While Baseball’s Hot Stove Cools, Cricket Scores Down Under

Save for this past week’s Hall of Fame announcement and the on-going Alex Rodriguez drama, baseball’s Hot Stove is on a low simmer for the next few weeks (except for the New York opening of “Bronx Bombers” on Broadway, of course). However in Australia it is mid-summer, and one of the world’s other global stick and ball games, cricket, is in full swing. Baseball and cricket share more than just the game’s beginnings these days; while several hundred Aussie’s have made it to the major and minor professional ranks over the years and the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers will open the 2014 season in Sydney, Australia for the first time (March 22-23), cricket is finding its way at some levels in the States as well.

ESPN’s cricket hub, ESPNCricinfo, is one of the most-visited mobile destinations of ANY sport around the world, and cricket clubs around the nation are growing in number, similar to the rising population of Indian, Pakistani and other ethnicities who enjoy the game. Some reports even say that this spring there will be more high school cricket clubs in New York than high school baseball teams, although the amount of people actually playing baseball continues to be dominant, with no signs of letting down. Talk of a large scale cricket exhibition in the States continues to be talked about, although there is only one substantial cricket ground (in Florida) in the U.S. that could hold the world’s elite players and the thousands of supporters who would show.

 However in Oz, cricket continues not just to thrive, but to innovate in becoming more fan friendly, more socially responsive, and more media friendly than ever before.  Similar to the Indian Premier League, Aussie cricket is borrowing best practices from the success of North American sport to draw new fans and make it even more competitive for a global audience who may not know cricket from baseball.

 Some of our friends “Down Under” helped us with a look at the latest and greatest that’s opening pocketbooks and eyes in Australian Cricket as 2014 gets rolling…

Cricket Australia launched the Big Bash League (with good old American brand KFC as a key partner) in 2011 with the goal of creating a fan, family and youth-friendly style of cricket. The BBL has been a summer TV ratings smash achieving the nightly dominance of what the US is used to for Sunday Night Football. The box office success has been equally impressive as the BBL is drawing crowds as high as 40,000.

Dan Migala, Co-Founder of Chicago-based PCG has served as a Senior-level advisor to the league in all areas of marketing, promotion and fan development since the BBL’s origin. Migala spent the first two weeks of 2014 in Australia attending matches throughout the country. Dan, who is known for his creative marketing work both in MLB and MiLB, gives us a unique lens into the innovative marketing tactics BBL teams that he feels can be adaptable to teams worldwide.

Hobart Hurricanes: Every team is looking for a way to connect its players authentically with young players. The Hurricanes executed an idea that raises the bar to what’s possible in driving youth engagement. The team held a contest for its junior members to win a chance to have star player Tim Paine drive the winner to school.

Perth Scorchers: A new player press conference announcement is arguably the same everywhere around the world. Have a team executive introduce the player, the player speaks, both answer questions and the press files their story. The Scorchers added life to this template by moving a player press conference announcement to a local elementary school and have a 12-year old girl who is a fan of the team make the announcement. The result was positive press, a more colorful introduction and furthered the team’s objective of showing vs. telling that they are both child- and fan-friendly.

Sydney Sixers: A fan’s first experience is critical to an enjoyable gameday experience. The Sixers nailed this challenge by creating a paparazzi-style welcome for its fans making them feel like stars from the moment they walked through the turnstiles. The area was complete with a carpet emblazoned in the team’s primary pink color and staffers snapped pictures that were later posted on the club’s Web site. An added business benefit was the photo backdrop featured the team’s primary sponsors increasing their exposure.

Sydney Thunder: Ethnic-targeted promotions are a difficult challenge for any team. Even more so for a team like the Thunder that play in West Sydney, one of the most diverse areas in one of the world’s most diverse cities. The team created a grass roots cricket competition among local club cricket teams from nine key ethnic communities, including Afghans and Sri Lankans. The winner of each ethnic community division was awarded the Thunder Nation Cup and honored on the pitch prior to a Thunder match.

While it will be interesting to see the successes and next steps with these and other promotions, the most important aspect which Australian Cricket has embraced is the need for changing and adapting while not losing a solid group of core fans. The influx of MLB into the market in a few months will also be interesting, as the synergies between baseball and cricket on the promotional level have never really been exploited, and could provide an interesting 365 day platform for all sports stick and ball and around the world. Are they competing for the same fans? In some ways yes, but the complimentary factor is even more enticing as both baseball, and cricket, look for new global allies business partners and fans, as they play seasons that compliment and not clash with each other.