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ICC uses hybrid ticketing model to boost attendances at 2019 Cricket World Cup

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 21: The ICC Champions Trophy on February 21, 2017 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Neville Hopwood/Getty Images)

  • Segmented marketing efforts to target different ethnic communities
  • One in three spectators at the tournament will be new to cricket
  • Resale website amongst attempts to mitigate selling through unofficial platforms

When tickets went on sale for the 2019 Cricket World Cup clash between India and Pakistan, the sheer volume of applications would have ensured Manchester’s 26,000-seat Emirates Old Trafford ground sold out 50 times over.

But the ticketing litmus test for Cricket World Cup 2019 (CWC19), the event’s organising committee, was never going to be whether demand could be fuelled for a contest between two of the sport’s big-hitting rivals on a Sunday in June.

That would be shifting seats for less-fancied matches such as Bangladesh v Afghanistan on a Monday at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton.

Benchmark

The Cricket World Cup will see 48 matches played from May 30 to July 14, with 10 host stadia in England and a single venue in Cardiff, Wales.

With an upper benchmark for attendance of about 75 per cent at previous editions of the International Cricket Council competition, sales are currently tracking above 95 per cent for this year’s tournament, according to Adrian Wells, CWC19’s director of marcomms and ticketing.

With about 800,000 tickets available for the tournament, 56 per cent of the buyers have been in the 24- to 44-year-old demographic, while efforts to engage youngsters appear to have paid off.

About 100,000 seats have been bought for under-16s, representing about 13 per cent of the tickets sold so far. By comparison, the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England sold less than five per cent of available tickets to the same age group.

Some 250,000 tickets for this year’s event have been snapped up by people of South Asian heritage, many of whom already live in the UK. Organisers anticipate that between 15 and 20 per cent of the tickets will ultimately be sold to overseas visitors.

Meanwhile, 150,000 have been sold to women and girls; and 210,000 ticket-holders – from all age demographics – are completely new to cricket.

Ballots

CWC19 began to formulate the ticketing strategy two years ago, in the wake of the ICC Champions Trophy, which took place in June 2017. England and Wales hosted the tournament, which sold more than 90 per cent of the available tickets for 15 one-day internationals – up from 83 per cent for the previous edition in England four years earlier.

“We used a ballot for the Champions Trophy and it worked really well,” Wells says, before explaining that the first of two ballot phases for the Cricket World Cup was launched in May 2018. “We decided that launching the process a year out would allow people to plan ahead and possibly take in more games.”

The first ballot was for the ‘cricket family’ – anyone on CWC19’s contact database. A second ballot for the general public in August monopolised CWC19’s marketing budget across the two phases by a ratio of about 80:20.

Just two-and-a-half weeks after the first ballot launched, new European Union GDPR data-protection regulations came into force, leading to a ‘cleanse’ of CWC19’s database.

“We started with about 100,000 names and started to build towards 150,000-160,000, but then post-GDPR we lost a third of those. It has been a building job since then and we are now up at about 380,000,” Wells adds. “To simplify the process, we have a single point of data cleansing, so we have been guiding all ticket-buyers and those engaged in the Cricket World Cup to register via our website.”

India captain Virat Kohli and Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed hold the ICC Champions Trophy ahead of the final at The Kia Oval on June 17, 2017 in London, England. (Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Pricing

In attempting to garner knowledge about attracting non-traditional cricket fans, the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup, which was also co-hosted by England and Wales and took place over the four weeks immediately after the Champions Trophy, provided another timely signpost.

The tournament attracted average ticket sales of nearly 1,700 per group stage match – higher than any previous edition. More than 25,000 spectators filled Lord’s for the final following another ballot, beating the stadium’s previous record for a women’s match of 4,426 back in 1993.

Ticket prices for the final started at £5 for under-16s, £10 for students and £20 for adults, while women accounted for half the tickets sold across the tournament. Those prices for the final replicated those that had applied during the Champions Trophy, and CWC19 certainly took note.

“Accessibility is a big thing for us, so there is a low entry price point of £6 for kids for the majority of matches,” says Wells, who describes a “hybrid” ticketing model – offering affordable tickets for youngsters and families whilst catering for those who do not mind digging a little deeper for the top contests.

The top adult price for a low-demand match is £55, while the most expensive tickets for adults in sought-after group fixtures reach £235. The top adult price for a ticket to the final is £395.

There is similar variety with hospitality packages, as prices range from under £150 per person for lower-demand midweek matches through to just over £1,000 per person for the final.

“The £395 tickets for the final account for about two per cent of the capacity at Lord’s,” tournament ticketing manager Chris Baldwin says.

“In comparison, the same ticket at the Fifa World Cup final last year in Russia would have cost £849, while at the 2015 Rugby World Cup final in England it was £715. We could have charged more for the final as we were hugely oversubscribed across all categories, but we have tried to find a balanced and fair approach.”

Of the handful of tickets that remain available for the tournament after having gone on sale last year, most tend to belong to the top three price categories, Baldwin adds.

Research

The hybrid model was developed from extensive research covering all major events in the UK over the past nine years, including the London 2012 Olympic Games.

“We managed to create a profile of what ‘big event’ fans do,” Wells says.

To explore the habits and characteristics of potential ticket-buyers for the Cricket World Cup, organisers also sought an external perspective.

With the support of the Simon-Kucher & Partners consultancy, some 5,000 people were surveyed – including hardcore fans who attended at least two cricket matches per year, ‘soft’ fans who went to matches occasionally and the so-called ‘big-eventers’ who liked going to major events but aren’t cricket fans.

“It was important for us to have an external view as we wanted to appeal to more than just cricket fans,” Wells says. “We looked at how we could engage with those groups and not only find out what they would be prepared to pay, but also what the most important factors are when they select a match.”

The research uncovered some vital findings.

“The participating teams are the most important factor in deciding whether to go to a match, followed by the location and then, after that, the day of the week,” Wells says.

“According to the survey, there was not the same appetite for all of the 48 matches, so that convinced us to introduce a tiered pricing structure. Additionally, the survey’s results indicated that cricket fans would be willing to pay more than usual to attend matches at this tournament, especially as it will be the first time in 20 years that the Cricket World Cup has taken place here.”

The research found that, for the ‘big-eventers’, attending matches that feature the biggest teams was less important. The marketing strategies, as well as the pricing structures, were adjusted accordingly.

“When marketing less popular fixtures to non-cricket fans, saying that it’s ‘your chance to see legends up close’ doesn’t really work. We talk about it being a great day out and a festival of entertainment and music, as well as sport,” Wells says.

“We have adopted a segmented approach to marketing and have created campaigns focused at families and people who go to music events and gigs, for example. There have also been campaigns targeted at communities in specific cities within 50 miles of host venues, with localised digital and radio advertising in different languages.”

The results have been spectacular. One in three spectators at the Cricket World Cup will be new to the sport, while awareness of the Cricket World Cup amongst the general public is on target to rise from two per cent at the end of 2017 to about 70 per cent this summer.

Resale

Of course, when tickets are released a year before an event, there is always a chance that the buyer will not be able to attend due to unforeseen circumstances.

With that in mind, an official face-value resale website was launched in November in collaboration with Ticketmaster, the tournament’s ticketing service provider. However, the resale platform cannot guarantee that ticket sales will automatically translate into attendance.

At the 2017 Champions Trophy, thousands of empty seats appeared at the ‘sold-out’ first semi-final between England and Pakistan at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff after India fans, who had bought up to 40 per cent of the tickets, decided against attending when their team unexpectedly qualified for the second semi-final at Edgbaston in Birmingham.

Additionally, although the terms and conditions state that tickets can only be bought and sold at face value, it is inevitable that many will end up on unofficial secondary ticketing websites such as Viagogo, which allow members of the public to sell on tickets at hugely inflated prices. Some tickets for the England v Australia fixture at Lord’s were listed on the site for more than £12,000 in January.

“As all of the profits from the tournament will be reinvested in the sport, third-party resale platforms are undermining our efforts,” Baldwin says. “We have championed the official resale platform and launched it earlier than we would have done in the past. On top of that, we’ve deliberately set the match prices at a level that will make them affordable and accessible.

“We have had 14,000 tickets resold on our website so far, and we are really pleased with that as it has helped to drive home the message.

“With other resale sites though, of course it is a challenge. We’re working with the likes of the Competition and Markets Authority, which is doing a lot of work around the resale industry, and we are also doing a lot of work behind the scenes to make sure tickets fall into the hands of genuine fans.”Wells explains that CWC19 has been actively looking for people with a history of ticketing fraud and cancelling their accounts, whilst also using partners to scour the internet for wrongdoers.

“When it’s all taken into account, we’ve cancelled thousands of tickets,” he says. “We’re doing everything in our power, but we would support a change in legislation [against resale websites].”

(Jack Thomas/Getty Images for CWC19)

Partners

CWC19’s efforts to push people towards official ticketing channels have been helped by County Championship clubs, stadium operators and supporter-run organisations, even though they do not share customer data with the tournament’s organisers.

“A big part of the job was to get everyone to collaborate and see how to enter the ballots,” Wells says. “These efforts have turned our initial database of 100,000 into a far greater number in reality.”

Host cities and venues are also collaborating with CWC19 on staging fan zones in city centres for those with or without tickets.

An ambassador and influencer programme featuring famous faces from the sport, such as Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff (below) has been driving awareness, as well as a trophy tour with a twist, focusing on the variety of cultures represented not only at the tournament, but also in British society.

CWC19

At a grassroots level, the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB), which shares its office with CWC19, has been helping to drive awareness, with an eye on the future.

The ECB’s All Stars Cricket programme for five to eight-year-olds, as well as the governing body’s Cricket World Cup Schools Programme, are being adapted and leveraged to engage 700,000 youngsters in the tournament – from mascot design competitions through to commentator try-outs.

“It’s a shame when events just come and go,” Wells says. “So, there is a real focus on legacy, and the ECB will carry on our efforts and grow the game.”

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