Edgbaston became the first English county cricket ground to host a day/night Test match last week when England played the West Indies. Ben Cronin spoke to Warwickshire County Cricket Club chief executive Neil Snowball to find out if the new format had been of commercial benefit to the county.
SBI: How did Edgbaston come to host the day/night Test?
Neil Snowball: When we first started discussions with the ECB [England and Wales Cricket Board] about a day/night match, the first approach really came from Andrew Strauss [director of cricket].
They requested the match more from a performance point of view because looking ahead to the Ashes series they were clear that at least one of the Tests, if not two, in Australia this winter would be day/night and England are one of the few Test nations never to have played a day/night match.
SBI: What persuaded you that it would be a good idea to host the match?
NS: My commercial team and I thought that to have a point of difference, to have that day/night Test could work for us commercially in a very busy year of cricket, which we have had with the ICC Champions Trophy and a Test match and Finals day and the T20, and that’s proven to be the case.
SBI: Has there been a commercial uplift in hosting the new day/night format?
NS: It’s always difficult to compare it with what you would have done with a normal Test match. Last year, as a benchmark, against Pakistan we sold 80,000 tickets over the five days but it did go the full five days and that was a real effort to get to that point.
Maybe you’d hope to get to 70,000 over the course of a whole Test featuring the West Indies in a busy season, but we did that well in advance, so I think we’ve probably seen about a 25% uplift on where we think we’d be. Hospitality sales were also ahead of forecast and our merchandise sales were up 30% compared with the five-day Investec Test match against Pakistan last year.
SBI: Did the fact the match only lasted three days impact on revenue?
NS: Edgbaston accomodated 70,000 spectators across the three days of play, recording sell-outs on the second and third day and, despite the shortened match, the venues’s retail and catering sales were also the highest ever for a non-Ashes test match. From our perspective, there were very few ticket sales for the fourth day, as all of our efforts were on the first three days. Those who bought tickets for the fourth day will receive a refund, which is insured as per our ECB staging agreement.
SBI: Did you sell half-day ticket packages to increase ticket sales?
NS: We’ve had some interesting conversations with Keith Bradshaw at Adelaide, the chief executive of the South Australian Cricket Association [which organised the first day/night Test match to be held in Australia].
They sold a twilight ticket, which gets you into the second and third sessions but a big part of the reason they did that was because they were struggling with ticket [sales] in such a big stadium and the Adelaide stadium is so close to the central business district and it meant that the twilight ticket worked really well.
He encouraged us to look at it and we’ve always had that in the back of our minds, but the sales have been so strong, we haven’t really needed to do it.
SBI: The ECB has encouraged new counties to host Test matches, one-day internationals and international T20 Games. Has that had any impact on established Test venues such as Edgbaston?
NS: It’s like anything, the marketplace likes certainty, and it likes the rhythm. We always say, look at Cheltenham, look at Wimbledon, whenever the regular things fall into the pattern of the season, it’s easier to sell and get into that rhythm. You don’t really get that with Test matches, you get one for a year and then we didn’t have one in 2013/2014 and it’s taken us three years to really recover from that.
We’ve got a good track record of selling tickets and we probably didn’t need to do a day/night [match], but I think we wanted to, partly because we thought it would work commercially but partly because we like to be innovators.
SBI: Has there been any sponsorship uplift or any interesting activations as a result of the day/night format?
NS: We’ve got a tremendous group of commercial partners. They’ve all supported us with it.
We haven’t done any specific activations other than they’ve taken a lot of hospitality because they’ve wanted to be here for it. The ECB has been very good with its marketing. All of their graphics, all of the neon branding for the event has been produced specifically for us, but we’ve used those on social media and all around the city.
We also have a partnership with Birmingham City Council where we get access to all of their digital boards. That works very well for us.
IMAGE: England beat West Indies by an innings and 209 runs at Edgbaston (Getty Images)
SBI: What additional support does Birmingham City Council offer?
NS: They’re our biggest investors, so when we rebuilt all of our facilities back in 2010, they were our biggest investor and so we have a partnership with them. During the [ICC] Champions Trophy we had access to all of the dressing around the city and they helped us with our volunteer programme, they helped us with hotels, they helped us with transport.
We’re one of their biggest assets in terms of attracting major events to Birmingham, so the economic impact of the day/night game according to the Birmingham Regional Observatory is £15m (€16.4m/$19.3m); the economic impact of the Champions Trophy was in excess of £25m and 2019, with the Ashes and the Cricket World Cup, will be north of £50m.
SBI: How involved is Edgbaston in the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games bid?
NS: Edgbaston almost certainly won’t host cricket here because it’s unlikely that cricket will be in the Commonwealth Games for 2022 but we are talking about being involved.
One of the USPs of the Birmingham bid is to have a huge business expo because a big part of us bidding for 2022 is all about enhancing trade links with the Commonwealth countries post-Brexit. We’re looking at doing a big business expo which Edgbaston will be part of with all of our facilities, and then also there’s a massive cultural festival which will also run during the Commonwealth Games.
I think that’s why the British Government have been so involved and so enthusiastic in terms of Birmingham and Liverpool bidding because they see that as a really important part of boosting that relationship with Commonwealth countries around trade.
SBI: You have worked with the Two Circles marketing agency on understanding your customer base. What have you gained from the partnership?
NS: I think they’ve been tremendous in terms of helping us understand the market. They start with market sizing to try to understand the opportunities, then look at understanding the market in terms of who’s buying tickets at the moment.
I think that regular supply of major match days is just critical because now we’ve got data from matches in 2015, 2016, and we’ve got great data from 2017, we’ve got the Champions Trophy data from earlier this year as well, so we really do have a meaningful database we can market to, not just in terms of tickets but also for our other commercial partners.
SBI: Are there any more plans to develop the Edgbaston venue?
NS: There’s a plot of land just across the road for a hotel that would be tremendous because that would really help boost the conference and events market.
We’ve also potentially got plans ourselves for a hotel in the next few years but we need to put the plans together for that.
We’ve got 375 apartments going to be built on site but the ground floor of those will be retail, including cafes, bars and restaurants, so that will add to that desire to be a 365-day destination and it will also give us a new entrance, a new spectator plaza, enhanced car parking and it will really finish off the stadium.