The England cricket team’s feat of regaining the Ashes this month marks the pinnacle of a tumultuous year for the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). Just a few months ago, the governing body for domestic cricket was in disarray following the appointment of ex-captain Andrew Strauss as director of cricket – a move that heralded the sacking of England coach Peter Moores for the second time and the controversial and much publicised shunning of star batsman Kevin Pietersen.
The internal wrangling at the ECB came after a prolonged period of indifferent form by the England team, including a 5-0 Ashes defeat in Australia in 2013-14 and an embarrassing group stage exit from the Cricket World Cup in March 2015. The documentary film Death of a Gentleman, which was released in July, has also sharply criticised corruption and commercialism in cricket around the world.
However, victory over Australia at Trent Bridge, which saw England emphatically win back the Ashes ahead of this week’s fifth test, has brought a feel-good factor to the team and its fans and given the stuttering ECB a new lease of life.
Alongside Strauss, chief sales and marketing officer Sanjay Patel is one of several recent appointments tasked with improving the ECB’s reputation and its strategy for the game – both at grassroots and professional level. He joined in August 2014 following a long career in the drinks industry – his last role was marketing strategy director at Heineken – and is responsible for the ECB’s marketing activities and commercial partnerships.
This includes deals in 2015 for Toyota to become the official car partner of the ECB and for Sky to remain the broadcaster of English cricket up to 2019. Asset management firm Investec has a long-term deal as the title sponsor of domestic test match cricket that runs until 2021, while supermarket chain Waitrose has a three-year deal as sponsor of the England team that expires next year.
According to the ECB’s latest accounts, it achieved a record turnover in 2014 of £174.7m, up 42% on the previous year, and a record profit of £28.4m.
However, despite these strong results, the ECB’s CEO Tom Harrison said in the annual report the organisation would have to “think smarter” about how it communicates with the public. “We have to show ourselves as relevant and meaningful to a younger generation whose attention span is shorter because of all the alternatives on offer to them,” he asserted.
As the final Ashes test gets underway at The Kia Oval this week, Patel explains to Marketing Week how the ECB is competing with rival sports to bring more brands into cricket, and how it hopes to use England’s Ashes success to grow the sport across the country.
Q: How does the ECB adjust its marketing to take advantage of the public’s interest in the Ashes?
There are around 9.5 million people that are interested in the game of cricket in the UK in any given year. With an Ashes series we tend to punch outside of that, so we take advantage of it in a couple of ways. Firstly, we use our digital channels to engage people and recruit new fans. We have got huge reach on our channels, with over three million [followers] on social media, and with our content we try to think about the digital journey of a fan.
That includes what they are interested in the night before a match, all the way through the match and afterwards. We are always thinking about what that journey looks like and how
we can respond to it. Secondly, we have recently gone through quite an extensive piece of positioning work for the Team England brand, which has resulted in new creative that we have launched [using the slogan ‘We are England Cricket’]. We are pushing that out on our digital channels but also with some traditional outdoor ads and press.
Q: Is the ECB aiming to add more sponsorship categories and attract more advertisers to the game?
I don’t think we necessarily need to add more. Do I want our sponsorship revenues to grow over the next five years? Of course I do, but it’s more a case of offering new rights for partners, particularly in the area of digital. I see that as a huge growth area and one that brands need and want. Brands are desperate for content and we have huge amounts of it and massive reach, so we want brands to see us as the passion point between the consumer and their brand.
Q: How has the ECB’s 10-year-old broadcast deal with Sky Sports supported its commercial ambitions?
We are very keen to ensure that our product is represented in the right way and Sky has been a great partner for achieving that. Sky’s production values mean that its programmes are hugely engaging and compelling, and that’s been very important to us in terms of how the game is presented.
Q: How is the ECB growing other areas of cricket such as the women’s game and grassroots participation?
The women’s game has been an outstanding success for us in the past few years. [England is] the first women’s team to go fully professional and we recently launched a new domestic league, the Women’s Super League. We see participation in women’s cricket increasing, which has got to be interesting for brands targeting that area.
We have quite a few campaigns that target [grassroots-level] clubs. The ECB does a lot of work, both in the community and with clubs to drive participation – we know that if you grow your participation numbers, everything else will grow around it.
Q: How is the ECB working to improve its reputation following the Kevin Pietersen saga and recent management changes?
It is not usual that an organisation goes through the amount of change that we have gone through in the past year, particularly at the senior level. During that period of change challenges manifest themselves and a lot of things come out, but I think we are starting to come through that now and drive ourselves to a much better place.
We are going to be announcing a new [corporate] strategy at the end of the year for the ECB and within that we’re hoping to address some of the real issues within the game, and what we are going to do as a governing body to tackle them and to take advantage of opportunities.
If we do that with the right values and behaviours in place and if we drive results, our reputation will go in the right direction.