to be out selling their wares.

Those sales presentations could well include images of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya and the like. India’s cricket authority, the BCCI, which bans its players from overseas T20 tournaments to protect the primacy of the Indian Premier League, are considering making an exception for the Hundred because it is played over 100 balls, not 120. The inclusion of those superstars and their IPL stardust is a sure-fire way to fuel fan, and sponsor, excitement.

Ultimately, a lot comes down to the price tag at the end of those sales presentations. The ECB’s revenue expectations should be mitigated by the coffers swelling from the £1.1bn broadcast deal. Attracting brands who will help market the tournament and engage the right audience - straight from that Big Bash playbook – should be prioritised over a fat cheque.

So, will there be a ton of brands clamouring to be associated with the new short format tournament? Assuming the ECB play the long game, one hundred percent.

Gareth Southgate

A Strong Start To The FA’s World Cup Gameplan

As England finish off their preparations for their assault on the FIFA World Cup (and their inevitable brave/ abject defeat in the Quarter Finals/ Round of 16/ Group stages), Gareth Southgate and The FA can be pleased with how the last month or so has gone. Yes, a certain player’s choice of tattoo created a bit of a storm and the squad are only a poor performance against Costa Rica away from the mood switching once again, but there is currently a positive – yet balanced – feeling in the air. Starting with Southgate’s squad announcement: not too much controversy regarding the selections there. He always said he would pick based on form and, in the main, Gareth has done exactly that, with the double-barrelled bolters – Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ruben Loftus-Cheek – both worthy of their spots, in my humble opinion. He also clearly has a plan about how he wants the team to play (finally a considered move away from 4-4-2?!?) and has picked the individuals that can play in this system. So far, so good.

I also think The FA’s squad announcement film deserves credit. Whilst clearly not everyone’s cup of tea (and the detractors were very welcome to stick to BBC Sport for the big news, as this really wasn’t for them), The FA’s marketing team should be applauded for taking a risk and branching out from the typical media release and manager press conference, to create something that could really engage with young football fans. In featuring young fans (and, crucially, those from the length and breadth of the country), Wieden + Kennedy’s work suitably represented the fresh, young playing squad who are ‘hungry’ and ready to ‘get to work’.

No big, pressure-building statements about belief or it being our time, just a sense that this group of players are ready to do their very best. And isn’t that all we as fans can really ask from this inexperienced squad? We often talk about the need to own a moment (see our AJ and Kano Under Armour film for more on that) and The FA managed it. I also liked how they used Twitter’s RT mechanism to give fans the chance to see the video first; and it was a lovely build to ask the players to use their own social channels to show that, ultimately, they too are England fans.

And then on Tuesday, Gareth and The FA pulled off a PR masterstroke. Taking inspiration from the Super Bowl media day, The FA opened up St. George’s Park to the media and gave access to all 23 players in the squad at the same time. The FA recognise that the relationship between the media and the national team hasn’t always been the rosiest and it is clearly in their interest to try and keep the press on side over the next six weeks (and beyond)… and initiatives like this can only help. Listening to BBC Radio 5 Live yesterday evening as Chappers and his team interviewed each and every player, you really got a sense of a group of young and hardworking players who are enjoying this open and relaxed environment – and have every intention of enjoying their Russian experience.

Obviously, this is all well and good, but we all know judgement will come when the tournament starts. If Southgate can translate this modest, good-mood feeling into some exciting performances in Russia, then perhaps we the fans, and The FA can bask in a brilliant summer.

Standard Life Investments: BT Sports Industry Team Partnership of the Year

How often do you hear and see award-winning campaigns and wonder what went into the winning entry or what the real results were? Well, for the first time we’re going to lift the bonnet on one of the most successful sponsorships of 2017. For one time only, we will let you into the Magic Circle, but only on a day pass.

This year at the prestigious BT Sports Industry Awards, Standard Life Investments and Synergy won the award for Best Team Partnership for the 2017 British & Irish Lions campaign. The sponsorship was arguably the biggest of last year and with an historic, and frankly, unpredictably successful tour, the partnership profile was high. But, profile alone isn’t enough to win awards – all too often I have dissected the award win of a campaign and put it down to profile or TV coverage – but in this case, it’s not true. The results speak louder than the ad space.

We set out to make Standard Life Investments the most favourable Asset Management company and we needed to increase serious consideration to invest with SLI. Done and done.

Brand awareness was important, this was an ongoing campaign measurement, but unless it translated into hard brand and business value it was useless. Every Lions jersey partner knows the partnership will increase awareness – step into a Lions Tour and it is like seeing a tidal wave of your brand with fans decked head-to-toe with official merch. But, to rely on this as a single metric of success is naïve, or worse, lazy. To turn awareness into action we had to have a campaign that cut-through, reached our audiences at the right time, in the right places and changed attitudes and behaviour.

Here are four core reasons why we hit the jackpot with this campaign:

1. A clear and simple purpose

We had a clear strategy, assisted by a sponsor and team with a connection so natural it wouldn’t have looked out of place in Whole Foods. Only the Lions bring rival rugby nations together to face the most formidable foes, only Standard Life Investments brings together specialists from diverse divisions and asset classes to deliver for our clients.

The partnership between Standard Life Investments and the Lions is one built on foundations of shared values. Both are committed to achieving world-class results through teamwork, dedication, innovation and the relentless pursuit of excellence. This informed the core creative idea One Team. One Standard – a story about the great lengths world-class teams go to achieve world-class performance.

2. Activating a Team without a Team

Navigating access to players is not a new sponsorship challenge, but for 18 months we sponsored a team with no team...and worse still, previous Lions kits featured a competitor. In short, we were starting from scratch. As a result, the campaign had to be focused on the here and now, and crafted to include ambassadors and engage with the pre-tour squad selection hype. SLI outstripped the spontaneous awareness of the previous sponsor before the team even set foot on New Zealand soil, and the business managed to offset the rights fee from incremental media value from the early phases of the campaign.

3. Being ‘Choice-ful’

This was our mantra. Less is more. The Lions presents a truck-load of activation opportunities, not all right for an Asset Management brand – we needed to strike a fine balance between operating like a B2B brand, whilst understanding that our customers are rugby fans as well as investors. Media partnerships were selected based on the ability to activate them and generate incremental media value – Sky Sports and The Telegraph were perfect partners and we worked them hard.

The regulatory restrictions on marketing to our customer base, meant that we had to use content selectively. Saying ‘no’ to the wrong opportunities and ‘yes’ to the appropriate activations led to a highly effective and targeted narrative through all channels. We reached at least 42m people within our highly-targeted global audience using partnerships and superior optimization strategy.

Phase 1 – Establishing the link between SLI and the Lions. Why we share the Jersey? We both achieve world-class performance through teamwork. Setting the Standard.

Phase 2 – What does it take to make the Lions’ Standard? Separating the Great from the Good – showcasing World-Class Potential.

Phase 3 – Preparing for a World-Class performance. Going to extraordinary lengths to deliver world-class performance
Phase 4 – Celebrating World-Class performance. How the squad are displaying the Standard on Tour
4. Teamwork

Sounds cheesy, right? But, there's no way that a campaign of this scale can happen without the unique teamwork that this campaign story was about. SLI had never undertaken a sponsorship of this scale and we worked hand-in-hand to ensure that every contingency and Lions' intricacy was covered. As with the campaign the cross-agency team had a shared commitment to the pursuit of success and excellence drawing from diverse specialisms to deliver a world-class performance…even after a round-the-clock 24-hour stint from New Zealand to UK! The proof is in the pudding: teams that work together, succeed together.