How Cricket Australia plans to be the number one digital resource for the Ashes
For cricket fans in Australia and England, the Ashes is as big as it gets. Sporting summers in Australia have long been dominated by international cricket, and in recent years, the enterprising Big Bash League, however an Ashes season takes interest in the sport to different levels.
A new chapter of cricket’s oldest rivalry will be written during the coming Australian summer when the series kicks off in Brisbane in November.
On the field, Australia are being touted as short-priced favourites to win back the famous urn off the back of their fearsome fast-bowing trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazelwood and Pat Cummins, and the batting prowess of David Warner and Steve Smith.
Off the field, Cricket Australia have their sights set on online domination, aiming for their digital media arm, the Cricket Network, to compete for audience numbers with global cricket media behemoths ESPN Cricinfo and Cricbuzz.
With a companywide mantra of putting fans first, Cricket Australia will be focused on delivering video, action and statistics to fans across the globe, with a goal of being the number one digital resource for the Ashes.
2017-18 will mark four years since Cricket Australia founded their independent media brand, Cricket.com.au. On the eve of the 2013-14 Ashes series and armed with a suite of new digital media titles and a fresh content team, cricket.com.au was launched with the immediate goal of eclipsing ESPN Cricinfo as Australia’s number one cricket website. An objective they hoped to achieve by delivering unbiased, independent and entertaining news and video from the world of cricket.
“That was our first aim,” says Cricket Australia’s Head of Digital Finn Bradshaw.
“We wanted to beat Cricinfo in terms of audience, and if we were going to do that we needed to have credibility, and you can’t have that if you are sugar coating content. People need to trust you are giving them the truth. Whilst we will cover things our communications team would sometimes prefer we didn’t, we must commit to fans that when something happens in the world of cricket, we will cover it, otherwise they will go to other sites.”
The moment of truth for the newly formed media team would come almost immediately after their establishment in 2013.
With Australia one wicket from victory in the first Ashes Test at the Gabba, Australian debutant George Bailey and England’s premier fast-bowler James Anderson were involved in an on-field verbal stoush. From slip, in steps Australian captain Michael Clarke who delivers his now infamous line to Anderson, ‘get ready for a broken f***ing arm”, which is caught on stump microphone and beamed around the world.
The moment was sure to be a talking point in the post-match washup and covered in all news articles and bulletins, and Bradshaw describes the decision to publish the vision to their site as a defining moment for cricket.com.au.
“Everyone was watching and it was all people were talking about on social media. For it not to be on our site would be downright weird. It was definitely a piece of content that would not have been on the Cricket Australia website in the past, so in that sense it was a watershed moment,” he said.
Four years on from Clarke moment and the Cricket Network has developed into a global media company with the long-term goal of becoming the world’s number one online cricket resource.
In the past 18-months the Cricket Network have launched a website specifically targeted at overseas eyeballs (www.cricketnetwork.com), with branding and content deliberately skewed away from the parochial Australian commentary of cricket.com.au.
The site’s initial strategy has been to drive traffic from cricket’s most passionate supporter base in the sub-continent through global news and video, however Bradshaw says the Cricket Network’s focus during the Ashes series will be growing its UK audience.
This will involve dedicated highlights packages and statistics for fans of the English team, plus a UK content team responsible for developing digital and social media news and video for its audience in the region.
“For the first time we will have an editor focused just on the UK market. The Ashes is the biggest event in world cricket so we need to ensure that our coverage on the Cricket Network is relevant to a UK audience,” he said.
With a 10-hour time difference between London and Sydney, the Cricket Network will be focused on pushing out catch-up video highlights across their digital channels at times when their audience is likely to be online.
The other major focus for the Cricket Australia digital team will be feeding the country’s growing appetite for women’s sport, which will see the Women’s Ashes series, starting on October 22, covered to the same level as the men’s series. This will include a broadcast quality live stream of the historic day / night Test match, coming with all the bells and whistles you would expect from an internationally broadcasted cricket event, including a world-class commentary team, multiple camera angles and super-slow motion replays.
One of Australian cricket’s crowning glories of the past decade has been the evolution of the Twenty20 as an entertainment product through the Big Bash League, and more recently, the Women’s Big Bash League, which is approaching its third season.
With a focus on appealing to non-traditional cricket fans, the Big Bash is viewed a vehicle to bring a new audience to the sport, and Bradshaw sees digital as a platform to convert fans who watch the BBL and WBBL as an entertainment product into passionate supporters.
“The Big Bash is clearly so important for our organisation. In terms of traffic it will be a fraction of what we get for the Ashes, but we know how much Australians love the Big Bash, so we feel we have a role to play in driving passion for the teams and players so we can take engagement for the competition to new levels”.
While long-term the Cricket Network plans to own the highest trafficking suite of cricket websites in the world, the short term will involve taking fans every step of the way for what promises to be one of the biggest summers of cricket Australia’s shores have seen.
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