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Could Social Media Save English Cricket?

Could Social Media Save English Cricket?

For cricket fans the world over, 2005 evokes every superlative in the cliché book. The Greatest Ashes Series of all time, the series to end all series, theatre on an unparalleled scale in the history of cricket.

What a load of nonsense. The 2005 Ashes is the worst thing that ever happened to cricket. It’s the year that cursed a generation.

Ever since that fateful summer, my relationship with the gentleman’s game has been tumultuous, confused and epitomised by endless frustration. Simply, it was too much too soon. As an 11 year old I watched in awe as everyone I knew (yes, even the year 6 cool kids) experienced a sort of religious cricket awakening. Suddenly everyone was talking about the Ashes, everyone wanted to play cricket all day.

But in a sickening twist of fate, what followed that euphoric summer was a gaping chasm and the haunting realisation that everything would simply never be that perfect again.


A Natwest T20 Blast match between Hampshire and Glamorgan. Image courtesy of Warren Duffy on flickr

Cricket promptly disappeared from terrestrial TV to Sky, depriving the generation that followed mine of the ease of access to the sport that so captured the imagination that summer.

And now here we are, seemingly scratching around from week-to-week in search of a way to save the terribly British game of cricket, right here in Britain.

For those who watched that series, there were so many moments that were unforgettable:

Freddie Flintoff and that incendiary double-wicket over, Kevin Pietersen’s blonde Mohawk, Ian Bell waking drenched in sweat as Shane Warne haunted his nightmares, Simon Jones swinging the ball like it were Mark Ramprakash’s hips, Michael Clarke shouldering arms and having his off stump obliterated, Simon Katich shouldering arms and having his off stump obliterated, the King of Spain, Harmison’s slower ball, Woodworm bats – I’m not sure a single member of my colt team didn’t buy a Woodworm bat in 2005– that summer could not conceivably have been better.

image courtesy of intocricket on flickr

I don’t know what’s better, Freddie Flintoff’s smoulder, or that majestic Woodworm bat. image courtesy of intocricket on flickr

English Cricket has failed to replicate this ever since, and while the move away from Free-to-Air Television has doubtless stifled its exposure, it has been a broader failure to evolve how it speaks to younger audiences that has quickened the sport’s demise.

The Big Bash League has shown the positive impact that television coverage can have on the game – viewing figures and attendances have simultaneously soared in Australia – but there is a tendency to pin all the blame on TV and overlook other shortcomings. This is particularly pertinent with under 16’s in 2017 – they simply don’t consume news and information from the TV screen in the way we did a decade ago.

Cricket doesn’t hold the global appeal of football, and doesn’t have a massively popular and engaging console series like FIFA or Football Manager to fall back on, so it needs to find more innovative ways to engage fans.

You tube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have become the nerve centre which drives the news and sporting agenda for young people. If ever there was a time in which TV could be circumnavigated, it is in this age of social media. Other sports dominate these channels – Youtube has even made stars of vloggers who upload videos of them playing FIFA.

It’s incredible to think, but people playing football games in their bedroom pull in hundreds of thousands of viewers every day while many cricket counties struggle to fill out their grounds. Football is omnipresent, people know everything about it, and they are constantly consuming more information about it.


The Indian Premier League and Big Bash in Australia have made cricket modern and accessible. image courtesy of BubbleOnFire on flickr.

Conversely, cricket is conspicuous by its absence. There is a pervasive, largely unchallenged notion that cricket is a dry, boring sport, something that few would have asserted a decade ago. Has the game become more boring? On the contrary, the perfection of the T20 format has created the perfect bite-size entry point for new fans.

But what has changed is the way we talk about cricket. At its best, cricket ebbs and flows, it provides tension, shock and theatre. But large swathes of the British public seem to have forgotten this. We need to communicate with a modern audience in a language they understand to fight these misconceptions.

Social media is awash with influencers who are interested in sport, not just You tubers and Instagrammers, but what about musicians too? Actors? Young people are constantly engaging with content from these figures and are being influenced by what they see.

Greg James is just one example of the kind of ambassador the sport needs. He’s a fantastic advocate for the game and has landed himself a role presenting on BT Sport. More assets of a similar profile could have a tangible impact on exposing the game.

Why not get influencers involved with England’s players, filming themselves in the nets with Jason Roy or Jos Buttler learning the game? Going along to a match with Greg James? People are so disengaged from cricket in this country that there is a unique opportunity to educate people and rebrand the sport in the process. Cricket is tongue-in-cheek and accessible, it’s a game that lends itself to oddities and humour.

Cricket needs more advocates in the media like Greg James, but preferably with sleeves on. image courtesy of Ric Sumner on flickr

Cricket needs more advocates in the media like Greg James, but preferably with sleeves on. image courtesy of Ric Sumner on flickr

The Big Bash and Indian Premier League are proof that cricket holds mass appeal. I genuinely believe that if we get people watching and playing the game, some will not be able to help but fall in love with it.

The raw materials are there to make cricket a resounding success in England. A formidably talented generation of players are coming into their prime, including the fiery Ben Stokes – heir apparent to Flintoff, and the extraordinarily explosive Jos Buttler, renowned for swatting the ball dismissively out of the ground. The Women’s game in the UK is professional, and has made huge leaps in recent years.

The tools are there to catapult cricket back to the levels of 2005. Social media is just one avenue to achieve this, but one that can make a palpable difference if treated seriously and harnessed effectively by the powers running cricket.


She-FA: Why you should now invest in women’s football

As you’ve probably heard, FIFA is in a bit of a state. However, amid the corruption and scandals, there has been one gem of positive news to emerge in the past few days, women teams will be included in FIFA 16!

This autumn, gamers will be able to play as 12 international female teams. This is just the beginning too with a wide collection of player’s stats being collated as we speak. Domestic leagues are not far away.

Soon gamers will be able to play as Ellen White and Steph Houghton.

Soon gamers will be able to play as Ellen White and Steph Houghton.

The first question on many people’s lips is why has this taken so long? One simple answer would be to suggest the gross institutionalised misogynism at FIFA and other national governing bodies.  This would be fairly accurate, considering FIFA’s soon to be dethroned president Sepp Blatter has suggested women’s football would be more popular if they wore shorter skirts.

Even in the UK, it’s not been too long since Andy Gray’s dismissal for making offside jokes at the expense of a female official. At first glance, it would be easy to suggest the sport will only succeed once the sport is taken seriously and this isn’t untrue. The first step is to give women every opportunity that the male version has and that’s where the problem has arisen.

The sport at present fails to draw the crowds of men’s matches. This results in a lack of sponsorship, TV rights and funding. Without the funding, the majority of female footballers can only ever become semi-pro and thus cannot reach their potential. In perspective, most conference teams (5th Division) are fully professional. Without this funding, awareness of the sport cannot be raised and therefore women will continue to struggle to balance a full-time job with their footballing career.

Although it’s early stages, the FIFA inclusion has the potential to be one of the best things to happen to the women’s football. People have downplayed how significant the addition is, which is a mistake. At present, FIFA is one of biggest sport franchises on the planet, shifting 2.6 million copies in the UK last year alone. These gamers are ready-made football fans, no conversion from another sport needed. All they need is a push the right direction. With the introduction of just a few teams, each team will gain a colossal boost in awareness from the regular gamers. Once they find favourite players amongst the teams (and they will), the demand for television rights and match tickets are certain to rocket. The time is now to invest.

The sport has already gone a long way in the past few years. Since their impressive Olympic performances the women’s team, led by Manchester City’s captain Steph Houghton, the sport has never been more popular. With additional exposure, the brand of women’s football is set to increase phenomenally, with the potential to grow even more when the domestic leagues are introduced.

Scottish Independence: What would it mean for sport in the UK?

It goes without saying that a ‘yes’ vote on Thursday would result in changes of huge economic, legal and social importance for the UK. Amongst the panic surrounding Westminster and Ed Miliband being heckled in Edinburgh, there are a number of important questions that remain to be answered around issues of currency, jobs, EU membership and Scottish citizenship, not to mention the ramifications for businesses across the UK. Despite the vote being just 24 hours away, every question is still very much a hypothetical one, but, unless I’m a victim of SNP propaganda myself, I’m certain the result will come down to as little as one percent either way.

Betting on events outside of sport is not something I have ever done, and at first, I thought it strange that leading bookies were displaying odds for a yes / no vote alongside the Champions League first goal scorers. But the more I thought about it the more the concept grew on me; sport really is a major part of our society and many of society’s principles are displayed within it. While politicians may have as little desire to consider the potential consequences for sport as I have to see Salmond or Cameron in tennis shorts, that’s not to say we should discount it all together.

As disappointing as the promised “Olympic Legacy” has been since London 2012, I would back David Cameron, as a sports fan, to give some thought to the complications surrounding UK sport should we wake up to an independent Scotland on Friday.

Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash

Scottish independence could have some serious sporting implications. Let’s begin with the obvious example – football in Scotland, proudly hosting its own independent leagues boasting teams such as Celtic and Rangers. Initial suggestions some time ago that the best teams from the Scottish Premiership could join the English Premier League were quickly dismissed, with the English and Scottish FA seemingly happy to keep the nations separate in this regard. Football fans can relax as it’s safe to assume that the sport wouldn’t be affected either way, ruling it irrelevant for this particular discussion. But this is just the start of the debate.

Further along, the spectrum is rugby; now this could be subject to some complications. Anyone who has attended a Calcutta Cup game (England v Scotland) will know that the respective fans use this as an excuse to get all proud and patriotic; it can even divide the closest of families. It gives both nations a real sense of identity. This wouldn’t change, in fact, the rivalry would intensify, but what about the British and Irish Lions? Would Scottish players no longer play a part or would the name have to be rebranded? David Cameron has suggested the former, while those within the game think a name change to ‘The Lions’ would be the probable outcome. Something to consider.

Next on the list is Britain’s Marmite, Andy Murray. He’s always been Scottish when he loses and British when he wins, but the 2013 Wimbledon champion may be ours no longer should Scotland vote yes tomorrow, leaving us wondering where our next Olympic gold medallist or Wimbledon champion will come from; does Greg Rusedski’s son play tennis? It’s a good thing Murray won it when he did because if he repeats his performance in 2016 he may not be welcomed to the podium by the British National Anthem nor wrap the Union Jack around his shoulders. Murray openly criticised Alex Salmond for his St Andrews cross stunt in the Wimbledon final and unionists have always enjoyed hearing his continued insistence that he competes for Great Britain in every match he plays, but soon he may not have a choice. Murray’s case is a great example of the potential implications for UK sport at the hands of the yes / no vote.

Perhaps the greatest thing about British sport is how it allows us to share our vast array of talent. We are blessed with some of the finest athletes the world, as was evident by our medal haul at London 2012. We may say (quietly to ourselves, in true English fashion), ‘what would Scottish athletes achieve without us?’ The answer is 55 Scottish athletes (10 percent) were part of Team GB at London 2012, securing 15 of our 65 medals. So perhaps we should be asking the opposite. Chris Hoy would no longer be ‘ours’; how does that sit with your Bran Flakes?

There would be all sorts of hoops for Scotland to jump through to gain recognition from the International Olympic Committee before they are able to compete in an Olympic games independently, which are too long-winded to go into detail here, but I presume athletes would have a choice on who to compete for. Who knows?

Tomorrow’s referendum could mean momentous changes for the UK as we know it. I just hope sport is given the recognition it deserves.

The Future of Social Media in Sport

Last week, Saracens Rugby Club launched Wi-Fi throughout the entirety of Allianz Park. Reportedly the first sports club in Europe to attempt to encourage real-time user-generated content (UGC) that could add value to the match-day experience.

The clubs goal was to communicate that they now have a permanent home in London, whilst also creating a fan-based social media buzz around the game. Saracens promoted a selection of hashtags throughout the match-day programme, across their own social media channels (Twitter and Facebook) and featured them on 2 display screens.

They had recognised that one of the biggest requirements to improve the match day experience was information, such as; player statistics, team statistics, etc. To try and combat this, the live game commentary was fed through Twitter along with all major incidences and occasional sports stats. The real-time trial received tremendously positive feedback, the clubs twitter reach increased by 45%, in-game messaging increased by 20%, and picture-based content soared to a staggering 67%.

Times are changing. As sport becomes more tightly integrated with technologies more pressure is put on clubs to find more innovative ways to engage fans and enhance live sporting experiences. Edward Griffiths, CEO of Saracens commented on the new initiative, “not every rugby supporter will appreciate ‘second screen’ activity, but we are pushing the boundaries… and our fans are having fun.” For Saracens this is only the beginning, they will be further looking to drive additional revenue to the bars and restaurants through effective community management.

With the future of social media in sport in mind, here are 5 trends to watch out for:

BRAND MARKETING – Currently most clubs use social media for brand marketing, for example; tickets, merchandise and adverts. Similar to Saracens, most clubs will start focusing on the match-day experience – the statistics, the atmosphere, the music, the pre-match rituals, etc. Instead of telling the fans what they should aspire to want, marketers will start absorbing the emotions and stories fans experience throughout the game.

SOCIAL MEDIA HUBS – European clubs will start taking note of this brilliant invention on the other side of the pond. Social media hubs are allocated areas within the stadium on match-day where pre-selected fans (social media savvy and influential in the digital space) can take control of the clubs social media presence. Simple yet effective, as who knows what the fans want better than the fans themselves?

TWITTER PARTIES – American clubs recognise how powerful and influential their socially active fans can be and one way of rewarding them is a “Fan Night” in which fans are invited to go to the stadium to meet their fellow tweeters and put faces to twitter handles. An excellent way to bring clubs most influential tweeters, Instagrammers and followers closer.

FAN-BASED CONTENT – Some Clubs have already started to include fans in their official content but we predict this to rise. Whether it is getting a fan to write a match report that features in the programme or create a YouTube interview with a player. Fan-based content is a whole lot more engaging.

PINTEREST – Pinterest seems to have been neglected at current but it is an obvious tool for clubs to use to promote their online shops. But boards can also be used as a platform for fans to share their favourite moments, quotes, etc.

Here in the PHA Digital team, we are excited to see the evolution of Social Media in Sport and how effective UK Sports Clubs are at utilizing their own Social Media Marketing Strategies.