I’m beginning to recognise the signs. The quivering lip. The merely detectable twitch. The slight hesitation. The fear in the eyes. And then the question that dare not speak its name: “Do you like The Hundred?”
You may as well ask “Do you like devil worship?”, or, even worse, “Do you like Coldplay?” Once those words have been uttered, nothing seems quite the same. And – to be fair to The Hundred – after this summer, it isn’t.
Unless you’ve been socially distancing from your TV set for the last six weeks, you’ll know that The Hundred has arrived as the all-singing, all-dancing adrenaline shot to revive cricket from its commercial deathbed. Its much-heralded £300 million arrival left most cricket fans and media answering the question above with a big, fat, Day-Glo “No”. As a middle-aged lifetime cricket obsessive myself, this was my initial response too.
But Wham! Bam! Allan Lamb! has it had an impact. Packed grounds, beaming families and high-quality entertainment all wrapped up in a contagious feel-good factor. In short, all the things the ECB wished for when we pitched for the business (a close second) two years ago.
For long-standing cricket fans there remain many questions to answer: Why are some of our most historic counties not represented? Why does my favourite player now play for the opposition? Why do the graphics hurt my eyes so much? Who thought it was a good idea to call one of the teams the Oval Invincibles? (both the men’s and the women’s teams lost three games).
But these concerns will be politely filed away in a slightly battered old box marked “TRADITIONAL CRICKET FAN: DO NOT DISTURB”. Because, quite frankly, we’re not going anywhere, and, if we don’t adapt, neither is the sport. Which is why, if you’re a cricket fan who cares about the future of the sport, the only answer to the question posed at the start has to be “Yes”.
You don’t have to love it, but you do have to recognise the difference it can make, particularly in the women’s game. Just look at the numbers. A staggering 267,000 fans attended women’s games in The Hundred. Was this helped by the fact that COVID restrictions required women’s fixtures to be played immediately before the men’s equivalent? Probably. But will these fans come back next year? In all likelihood, yes.
If you look at The Hundred across the board, grounds were at 90% capacity with women and children making up 41% of the total (21% and 20% respectively). Perhaps most significant of all is that 57% of TV viewers had not watched any other cricket in 2021. That probably tells you all you need to know.
There’s a great lesson here in how we approach our client work. Some of it will be challenging, some of it will be controversial, some of it will be vilified. But if we and our clients believe in it, then we must be bold, we must be brave and we must back ourselves. The ECB didn’t get everything right with The Hundred, but they did stick to their guns. A one year delay to the tournament only intensified the media storm around it but, ultimately, they knew that at the end of the day the judges of success or failure are the public, not the media. Their verdict is clear for all to see.