Senior Creative Producer Jan Ford and Production and Insight Coordinator Karys Orman reflect on brand new cricket tournament 'The Hundred', and how the orchestral sector might take inspiration from it...
The world of cricket (and specifically the England and Wales Cricket Board – ECB) has done something remarkable – they’ve taken a format that typically last for days, is male-dominated, watched primarily by older audiences and made it into something, accessible, equitable and exciting with the aim to reach a more diverse audience… and it’s working – The Hundred is reinventing cricket.
Now what does this have to do with orchestras? Let’s think for a minute about what images a traditional orchestral concert conjures… strict etiquette to be followed, a formal, perhaps unfriendly environment? Not all orchestral concerts are like that - those of us working in the sector know that - and many orchestras are doing fantastic work to stage concerts in unusual settings, shake up the presentation and break down barriers. But ask any member of the public who doesn’t know about these efforts what they think an orchestral concert is about, and they are likely to respond with preconceptions like those above.
What has most been successful about The Hundred is the way they challenged themselves to create a completely new format, taking the key elements and reshaping them into something more accessible. It appears to be working with over 100,000 tickets sold for live matches and an audience of two million tuning in to the TV coverage for the first matches. So, what's made the difference:
- Shorter formats: by reducing the length of the matches from several days to roughly two and half hours the pressure is on the players to score quickly and consistently, making for a more energised, exciting game. The length of match recognises that younger audiences want to consume entertainment in shorter chunks. It has also helped attract a much younger demographic including families with younger children who may not manage to sit through a traditional length game, with the tournament scheduled during the school summer holidays.
- Accessible language: rules, match structure and language have been rewritten to create something much easier to understand, a novice can read the scoreboard without prior training (!) and there are no elitist terms or prior knowledge required to enjoy.
- Gender equality: the tournament is giving equal weight to both men’s and women’s sides. One ticket gives access to both matches leading to women’s matches being better attended. This in turn helps the game appeal to new younger audience members, seeing role models and opening up opportunities for them to consider getting involved in the sport themselves.
- Wider access: games are being shown via multiple distribution channels, some paid access like Sky (as with many other sports), but 18 matches are being shown free-to-air on BBC channels, and Sky is streaming some matches through their own YouTube channel.
- The best in the business are there: it’s not a dumbing down, it’s not lesser, minor league teams. The players who are the current best in the world are involved, and the teams are showing off cricket to its full potential.
- An ‘event’ not just a match: fireworks, a resident DJ, and an innings-break performance from singer Becky Hill all featured in the opening match of the tournament. Cricket recognises that audiences want an experience and to have fun, rather than to just sit and watch passively.
- Effective marketing campaign: cricket went for a major rebrand with their Tik-Tok-inspired advertising campaign with the slogan ‘Every ball counts’. By focussing on the most exciting parts of the match being utilised by the shorter format, they made something that shows cricket for everything you might have assumed it not to be: fast, energetic, fun, tense and placed on media channels that younger audiences engage with most.
This isn’t an opportunity unique to cricket, it is simply a sector like any other that has looked hard at its own barriers, its own shortfalls, and thought open-mindedly about what they could do differently. And not just a few tweaks here and there. They haven't tried to sell the original game to a new audience, they knew that wouldn’t work. They 've created something for the new audience they wanted to reach. It hasn’t come without resistance by any means, but from what we have seen so far, it’s working. A younger and more diverse crowd of around 7,400 attended the opening women’s game, a figure that is believed to be a record for a women’s professional, domestic cricket match, not just in the UK, but worldwide.
It's the loudest crowd I've ever played in front of, including international cricket.
~ Kate Cross, bowler for Manchester Originals
Cricket does not stand still. A lot of people talk about tradition, and say we cannot change this or that. It is rubbish. If we sit and do nothing, we will get left behind.
~ Colin Graves, English Cricket Board chairman
So rather than dwell on the shortcomings of a traditional orchestral concert format, let us take note of the ECB’s steps and allow them to inspire us to stop and think about our own artform in completely different ways.