On Saturday MCC proudly issued a press release which stated that the crowd of 15,000 people at Lord’s for the England v India fixture was a record for a bilateral women’s fixture in England.
24 hours later, less than 500 people were present to watch the final of the 2022 Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy – a thrilling game of cricket which came down to the very last ball and saw Northern Diamonds triumph over Southern Vipers by just 2 runs. The cricket was phenomenal and the surroundings were iconic – but (almost) no one came.
This should have been the perfect marketing opportunity for regional cricket – a Weekend of Women’s Cricket to wrap up the season at Lord’s, with a captive audience present from the previous day and some of the same players in the England squad present on both occasions. Not least Charlie Dean, who after inadvertently finding herself the centre of attention on Saturday then played another 100 overs of cricket on Sunday – good on her!
But if we are purely judging by the size of the crowd, then… it flopped.
Of course, not everyone who might have been interested in women’s cricket was able to get to Lord’s – they could instead watch on Sky at home. Or could they? The game was pushed onto the red button after 3pm – it was still available on YouTube, but even so the decision suggests that someone at Sky felt that keeping it on a main channel was a “waste”.
That’s not even mentioning the quality of the coverage, which was more akin to a poor live stream. Firstly, it was fixed camera. Secondly, as a friend of ours watching at home said: “the sound went up and down like a yo-yo, and at times the ground effects microphones packed up completely. At others, you couldn’t hear the commentators.”
And this for a day which was supposed to be the pinnacle of the regional calendar. Imagine if T20 Blast Finals Day was treated like this?
The whole day was symptomatic of a wider problem. The new professional domestic structure is now three seasons old… and yet the marketing of regional cricket is still wildly inconsistent, part-time and in many cases almost non-existent. The replies to my tweet made this pretty clear:
If you’ve time, it’s worth reading the replies in full, but here’s a sample:
Perhaps more importantly, the disparity between attendance at the RHF Trophy final and the final of the Women’s Hundred a few weeks previously (20,000) highlighted more clearly than ever before the extent to which regional cricket is living in the shadow of The Hundred.
I’ve loved attending and covering both seasons of The Hundred. It’s been incredibly exciting to see the huge crowds for women’s cricket, and be able to watch the entire tournament from start to end on Sky and the BBC.
But for me, that was just Step One. Step Two is about translating those audiences into fans of the non-Hundred women’s teams as well. Because if the success of The Hundred, built on a vast marketing budget, is coming at the expense of regional cricket – then is it really success at all?
Interesting piece Raf. I think there are several issues at play here. Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that what’s good for the game in terms of developing more players of England might not always be what people want to watch. Very few people watch men’s county championship cricket and not that many watched the 50 over men’s cup (even before it was shoved into the background by the Hundred).
Next, very few people have an affinity with their region. People might be proud to be British, or English, or to be from Manchester or from Hampshire, say. But very few people say things like ‘I’m a very proud south-easterner’.
If you want to get people behind these ‘regional’ teams then the best way to do that is to pick eight major cricketing counties to name them after. After all, these are the established ‘brand names’ in domestic cricket. However, the only regional team to be essentially selecting from just one county is Thunder, and they’ve hardly been successful for it.
Then there’s the difficulty of getting fans of the Hundred to watch any other form of cricket. Just because people watch Southern Brave doesn’t mean they will then go to Southern Vipers. I would question how many of the people in the Hundred crowd are actually there to provide rabid support to one of the teams, and how many have in fact gone for an afternoon and evening of light entertainment. Those that fall into the latter category are not going to watch a 50-over match where there is no associated entertainment and razzamatazz.
Thanks Raf!! Thought my TV was on the blink! Great shame, a good close, competitive game watched a loyal handful of parents/family/supporters. Maybe all the cricket family were in a state of Limbo after Deepti’s dark arts from the day before….but enough said on that count before I get out of order!! Let us hope for better promotion and coverage for next season!