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T20 World Cup splits men’s and women’s events to diversify sport’s audience and create ‘year-long spectacle’

  • Next year’s ICC T20 World Cup will see the men’s and women’s events take place separately for the first time, either side of the Australian winter
  • Model allows sponsors to activate twice against the same event, reaching two different global demographics
  • Organisers expect women’s final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to break records for largest attendance at a women’s sport event

“Attracting a more diverse audience is absolutely key to cricket’s future,” says Nick Hockley, chief executive of the 2020 ICC T20 World Cup. “Not just here in Australia, but around the world. That’s the approach we’ve taken to the organising of this tournament, and that’s the philosophy with which we’ve taken many of the decisions around this World Cup.”

We should be talking about World Cups, plural: Australia 2020 will represent the first time that the men’s and women’s twenty-over tournaments have been awarded to one country but held separately, as independent events. The 2018 T20 Women’s World Cup took place in the West Indies, but no corresponding men’s tournament was held that year.

“In previous editions, the women and men have played in a double-header, in the same venues, in the same cities,” Hockley says. “What that ends up looking like is that the women’s event is a curtain-raiser for the men’s, with matches played while people are still at school, still at work, and really paying less attention to the tournament.”

In 2020, the two events aren’t just being held separately, but across two summers, either side of the southern hemisphere winter: the women’s in February and March, the men’s not until October and November. “It means that the women’s event is given its own space entirely,” Hockley says. “It’s not in the shadow of the men’s tournament, it’s its own thing completely. It’s an ambitious plan, but it’s one that we think is necessary to continue growing cricket and engaging new audiences.”

Players from across Australian women’s sport attend an event celebrating one year to go until the T20 Women’s World Cup final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground

Diversifying cricket’s audience

The realisation of that ambition will come on March 8 next year, International Women’s Day, when the T20 Women’s World Cup will host its final in the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground, which organisers hope will hold the biggest audience ever for a women’s sporting fixture. The world’s largest cricket stadium will open its full 90,000 capacity for the day, and Hockley is confident of a sell out.

“It’s a massive shift and a huge target,” he says. “But we’re not going to leave any stone unturned in our efforts to get there. We could have said, ‘let’s play in a 10,000, or a 20,000-seater stadium’, and we’d have sold out very quickly. But you’re not going to create genuine change unless you really try to set new benchmarks. We’re unapologetically bold, but it’s really an opportunity to change the image of cricket and safeguard the future of this sport.

“Look back less than 10 years, Australia hosted the women’s Cricket World Cup in 2009, and we had a crowd of 2,500 at North Sydney Oval. We’re trying, in the space of 10 years, to go from that to the highest attendance ever for a women’s sporting event.”

Hockley says he and his team have “gone to great lengths” to distinguish the Women’s T20 World Cup from the men’s, sharing knowledge with previous tournaments and looking further afield than cricket for inspiration on everything from ticketing strategy to host city and venue selection.

“We’ve really studied the demographics in Australia, looked at data from India in 2016 [the last T20 World Cup] and the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup [co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand]. And we looked at a range of other major events – the Netball World Cup in Sydney in 2015 and the Fifa Women’s World Cup in Canada, which was an absolutely massive event,” Hockley says. Many of the lessons learned have been around marketing and how to appeal to as wide a base as possible. “The audience we’re looking for is everyone,” he says. “Women, men, boys, girls, from across all cultures. We want this to be a celebration of multicultural Australia.”

The Big Bash League, Australia’s domestic T20 competition, has also helped to pave the way, with its women’s matches attracting significant audiences both on television and in-stadium. It too has specifically targeted families; and done so by offering a range of activities aside from just watching the game, encouraging parents to bring their children for an evening at the cricket in the hope of developing a new generation of fans, something Hockley says the World Cup will build on. While no announcements have been made at this stage, the plan is for concerts and other performances to form a significant part of the draw for both the men’s and women’s World Cups.

Particularly for the Women’s World Cup, a major push has been made to attract “non-traditional audiences”, people from demographics who may not usually be interested in attending live cricket but want to be part of what the final, on International Women’s Day, represents. “We want to make it bigger than just the sport itself,” Hockley says. “We’re calling on people from the cricket community, from around Australia, and from around the world to be in that venue and help us celebrate everything that’s great about an equal society.”

Tickets have been priced affordably, “because we’d rather get people in, enjoying the cricket and hopefully convert them to the sport than just sell to those who are already going to come anyway”, says Hockley. Seats at the Women’s World Cup are available for AUD$20 (€12/$14) for adults for every fixture, while children’s tickets are priced at just AUD$5 throughout the entire tournament, including the semi-finals and final. “We could have priced the tickets higher, certainly at the lower end, but we didn’t want to risk putting off that non-traditional audience.”

Celebrating “multicultural Australia”

T20, Hockley says, has become “the pinnacle of the women’s game” in Australia, where its popularity outstrips Test and one-day matches. The format is also the most egalitarian and competitive version of cricket, with all 105 ICC member countries holding full T20 International status as of the start of 2019 – against just 12 nations granted Test status.

This, Hockley hopes, will also help to bring a more diverse and multicultural audience to next year’s tournaments. There are still two spots available for teams to qualify for the women’s World Cup, and six for the men’s, “and all of those different competing teams are really well represented with expat populations in Australia,” he says. “Nepal’s men’s team, for instance, is currently ranked 11th in the world. There are 90,000 Nepalese expats living in Australia. If they qualify, that would be a real opportunity to bring different communities together and bring them into cricket. It’s a growth vehicle for the game globally.”

This kind of ethnographic research played into the city and venue selection, as well as the decisions over where each team will play. India’s men’s team, for instance, will play their first four games of the T20 World Cup in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide respectively, racking up over 3,000 miles of travel in just ten days – but in doing so will play in front of a large proportion of the 700,000 people of Indian heritage living in the country.

“The principle has been to take the teams to as many of the cities and as many of the fans as possible, so they can see their heroes play,” says Hockley. “We looked for ways that we could take as many of the competing teams as possible to each host city. There was a census in 2016 and that has helped to inform some of our decisions about where to go and about where to place which teams.”

The T20 World Cup, he adds, should also not be viewed in isolation, but as part of a continuation of Cricket Australia’s strategy for growing the game that also included 2015’s ICC World Cup. For the host cities and venues, 2020 is an opportunity to “revisit and re-engage with” the huge success of that event.

“We built really strong relationships and partnerships with each of the host cities then [in 2015], and I think they all saw a fantastic dividend in terms of the numbers of international visitors it brought to Australia,” he says. “Out of just over a million attendees across the event, 145,000 were from overseas, which was a huge boost to those host cities. We’ll be looking to see if we can go better than that, so a lot of our focus is on engaging really broadly across the eight host cities and thinking about how we can promote them overseas, get people to come for the cricket but hopefully to stay for other reasons and bring tourism dollars into the country.”

The T20 World Cup will be played in 13 different venues across eight cities – seven for the men’s and six for the women. Canberra, the Australian capital, will host only women’s matches, while Geelong, near Melbourne, and Hobart, the Tasmanian state capital, will stage men’s fixtures only. That geographical spread is not just a chance to get players in front of fans, but to allow sponsors and commercial partners the greatest opportunity to activate in front of different demographics, says Hockley.

Commercial opportunities

While the two events are being held independently, there has been no corresponding change to the way the local organising committee is set up, or the way it sells media and sponsorship rights for the T20 World Cups. That approach means that broadcasters and partners are effectively getting “two events for the price of one,” Hockley says, though he argues that far from leaving money on the table, this offers a continuity and value-add for partners that has helped to boost those rights far more than selling them independently would have done.

“They’re buying one event, but they’re getting two World Cups across almost a whole calendar year,” he says. The final of the men’s tournament will take place on November 15, a full ten months after the first ball is bowled in the women’s on February 21. “But it’s even more than that when you look at it. We’ll start to pick it up after the ICC World Cup [the final is on July 14] and sponsors will get their first opportunities to activate later this year, in the summer, when we’ll do a trophy tour culminating in the women’s final. And then almost as soon as that finishes, we’ll be building towards the men’s final throughout the winter of 2020.”

Despite a “pretty full roster” of existing ICC commercial partners for the event, Hockley’s local organising committee will be looking to fill in the remaining sponsorship categories over the coming months with national companies. The ICC does not have a banking sponsor, a vertical Hockley believes could prove lucrative in the Australian market. The likes of Nissan, Emirates and Coca-Cola, the ICC’s top-tier partners who buy a full package of events over a four-year period, will turn their attention to Australia after the conclusion of the one-day World Cup in England and Wales.

School programmes and other youth initiatives designed to encourage greater rates of participation, particularly among young girls, will also give sponsors the chance to activate throughout the calendar, and to a younger demographic.

“Our real priority is to ensure that we’re playing in front of packed stadiums, to as wide a range of fans as possible, and that the sponsors are getting the full opportunity to leverage their partnerships with the tournament,” says Hockley. “We’ll look to do that by selling tickets, of course, but also through our school programmes and really getting the sponsors engaged with fans right down throughout all the activities that take place around the World Cup, not just in the stadiums during the fixtures.”

The women’s final, he adds, will be a huge opportunity for commercial partners as well as for the sport more generally. A stadium full of 90,000 fans, on International Women’s Day, for a women’s cricket game, will be “an incredible platform for brands to attach themselves to”, he says.

“It’s about demonstrating, in a very positive way that, the world that we aspire to is that there’s absolutely gender equality, in sport and in society. If you think about that image, of the biggest cricket ground in the world full of 90,000 people, beamed into parts of the world where there’s still some way to go on that journey…that’s a very powerful symbol, particularly for the minds the next generation, to say ‘absolutely, actually, yes, cricket is a game for women as much as it is for men’. I think that’s something that will deliver incredible value for our partners.”

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