Where does cricket go from here? Introducing our first panellist: Owen Hughes

Less than a month till our big event at Lord’s and you don’t want to miss this one! Cricket is as topical as ever at the moment with the World Cup and the Ashes coming back-to-back this summer, so there’s no better time to discuss the future of the sport and to try to understand how the game can capitalise on the tournaments’ coverage and popularity over the past months.

Our event, ‘Where Does Cricket Go From Here?’ looks to explore in more depth how the growth of the game will be impacted from the summer we’ve had, getting the very best insight from experts in their fields: Owen Hughes, a senior manager and Head of Global Sponsorship at Nissan, who sponsor many cricket events across the year. Andy Muggleton, Assistant Secretary at Marylebone Cricket Club and Lord’s will also be in attendance, as will Chris Hurst who is the moderator for the event, who’s worked at BBC Sport and the ICC.

We’re delighted to announce our panellists and with that we want you to know a little more about them and give you a taste of what to expect for the event in September! So, we caught up with Owen Hughes to understand more about what he does and get some insight into the future of cricket…

Profile

Owen has been in sports marketing for over 20 years, working both agency and brand side and across many of the world’s biggest sports properties

 Joined Nissan in 2013 when the global sponsorship division was formed in Hong Kong.  Was instrumental in the development of the global strategy, which focuses predominantly on sport.  He manages a small internal team and a dedicated agency team in London and responsibilities include managing Nissan’s major global properties – UEFA Champions League, International crickets events (ICC) and City Football Group  He also worked on previous partnerships with IOC (Rio 2016) and CAF (Africa Cup of Nations 2015)

 Prior to Nissan, Owen worked freelance in Hong Kong, working with local rights rights-holder and agencies, creating and managing events, talent management, communications, event operations and sponsorship. 

 Before moving to Hong Kong in 2008, Owen worked agency side, specialising in sports research, working with the likes of TNS/Kantar and Sport+Markt (now Nielsen Sports).

Owen, could you tell us a little about yourself and your history working with the Cricket industry?

“I’ve been with Nissan for just over six years. I am the Head of Global Sponsorship so I look after all our major global properties which includes Champions League football, cricket with the ICC, the World Cups, T20, etc, and our relationship with the football group are the main properties. I have broader global oversight of what we’re doing in sponsorship generally over the world.”

Did you follow the Cricket World Cup?

“I did. Obviously we were heavily involved as a sponsor, doing quite a lot in the UK but also in India and some other markets around the world. But yeah I’m a cricket fan as well so obviously being in the UK you were able to follow it and get to a couple of games as well, so yeah it was a great event.”

How confident were you of an England tournament win?

“I was actually pretty hopeful. They’d had a pretty good run of form, they’ve played well over the last few years, I think it was just about whether they could deliver on the day but I think they were probably the better team overall, despite losing a few dodgy games they were the best team overall, but maybe I’m slightly biased! I think they did well and deserved to win.”

How does Cricket build on the success of this summer?

“I think it’s an interesting one, and I think it depends on where you are in the world. If you’re talking England-UK specific, I think the one-day and the shorter formats are growing in popularity. We’ve seen success in that and we’ve been reasonably successful in T20 as well and that’s what’s probably engaging a broader audience now. There’s definitely a future in those formats and it’s attracting a younger demographic. People attending those games, like the one-day cups, I’d expect they’re pretty sold out. On the other side you’ve got test cricket, which is kind of the old bastion of the traditions of cricket but still is still incredibly popular but perhaps with a smaller audience.

“It’s difficult, I think the ICC have a tough job in trying to manage everything in terms of growing the game, but also in giving people what they want and obviously financing it all as well. I think test cricket is probably something that personally I would like to see retained and supported, and grow in popularity again, but the finance behind it and the commercials behind it probably don’t stack up all that well, in comparison to what the opportunity is with the shorter formats. So yeah it’s a difficult one. With the 100 coming up, does the sport need another format to engage people? It seems like it’s going to happen, so I think the proof will be in what happens.

“It’s kind of diversifying the sport a bit in terms of, you’ve potentially got all these formats in other parts of the world and they’re great, they’re entertaining, but does it dilute it? Is there enough commercial support and support from all the governing bodies to really get behind everything and make it really work for the players and the fans as well?”

You’ve eluded to the major problems that the sport is facing… could you expand on what Cricket has to overcome to continue it’s growth?

“Yeah, I think it’s finding that balancing act on what people really want. If you get rid of test cricket you’ll turn a lot of people off. But, if you only had 20-20 for example, you’d still have a pretty good audience. I think the challenge for the rights holders, whether it’s the ICC or the ECB or the individual country, is that the calendars are so busy now so trying to schedule all this stuff is very hard whether it’s domestic cricket or international cricket. In the season, if you just look at England, you’ve got county, one-day cups, T20 events, county championships, then you’ve got internationals and you’ve got to fit all this in. What do people watch? And when?

“It’s fragmented as well, so you don’t know when you’re going to get what. Sometimes there’s a T20 game on and the next minute you’ve got a four-day county game and obviously people follow counties as teams and they engage across all the formats. But it’s a lot of cricket, and from a fan perspective, can people afford to go to all these games? Probably not.

“You’ve got so much going on, you’re not always going to generate more money, so I think something has to give. So I think part of the challenge is just managing all that and still delivering a really good product. Because people want amazing cricket but they want the entertainment side as well, and I think that’s probably what we’ve learned from the last 10 years from the IPL especially, the big bash, and some of the other T20 tournaments from around the world, it’s much better entertainment as well, and there’s money to be made in that. But again, they’re competing with each other again as well.

“You’ve got more players playing T20 events and probably not playing internationals now then you’ve ever had because that’s where the money is. That’s not a bad thing, that’s a choice made, but the game is pretty fragmented in where people are going and I don’t know if it’s sustainable overall, so it’s a difficult one to manage.”

Do you think we’ll win the Ashes?

“I’ll always be optimistic, but I think it will be quite tough. It should be pretty even, I don’t think it will be a three or 4-0 type thrashing, but I think it’s going to be tough after losing the first one.”

The next Digital Sport London event will take place at Lord’s Cricket Ground on September 9th. We’ll be talking about the future of cricket with Owen Hughes, Nissan; Chris Hurst, ex-BBC and ICC; and Andy Muggleton, MCC.

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