English Cricket’s newest competition, The Hundred, while delayed for a year due to the ongoing pandemic, is now upon us, and the ECB’s new flagship show has changed the game in both its technology and broadcast strategy.
The goal of the tournament was to engage a new audience for cricket by building on the success of the men and women’s teams winning the world cup in 2018 and 2020.
The tournament’s delay meant that the ECB didn’t have success to fall back on, but after signing a £1.1Billion deal with the BBC and Sky Sports to get cricket back on to free to air television, this tournament was make or break.
The Television Deal
The ECB is reaching larger audiences by ensuring some live England matches are available on free-to-air TV in the UK via the BBC, alongside highlights and clips readily available on the BBC’s digital platforms and social media.
The ECB’s tactics and approach in attracting a younger demographic to the sport began with the tournament itself. The body designed a new, more digestible format that would easily fit on prime time TV. The Hundred, a new tournament made up of eight brand new teams, was born.
The tournament’s broadcast has an entirely different look and feel to any other cricket competition, with bright colored graphics, animations, and calls to action to vote on the app across the screen at all times.
This new broadcast partnership, alongside the new format, is a signifier that the ECB is timing its move to compete with other sports and the wide range of entertainment services in today’s crowded market.
With its goal to engage younger audiences, cricket is competing against video games, television and social media alongside sports with an established global reach such as soccer.
A multifaceted strategy
The Hundred has been marketed purposely different from any other cricket in the country.
The deliberate use of bright color in all marketing materials for the tournament, alongside some of the biggest names in cricket, packs a punch and grabs the viewer. However, the ECB’s clever use of technology and social media to attract new fans and keep them engaged is more critical.
The key on matchdays is to ensure that the event experience, both in-stadia and broadcast, would draw audiences and allow for the possibility that stadiums would not be at total capacity by the first game on July 21.
The ECB’s goal before the competition was to fully-integrate each match across broadcast, digital, and on-prem.
This is spearheaded by the use of its dedicated app, which allows fans to vote on polls and watch highlights whether they are watching at home, on the ground, or keeping up to date from anywhere in the world.
Users of the app are prompted to engage with the competition at every possible opportunity, being asked to vote for the player of the match or predict the score throughout the tournament.
This is coupled with the competition’s thoughtful use of social media. Dynamic, colorful graphics and highlights are pushed out consistently across the length of the competition that encourages people to not only watch the games or buy tickets but also get engaged with the app.
Its dedication to social media has been shaped by consumer behavior. Grabyo’s Sports Video Trend Report 2021 shows that 43% of sports fans in the United Kingdom use social media to watch videos regularly, and 51% want more instant highlights published on social media.
Ongoing series such as “Play of the Game”, that has a clear call to action to the app or website shows the seamless, multi-platform nature of The Hundred’s digital approach.
The ECB has also invested heavily in the in-stadia experience, having budgeted a reported £6 million for event production costs like pyrotechnics and other in-venue entertainment. This figure represents a considerable increase in investment in relation to other tournaments in the country.
The Gamification of Cricket
The most groundbreaking element of the tournament’s coverage has been its gamification of the sport.
Gamification of The Hundred comes in two primary forms: Using player avatars for analysis during elements of Sky’s coverage and on-screen broadcast graphics with a ‘gaming’ or ‘esports’ feel designed to help simplify the game, making the sport more accessible to a larger number of viewers.
Dimension Studio created the avatar faces using images from 19 cameras that captured a scan of each player’s head. Those pictures were then animated, processed, and stitched together before skin texture and detail were added.
Motion capture techniques were then used to generate the sporting action for each avatar body.
For this, Target 3D positioned 30 optical micro tracking cameras around each player. These triangulated the position of 50 visual markers placed on a bodysuit worn by the cricketers as they played different shots or went through their bowling action.
💥 Ben Stokes and Heather Knight are among household names to have their movements captured— Sky Sports (@SkySports) July 19, 2021
💥 Fans will be treated to ground-breaking technology in the new competition
💥 Avatars will debut at opening match of #TheHundred between Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals
These elements were then stitched together to create 30-second avatar clips for each player, either hitting a shot or bowling a ball that experts could use as part of their analysis between innings and being used on social campaigns and its dedicated app.
This groundbreaking achievement for the ECB has shown its desire to innovate to push the game forward.
The early viewing figures from the tournament are a signifier that its approach is working, with the opening night being the most-watched women’s cricket match in U.K. history with a peak audience of 1.95 million and 2.5 million viewers watching the first men’s game on Sky and BBC.
Early success for The Hundred will need to be built upon in the coming years; however, with the ECB’s clear commitment to innovation, its goal to engage a younger demographic will depend on a dedication to aligning with evolving consumption habits.
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