Cricket tends to have the Marmite effect, with a fairly clean split in opinion between ‘love it’ and ‘yawn’. Americans always find it amusing that a match can go on for five days and still garner no victor. That was certainly my general consensus too, prior to working in cricket for three merry years. Now my life, and holidays, are somewhat governed by cricket schedules.
March sees the kick off of the bi-annual ICC World T20 tournament. Brilliantly, this is a combined men’s and women’s tournament with the Final staged as a double header which massively helps raise the profile of the women’s game as its final precedes the men’s and both are televised. The tournament host is the BCCI – the Indian cricket board to you and me. The Broadcast Partner is Star Sports, so Sky shall have the rights here in the UK to broadcast all five delicious weeks of action.
In amongst the thrills and spills what T20 cricket brings, there will be plenty of brand exposure as certain sponsors and partners put their name and association to various parts of the essential sporting operations. Emirates, who maintain their strong commitment to cricket, shall have their presence in the form of cabin crew escorting the trophy out onto the pitch. All good exposure for an airline that has routes to almost every major cricketing nation in the world.
If one was to compare the ICC commercial partners to those of the ECB, a fairly striking difference in brands would be noted. Why is this? The underlying reason is the viewing audiences that they wish to attract differ both in geography and demographics.
In the subcontinent, if you want to raise your brand awareness you sponsor cricket. It is as simple as that. Cricket is a religion, THE religion, that unites all. It is played on every spare inch of space with wickets and bales taking the form of anything from the real mccoy to an old wooden crate. There are 1.2 billion people in India alone, and I would suggest 99.5% of those love their cricket. It is truly a sport that transcends all of society.
Conversely, cricket in the UK is considered a game for the middle classes, those with disposable incomes who wear red cords and brogues (kindly note I categorically do NOT own attire of that nature) and who enjoy a spot of something chilled and bubbly from an overpriced bottle (guilty m’lud). It comes then as no great surprise that the ECB had Waitrose as their shirt sponsor, a gem of a fit with the demographics of prawn sandwich brigade cricket lovers.
Such a demographically specific brand would simply not work for cricket in the subcontinent. Brands need to be as broad as possible in order to touch the wide demographics of fans. It’s then no surprise to see a brand like India’s MRF tyres sign up as an ICC sponsor. MRF produces tyres for all manner of vehicles from scooters, motorbikes and tuk-tuks, commonplace amongst the average worker, all the way up to tyres for Formula 1 cars and luxury brands. All the demographics are covered, they all need tyres, just different sorts of tyres. Again, an absolute gem of a fit, but for completely different reasons to those seen for Waitrose.
Holding the ICC World T20 in India will undoubtedly bring out the ear shattering enthusiasm that we saw during the 2011 ICC World Cup which was also hosted in India. Whether the crowds go mad-for -it at the Ireland vs Oman match in Dharamsala remains to be seen. From a broadcast perspective, India is also a prime ‘middle’ timezone to take live feeds to almost all the cricketing power nations. The Kiwis and Aussies can watch it when they get in from work, and we can sneak a peek behind the boss’s back in the morning. As usual, it’s the poor old West Indians that miss out. Their time zone just does not work at all, and the broadcasters will likely object to any future major tournaments being hosted there for that reason. Shame, as it’s a hoot of a place to work and live, and alongside the Indians there can be no more passionate a group of nations. However, money talks in cricket and the powerhouses of the ECB, BCCI and Cricket Australia rule the roost along with Star Sports.
One thing is for sure, if the host nation makes it through to the Final of the tournament in the legendary venue of Eden Garden, Kolkata come 3rd April the noise will be deafening and the atmosphere electric. And then, once that madness is over, there’s just time to pause for a cold Kingfisher beer before the IPL kicks off. India is cricket, cricket is India.