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Opinion

ECB’s ‘The Hundred’ is targeting mums & kids – why not me?

Alex Bowden by Alex Bowden
@TheKingsTweets 7 minute read

The Hundred is seemingly geared towards appeasing a very specific group. Is targeting mums and kids really the best way for cricket to reach a new audience?

When it comes to the ECB’s 100-ball competition, we all seem to be paddling in the shallow surf at the edge of a great sea of uncertainty – but if there’s one thing the governing body does seem to be clear on, it’s that the aim is to attract a new audience.

When the idea was first made public, Andrew Strauss told the BBC: “What we’re trying to do is appeal to a new audience, people that aren’t traditional cricket fans, and in particular, looking at mums and kids in the summer holidays.”

Speaking earlier this week, ECB chairman Colin Graves reiterated that point: “In all the work, surveys and research we have done, the younger generation want something different. They want more excitement, they want it shorter and simpler to understand. Those are the things we have learnt for this new competition and that is what we have to make it.”

I don’t know whether the surveys and research tipped them off that this might happen, but the proposed format has been less-than-gleefully received by existing cricket fans.

The ECB doesn’t seem alarmed. If anything, it seems faintly irritated by the reaction and the message to cricket’s established fan base has essentially been “this is how we’re going to attract a new audience and your complaints don’t matter because this competition isn’t for you”.

A new audience is the priority, but it’s worth asking whether this level of targeting – which is seemingly turning off a significant proportion of the sport’s established supporter base – is actually the best way of achieving that.

Let’s backtrack a little and try and remember how we got to the point where a fourth competition is being fed into an obese domestic schedule that was already crammed into a summer two sizes too small for it.

The original idea was to have a big high profile tournament that everyone could see and everyone would talk about. That’s a simple and straightforward concept and if you think about how you came to love cricket in the first place, you can probably see how such a thing would benefit the sport.

Everyone takes their own route, but there are common themes in how people arrive at cricket. Typically, the sport wears you down and the more you’re exposed to it, the greater the likelihood that this will happen.

Colin Graves on 100-ball format

Colin Graves says we need the 100-ball format because young people are ‘not attracted to cricket’.

You don’t need to dig too deeply to discover that the majority of “I just saw this one unbelievable moment and was hooked for life” stories are usually preceded by years of reluctant viewing or listening and probably a great deal of initially ineffective groundwork by a parent or teacher or friend.

Getting cricket onto free-to-air TV is just one part of the puzzle because it’s not enough to simply catch a glimpse of the action. Potential new fans also need to be immersed in an environment where people talk about the sport and enthuse about it.

Existing fans are important because these are the people who lead the conversation. They are the campaigning zealots who convert people to cricket.

One big high-profile tournament for all was the aim – but consider the reaction to the 100-ball plans and ask yourself whether this is a tournament that existing cricket fans are likely to be enthusing about.

No, it isn’t – in large part because it’s not aimed at them.

What we’ve seemingly ended up with is a micro-targeted competition geared primarily towards only a very specific group. Rather than aiming to have every cricket fan talking about one big thing, we’re moving towards a scenario where four discrete groups of domestic cricket fans talk about four different tournaments in four different formats. The idea that these people might actually communicate with one another and share a communal interest seems to have been lost somewhere along the way.

One of the main ways people get into cricket is through being around friends and family members who are already invested in the sport. These people expose you to it and infect you with their zeal and enthusiasm. When it comes to this latest tournament, cricket’s greatest evangelists – the most powerful and effective marketing tool the sport has at its disposal – are being almost entirely unvalued.

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