Yes it’s been controversial. But The Hundred can help ensure cricket remains relevant and resilient for generations to come

By Vikram Banerjee, Director of Strategy, ECB

I am a cricket nut, or a “badger” as we are affectionately known.  I grew up on the county game and am still passionate about it today. I remember rushing to Edgbaston after school to catch Brian Lara during his momentous 501 not out. I remember being called in from the back garden to watch Asif Din complete a magnificent century to win the Natwest Trophy on BBC.

I am a county person through and through. I was fortunate to play for Gloucestershire for a few years. I love the crowd and atmosphere of Blast matches, but equally the tradition involved in the Cheltenham Festival. To this day, I regret giving away my tickets to that infamous last day at Edgbaston in 2005!

In fact, I love the range of professional cricket competitions we have – whether it’s Test cricket or shorter international formats, men’s four-day cricket, or 50-over or T20 contests in the men’s and women’s game. They all have their own special place to me.

This week, we’ve added one more to the list – The Hundred – bringing domestic cricket back onto free-to-access channels and not only providing world-class cricket for existing fans like me, but also throwing cricket’s doors open to a broader audience.

It is a moment that presents English cricket with a unique opportunity. Amid the increasingly fierce competition for people’s spare time and the need for cricket to remain relevant in a changing society, this is a chance we can’t afford to miss. A chance to attract more fans, more interest, more players, and more revenue to our wonderful sport. The importance of that is only magnified by the impacts Covid-19 has had on our sport.

“Yes – but will The Hundred change the cricket I love?”

That’s a fear we’ve heard often. So let’s be clear: The Hundred isn’t here to diminish or detract from our historic and valued competitions.

Test and County cricket are the reason millions of people play, watch, and follow cricket – and we’re thankful for every single fan, viewer, participant, and volunteer across the country.

We know that, as the recent Cricket Supporters’ Association survey shows, some existing fans still have major doubts about The Hundred. Big changes always bring big questions. That’s why, in light of your survey, I wanted to deal with some of them today.

Let’s tackle the biggest of all – head on: why? And why now?

In short, the answer is simple: for cricket to remain relevant and to prosper in a changing world, we need to extend its appeal particularly to more young people, women and girls and diverse communities, and to open people’s minds where previously they may not have thought that cricket is for them. We want more people following the game and picking up a bat and ball.

Yes, my childhood was all about the longer formats of the sport, red ball and whites. Playing on a Saturday afternoon for my local club and then watching county and country in big stadia with thousands of others. This is what I fell in love with. It is the foundation of our sport. Each year, this attracts a large, devoted and dedicated following of people just like me.

However, the world is a very different place from then – and continues to change at a rapid rate. All our research and insights shows us that what worked for me won’t necessarily work for my sons, daughters, nieces and nephews.

Let’s take a step back, because The Hundred shouldn’t be seen in isolation. It’s one part of our game-wide Inspiring Generations strategy which aims to see more people saying ‘cricket is a game for me’. It’s a strategy through which we’re investing at every level of the game – from the grassroots through domestic cricket to our England teams.

Transforming women’s and girls’ cricket, engaging children and young people, and inspiring through our elite teams are key parts of that. So is growing and nurturing the core – ensuring there is a thriving county network at the heart of the domestic game.

Ultimately, we want to encourage more young people to form a lifelong relationship with cricket. We want them to be passionate about the game throughout their lives. And we want them to pass on that passion for generations to come.

And there’s another important reality here. At the moment, cricket in this country is hugely financially reliant on broadcast revenue from international men’s cricket. It accounts for the vast majority of our revenue. This new competition gives us an important new revenue stream, which in turn goes back in its entirety into growing cricket in this country. Helping more children pick up a bat and ball, and helping our First Class Counties survive and prosper – indeed, the revenue from The Hundred enables us to give each county an extra £1.3m a year. This would simply not be possible without the competition.

The importance of developing our audience

We can’t escape some uncomfortable facts. Of the 10 million people who currently follow cricket in England, only one million are active ticket-buyers – and they often come from relatively similar parts of society.

We’ve got to look up and reach out. Welcome people from all walks of life. Find ways to get people involved in cricket when there’s so much competition for their time.

If we don’t, the alternative is bleak. Over time, we’d have a fan base that risks getting smaller with every year – and all the consequences that has on revenue, visibility, and participation. I strongly believe that many people will discover cricket through The Hundred, and a big chunk will fall in love with the sport, and sign up to buy tickets at their local county ground. That can only be good for all competitions that we have.

I understand that some people have concerns what impact The Hundred will have on existing competitions. I understand this. However, I’d ask you to look at it the other way and question what would happen if we didn’t have this new competition. Aside from the audience benefits I believe it will bring, it would mean no live cricket on free-to-air TV, significantly less money to invest into the game and the things we love whether that’s Test cricket, the County Championship, developing a professional women’s structure, youth programmes or urban cricket centres.

Some people ask about the data behind the concept. We studied a vast amount of data and research when considering the need for a new competition, and then developed the concept of The Hundred. This included attendance data from ticketing experts, data from bodies including Sport England and the ICC, population information, YouGov surveys, market research by a number of external organisations, our own opinion trackers, supporter surveys and transactional data. Some of this information was already in the public domain, some is standard ECB research carried out on a continuing basis, and some specially commissioned.

However much we love all the different formats of the game, the reality is that research shows cricket is seen, by large parts of the population, as too slow, too long, and too complicated. The Hundred is designed specifically to broaden cricket’s appeal and secure its long-term sustainability.

Here are some examples:

  • 74% of teens cited “fast-paced, high energy action” as the biggest appeal of short-form cricket. That is what The Hundred is all about
  • People were 2.5 times more likely to identify with a city than a county, and by 2030 85% of England’s population will live in cities. The Hundred teams build on this connection
  • 75% of young families said they want an event that does not exceed three hours and is finished by 9pm. The Hundred aims to do that

How will we judge the success of The Hundred?

One of the CSA’s key requests was for more information about how we will judge The Hundred’s success, so let me explain. We will focus on its four key objectives:

  • Audience growth. Has it – over time – attracted new, diverse, and different fans? We’ll measure this by looking at broadcast and digital reach and attendees compared to existing cricket. For ticketing, in year one our target is for 60% capacity and we’re confident we’ll exceed this.
  • Inspiring participation. Is it inspiring more children to play cricket? We’ve launched Dynamos, a new programme for 8 to 11 year olds this year, are also supporting clubs to stay open through the summer holidays, while commercial partners also have initiatives to inspire people to pick up a bat and ball. What’s the impact of schemes like these?
  • World-class cricket. Obviously, this year Covid has meant some of those international stars who signed up haven’t been able to make it here, but we’ve still got top global players taking part. We’ll look at how the standard of the competition compares to other global events.
  • Financial wellbeing. Revenue from The Hundred supports the whole of the game, including providing an important income stream for county cricket. We have set ourselves the target of £50m revenue in year one, and are on track to achieve this, meaning a surplus of around £10m going back into the game.

Of course, new teams and changes to cricket’s format will feel uncomfortable for some. We’re not blind to that. And it’s exactly why we’ll do everything we can to reassure anyone who needs it. The arrival of The Hundred does not, for example, mean the ECB will divert any attention or resources from other forms of the game. Our actions in the last 18 months prove that.

A significant investment in technology means county cricket fans can now livestream every ball of every match. Women’s cricket now has two regional domestic competitions – the Charlotte Edwards Cup and the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy – and last year we were able to award 41 full-time contracts as we professionalise the game. Our ongoing marketing initiatives saw the Vitality Blast benefit from a ground-breaking TV advertising campaign this year.

But we can’t afford to stand still.

If The Hundred can bring more people into cricket, our aim is that it acts as a gateway experience, allowing those new fans to go on to explore, enjoy and be involved in the sport’s longstanding formats. Every person brought into The Hundred means another person involved with our fantastic sport. Another person engaged in a healthier lifestyle. And another person in love with the sound of leather on willow.

The Hundred can help ensure cricket remains relevant and resilient for generations to come. We hope that everyone will enjoy the action and, over time, those who have their doubts will come to see the benefits it brings.

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