How the ECB boosted live cricket audiences during a pandemic

Growing a cricket fanbase via a completely new nationwide event is tricky enough without an ongoing pandemic to contend with too. Here’s how the ECB and Threepipe Reply batted a sticky wicket to generate half a million ticket sales…

The Hundred, a new 100-ball cricket competition created by the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB), worked with longtime partner agency Threepipe Reply to generate interest and ticket sales during the spring and summer of 2021.

After the tournament was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID, the renewed campaign the following year was a huge success, resulting in over half a million ticket sales, with 55% of attendees being new to the sport.

Designed to appeal to a younger and more female demographic than traditional cricket fans, the tournament was faster and more dynamic than the usual week-long test matches.

To boost accessibility, the games took place in inner-city locations and pitted new teams against each other. Crucially, a single ticket invited attendees to see both the men’s and women’s matches on the same day, broadening the appeal and reach of both games.

The challenge: new event, new audience and live event jitters

Threepipe Reply’s challenge from the ECB was two-fold:

  1. Sell as many tickets as possible during the summer of 2021 as the country recovered from a pandemic
  2. Broaden the appeal of the game by selling tickets to newer audiences, including women and children

There are currently more than 10million followers across the ECB channels, and the UK sport’s body wanted to build those existing relationships as well as expand the reach of cricket to new audiences.

To do so, it was essential not only to create a tailored product, content and distribution offering for each key audience in cricket, but to make the digital offering central.

Threepipe had been working with the ECB for a number of years and supported them in their domestic tournament and international series, exceeding targets for match ticket sales. But this was a fresh challenge and an entirely new competition.

The solution: finding the right performance marketing channels to reach the right market

Threepipe’s response was to be as agile as possible. The campaign was delivered through a multi-channel and digital-first approach and was continuously optimised in response to what was happening as pandemic restrictions were lifted.

The vibrant, stylish ads pushed ticket sales and drove site visits, running across DOOH, paid social, Influencer, CTV and PPC.

To boost appeal to a younger mobile gaming demographic, the ECB also ran an industry-first augmented reality cricket game. The WebAR game, created in tandem via a partnership between Threepipe Reply, Mobsta and Aircards,  used hyper-local, verified location targeting to let people be part of a match without leaving their living rooms.

The pandemic presented unique advantages and disadvantages for the campaign. Restricted overseas travel meant that ‘staycations’ and domestic day trips like The Hundred were more appealing to some families. But stop-start COVID rules also left many people jittery about attending large-scale events.

Farhad Koodoruth, CEO, Threepipe Reply, says: “We were trying to deal with the kind of fluidity of the situation that you happen to be in at any particular time. We needed a tremendous amount of flexibility to deal with an evolving situation.”

When it came to media planning, there were many moving parts. Cricket grounds filled up at different speeds and capacities, restrictions on social distancing were changing all the time on the Government ‘Roadmap’, some regional cricket teams had greater appeal than others, timings of matches varied and some consumers were more hesitant about attending events in a post-vaccine society than others.

All this fed into the Hundred campaign’s media mix that required constant optimisation of budget spend across paid search, social and video.

“The length of the campaign was probably for six weeks longer than you would really normally run something in this sort of field before,” Koodoruth says. “But we also made sure that we got through multiple touch points in terms of education, reaching and retargeting across social, TV, OOH and search to build awareness”

The team identified YouTube as a key channel to reach parents with children. “We found YouTube consumption was about 50% of their kids’ views,” Koodoruth adds. “If you look at almost any other category, including sports, it’s usually only about 20%. We identified a shift of parenting and children behaviour to streaming YouTube content on television, the size of the audience basically gives you an equivalent of a TV ad placement.”

“So not only do you get the numbers, you also get the benefits of the size of the format. Which makes a substantial difference in terms of what you can do and the quality of what you can run again. The key for us was understanding the impact of getting someone to actually investigate the event, which was normally via our website or via social channels.”

Results – half a million ticket sales

Despite the many boundaries, the Hundred campaign hit all its KPIs and then some. Overall, the 2021 campaign reached a whopping 16.1million people, generating 34million video views.

This translated into sales of 510,000 tickets around UK venues for The Hundred competition, with an impressive 55% of those having never attended a cricket match before.

The campaign also succeeded in getting children back into the sport, with nearly one in 5 (19%) tickets going to under 18-year-olds.

What’s more, over 267,000 people watched the women’s matches, breaking all previous attendance records and boosting the profile of the competition.

Watch Jim Hawker,  Co-Founder and Sales and Marketing Director of Threepipe Reply, discuss the campaign with Joe Steel, Head of Fan & Brand Engagement, ECB in this video below:

Article first appeared in Performance World Marketing.