WITH EXACTLY HALF of England’s last 46 Test matches taking place against Australia or India, cricket could appear to be an insular sport to those looking in from the outside.
However, a new partnership between governing body the International Cricket Council (ICC) and marketing specialists CSM Sport & Entertainment aims to challenge that perception.
Beyond the 10 full members of the ICC – those registered to play five-day Test matches – are 95 associates and affiliates.
In 2016 these developing cricket countries – from Ireland to Swaziland – shared $26.5m (€25m) in funding from the ICC via a scorecard system that prioritises those with good results on the pitch and robust governance.
However, cricket’s governing body is keen to help its developing members create their own income streams, which is where CSM comes in.
Led by its Dubai-based regional director, Mike Davis, CSM will create a practical commercial and marketing guide – known as a ‘playbook’ – for the ICC to share with its associate and affiliate members. The firm will then offer tailored consultancy visits to countries who match ICC funding to pay for them.
Davis says the project aims to give developing cricket countries tools they can apply to their markets to raise commercial revenue.
“Some of these nations are resourced fairly lightly and their understanding of how to structure commercial opportunities is limited,” he explains.
Associate and affiliate nations might be forgiven for looking at the success of Twenty20 tournaments in other parts of the globe and hoping CSM will help them cash in on the phenomenon.
The Indian Premier League had Vivo Smartphone as its title sponsor in 2016 and Sony Max and Sony Six as official broadcasters, while Australia’s KFC-branded Big Bash will be shown on Network 10.
However, Davis says there is no easy route to commercial success for developing cricket countries. “I think innovation is important, but you need to get your base right,” he warns.
“We have put together an 11-point manifesto in the playbook that members need to buy into to succeed in this process. One point is that you can’t cut corners in developing a commercial strategy.
“You need to be considered and commit to the process. There are examples of short-term success, but if you don’t have the pillars in place, it makes it difficult to have sustained success.”
The playbook – described by Davis as a layman’s guide to development of a commercial strategy – is split into five phases.
First up for affiliate and associate members looking to grow their commercial revenue is not to enquire about batting superstar Kevin Pietersen’s availability; it is to define their visions and objectives.
“These need to be aligned to the business plan, so we need to understand how a federation is structured,” says Davis.
Once these parameters have been set out, the second phase is product development. This is a critical programme of work, which includes understanding exactly what members’ national teams and domestic leagues are doing and when, as well as – critically – brand positioning.
Fans will be used to hearing international cricketers talking about their side’s attacking brand of cricket, usually before they get bowled out cheaply, but Davis wisely returns the term ‘brand’ to the business world it was borrowed from.
“What is the governing body’s brand positioning?” he asks. “We have some tools that each member nation can follow to produce a very clear story. You need a clear and consistent narrative.
“We have been on this process with a number of entities, including World Rugby on the Sevens Series, and it helps everyone to be on the same page.”
Only in the third phase of the playbook process do the nations get to outline their commercial concept – effectively what kind of broadcast platform they want and how they should structure sponsorship opportunities.
“All too often rights-holders jump the gun and try to get to this part first,” says Davis, who believes the time spent defining the objectives, vision, product and brand narrative will pay dividends when it comes to setting out what a governing body wants to achieve commercially.
“Broadcast is an important component of building the profile and delivering value back to commercial partners. This is not just TV deals; in some of these countries it is about creating a platform through media partnerships, over-the top platforms or other ways or means. It might be live streaming or social media. You need something to tell your story, because without that you can’t build a following.”
To attract the right sponsorship deals, members need to identify and value their commercial assets.
“We have templates that outline what assets you might have – from the national team’s shirt to the development programme, to a venue you own,” he points out. “Then it’s about finding the premium commercial structure for your organisation.”
The fourth phase is about creating a marketing plan. Davis says governing bodies should ask at this point: “What stories are we needing to tell, to which audiences, using which communications channels? Would it be our website, our social channels, traditional PR, our partner channels or advertising? Online or offline?”
Finally, the affiliate and associate members will be urged to look at a delivery plan to ensure they keep their promises while making a profit to reinvest in the game.
“Success for us is if a member takes on board what they learn from the process and sees enhanced commercial investment in their game, and that brings higher numbers playing the sport, which is perceived as success by the ICC and might increase investment from them,” says Davis. “That takes time and an awful lot of effort.”
The need for a considered approach is echoed by a UK-based sports marketing expert who spoke to SportBusiness International but wished to remain anonymous.
“It is about gaining popularity,” he says. “What sports often do is try to commercialise too soon. They should look for sustainable growth.
“We wouldn’t advise looking for £100,000 from a partner. Look for a great app or media channel to build up communications. Put a long-term plan in place to make money in the future.”
Social media is a great place for developing cricket nations to start promoting their messages, according to the expert.
“You can innovate in some of the associate and affiliate member countries in a way you couldn’t do with cricket in, say, India, where a broadcaster would already have the rights,” he explains. “In the developing cricket countries you can often use apps, Facebook, YouTube and other means.”
Being creative and knowing your audiences are key tools, he adds.
“In the US the message might be about stats; in another country it may be about big hitting,” he says. “You could partner with other minority bodies and have multi-sport events in a city to generate interest.
“In the long term you want an online partner, a community partner and a stadium partner.”
Davis believes the governing bodies have a valuable asset in the sport of cricket, but he also says they need to tailor their messages clearly and specifically to their markets.
“The values associated with cricket include tradition, participation, teamwork and leadership,” he adds. “If you can get more people playing sport and get more people mobile and socialising, that can only be a good thing.
“It is a positive story. There are a number of territories that cricket can help address. The story you can tell is quite flexible, depending on who you are targeting. That is about how you develop the brand in each nation.”