Strategy of Champions: How Surrey Cricket celebrated County Championship victory online

With a membership of over 11,000, Surrey Cricket is one of the biggest county teams in the country, and despite the fact that only Yorkshire have more County Championship wins, this year’s victory for Surrey was their first for 16 years.

And so their first victory since 2002 wasn’t just a cause for celebration, it was also the first time the club had won in the digital or social media age; the first time the organisation’s marketing department had been tasked with coming up with a way to share such a big moment with their fans.

“We are member-owned club,” said Emily Clark, Marketing Manager, Surrey Cricket, “so we always have to have Members at the forefront of the decisions we make. When we first sat down (back in late June / early July) to discuss what we might do should we win the title, we knew we had to create content that the members would want to share, and celebrate with us.”

Clearly it’s not every day that your team wins the league. But when the wait has been this long, you have to do something special to mark the occasion, and the fans will certainly be interested in reading as much as they can on the topic.

But that doesn’t mean you can just post anything.

“We looked around for inspiration – using the likes of the NFL, Premier League and the NBA in particular” said Clark. “And we decided on a concept for a graphic featuring every player in our Championship squad around our captain, Rory Burns. Our designer did an incredible job, and we re-purposed the graphic for each platform that the Club is on.”

Closer to home, the idea of bespoke and personal graphics for each other players is reminiscent of Manchester City’s Premier League title winning social media celebrations. They were widely praised at the time and Surrey’s adoption of a similar approach shows that this is a winning formula: not only do the players want to share the graphics on their own social media channels, but they get to elevate their own personal brands by doing so. It’s a win-win in man ways.

“A lot of our content is still to come. Whilst the players enjoyed the title win, we still had two games to go and so the focus was back to cricket pretty quickly. We’ve got a lot of content up our sleeves to get excited about over the off-season and the winter months, and share with Members and fans.”

Which campaign are you most proud of this year?

“Away from the Championship Title, the work we have done at the club to ensure we are family friendly has been huge this year.”

“We wanted to attract more families to the ground, and give them an unrivalled experience. Digitally, this meant segmenting our database to get a greater understanding of those who attended fixtures with U16s, their motivations for purchasing, and also using data to influence where we implemented our OOH advertising, at what time of the year, and to run unique creatives for our digital advertising specifically targeted at families.”

If cricket more generally is to grow, creating a family friendly game that appeals to everyone is vital. Indeed, a game in which a hard ball is thrown at high speeds isn’t always attractive to parents of young children who want their kids to play sport, but maybe not cricket. Participation at a young age is so important for any sport, but arguably one as technical as cricket has to put more emphasis on amplifying its entry points for new or young fans. Surrey’s strategy is one cricket as a whole arguably needs to adopt.

“Our on-site activation, lead by our Customer Experience Manager, George, included VR headsets, says Clark, “so fans could try and hit sixes out of the ground. This went down a treat with kids… and with their parents! Overall, we grew our Junior Membership by over 30% – so we were really pleased with the results.”

What have you learned throughout the season? Are fans more responsive the better the team plays? Or does on-pitch success make no difference to the types of content you look to produce for fans?

“We always see spikes in engagement when the team does well, or a player does something exceptional. So, yes, on-pitch success does translate to online success and you can expect this.”

“But, one thing that we have tried to focus on this year is how we can get good engagement and spikes without relying on that. For example, last year we knew that if Kumar Sangakkara scored a century (of which he did many times!), the highlights of his innings would get a significant number of views. And for that we’d give ourselves a pat on the back. Now we are less likely to do that, and are more focused on how we can create engagement that we wouldn’t otherwise get, regardless of what is happening on the pitch.”

“Of course, we have a role to do in sharing highlights, match updates and news stories as that is important content for our Members. But, we also think about what content we are capturing that we can share that will evoke emotion, give people a behind-the-scenes look into the Club, show them something they wouldn’t usually get to see, ask them questions etc.”

The digital side of things is the modern way in which fans consume sport, but clubs – especially historic clubs like Surrey – need to be aware of their history. The club’s hashtag for their title victory was #CreatingNewHistory, a nod to the old, but a look to the new.

“One thing I learnt early on in my career at Surrey is that you can’t escape the history of the Club. The Members, the players, the staff – everyone is so passionate about the success of the Club before, and the ambition that we can re-ignite that.”

“We put a few suggestions to a couple of players, and management staff to get their perspective. Alec Stewart – Surrey’s Director of Cricket – is very much focused on how this Title win is just the beginning for this side, and although we are building on the history that has gone before, that this squad is full of fresh and exciting talent.”

“And so it seemed that Creating New History made sense. This team is hopefully the start of creating a new era of success, inspired by the history of achievement at the club.”

About author

Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 831 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and editor of Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan_

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