- Sachin Tendulkar employed as an ambassador to grow the women’s game
- Ticket ballot creates sense of demand outstripping supply
- Advertising campaigns are not women-specific
In an era in which female participation numbers for cricket are growing, the International Cricket Council (ICC) had big plans to build on the momentum with the 2017’s Women’s World Cup.
For cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, the appeal of the tournament for a global audience is clear.
“They are skilful players,” says Tendulkar, an ambassador for the tournament, which took place at five venues across England in June and July 2017. “They are competitive. They fight hard and in the right spirit. Why wouldn’t you want to be there? I think you need to have a closer look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself a strong question: ‘Are you a cricket fan? Are you a cricket lover?’ If yes, then you’d better be there.”
The official launch event ahead of the tournament took place on 16th March in the Long Room at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, with HSE Cake as the sports agency in support.
The date was pertinent: it was International Women’s Day. Perhaps more significant, however, was the location – the Long Room, a place where until 1999 women were not even permitted to enter.
The ICC and the host body, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), have devised some very clever marketing plans and promotions. Having Tendulkar at the launch was a coup and his championing of women’s cricket has no doubt helped the cause of the female code, especially in India where millions of fans hang on to his every word.
“The girl should have the freedom to make her own choices and if a girl wants to go out and play [cricket] she should have the freedom to go out and play and enjoy herself,” he said. “If we all get together and support them and encourage them to do whatever they want to do in life, I am sure the results will follow.”
When it comes to ticket sales for the World Cup, the ECB decided to promote the final very differently to the group matches. Tickets for the final went on sale back in October last year through a ballot. “In itself, the ballot builds a promotion,” explains Zarah Al-Kudcy, head of marketing of ICC global events at the ECB. “The concept of a ballot strategically, or maybe psychologically, suggests that the demand exceeds supply.”
By late April 2017, 12,000 tickets for the final had already been sold. Ahead of time, Al-Kudcy suggested that a 24,000-seat sell-out is a genuine prospect: “I appreciate that’s a bold statement but that’s what we’re aiming for,” he says. Ultimately, Lord’s was indeed packed out, with a capacity crowd watching England’s triumph over India.
Tickets for the group-stage matches and the semi-finals proved understandably not as popular. Their release coincided with the official tournament launch in March. What was notable was how cheap they were, with general admission tickets priced at £10 (€12/$13) for adults, £5 for students and just £2 for under 16s – great for the fans, but some saw this as devaluing the entire tournament. Rather like budget airlines, travel to the venue is likely to cost more than the ticket itself.
Al-Kudcy explains how the tournament was deliberately scheduled to take place during term time rather than school holidays in order to attract as many school visits as possible. “For weekday matches, we expect to have a lot more children attending,” she says. “Most of their money will go on the bus [to the game]. The last thing we want to have as a barrier is the ticket price. Being free would totally devalue it but the price of £2 doesn’t act as a barrier.”
The ICC also wanted ticket prices to be similar to those at T20, county and women’s matches staged at the same venues at other times of the year.
The ECB hired London-based sports marketing agency Two Circles to advise them on ticket sales. Al-Kudcy stresses how the event didn’t want to make the mistake of targeting just female ticket-buyers.
“We haven’t primarily gone after women and girls,” she adds. “Yes, we want more women and girls to play cricket but we recognise that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to come and watch cricket. If you look across sport there’s normally a majority of men and boys watching sports events. So, we’re making sure we haven’t gone down that road of just talking to women and girls.”
Interestingly, when Al-Kudcy spoke to SportBusiness, 61 per cent of those who had already purchased tickets for the World Cup final were male, although many of these were group purchases.
The media campaigns for the Women’s World Cup are also not female-specific. Al-Kudcy gives the example of how they turned down promotions in women’s magazines and opted for a mainstream newspaper, the London Evening Standard, instead. Similarly, there is no specific Women’s World Cup presence across social media platforms. On Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, the Cricket World Cup accounts rotate biannually between the men’s and women’s World Cups without changing their handles.
Not that the ECB plans to ignore female-specific promotions altogether. Since Father’s Day falls on June 18 in the UK, just six days before the Women’s World Cup started, the organisers contemplated a Father’s Day promotion to encourage dads to attend matches with their daughters.
They also knew there would be huge interest among Britain’s South Asian communities. Whenever India or Pakistan play cricket in England, the Anglo-Indian and Anglo-Pakistani fans come out in force. Pakistan played five of its group-stage matches at Grace Road in Leicester, home to Leicestershire County Cricket Club. Al-Kudcy says the ECB managed to piggy-back on the county club’s “really proactive” marketing operations to attract local fans of Pakistani heritage.
She also encouraged Mayor of London Sadiq Khan – whose parents emigrated from Pakistan to the UK – to lend his support to the event. After all, he is renowned for being a huge cricket fan, he has two daughters, and the final at Lord’s came under his patch. Plans were scuppered, however, by the snap election called by prime minister Theresa May in May of last year.
Aside from ticket sales, a sign of the tournament’s overall long-term success will be whether British girls are encouraged to take up cricket after watching the action.
Together with England Hockey and England Netball, under the banner of TeamUp, the ECB has launched a three-year campaign “designed to grow the fan base for women’s sport” in the UK “and ensure that every seven to 13-year-old girl will have the opportunity to benefit from team sport in school.” Schoolgirls will be invited to participate in coaching sessions with World Cup players, match-day national anthem ceremonies, and soft-ball cricket festivals.
The ICC also wants to use the event to increase female cricket participation globally. From its base in Dubai it held the first Women’s Cricket Forum in April 2017, “to accelerate the growth of the game.”
“There are many challenges,” says Clare Connor, former England all-rounder and present chair of the ICC Women’s Committee. “Notably the traditions of the game and the perceptions that cricket is a game played by men and run by men.”
Connor stresses how the future of women’s cricket relies on both grassroots development and the professional women’s game, and how the latter has the potential to reach huge female audiences through TV, online streaming and social media.
All of which begs the question: could women’s cricket ever equal men’s cricket in global popularity?
“We shouldn’t compare the two,” insists Claire Furlong, manager of strategic communications at the ICC. “What we want to see is cricket growing in popularity around the world.”
Tendulkar offers a similar message. “First of all, there should not be any comparison. Men’s or women’s sports, we should all have the freedom to get into the playground and express ourselves, without being constantly judged or compared. People have this tendency to compare sportspersons from one era to another era; men against women. We don’t need to do all that.”