As reports continue to circulate around falling broadcaster figures, Simon Baker, chief executive officer at CricHQ, talks to Sport Industry Group about digital platforms taking the initiative, and what’s next for the virtual world of VR and beyond…
What is CricHQ, and who is its target audience?
CricHQ started as a free smartphone scoring app, enabling professional and amateur scorers alike to easily score matches. The initial CricHQ app took off around the world and thousands of scorers, coaches, players, mums, dads and fans were all able to score cricket, follow matches live and review statistics like never before.
We quickly identified that in addition to scoring, back office administrative tasks within most cricket organisations were still largely time-intensive, paper-based, manual processes. It was a natural, strategic decision for CricHQ to develop a technology platform to digitise and streamline these aspects.
Today, CricHQ has grown to be the online home for all levels of cricket around the world, making cricket better for everybody. Our target market is everyone involved in cricket. From cricket fans, players, organisers, administrators, families of players and beyond.
How did CricHQ come about, was there a gap in the market you felt could be utilised?
Cricket is a stats-lover’s dream. It’s all runs-per-over, averages and strike rates per 100 balls. The sheer variety and volume of numbers involved is complicated. And since cricket’s creation the vast majority of these numbers has been recorded (and lost) on paper.
Scoring in cricket's more traditional format
In 2010, I was the captain of Karori Cricket Club in New Zealand and working for New Zealand's biggest Telco, Spark, when I identified the impact smartphones and tablets could have on cricket. I realised the potential of technology in the world’s second most popular sport (followed by 3.2 billion people worldwide) and set about on a mission to drag time consuming and complex pen and paper scoring into the modern ‘app’ era.
Former New Zealand cricket captains Brendon McCullum and Stephen Fleming invested in the business early on and with their support the business gained more momentum and doors opened. After securing a number of key clients around the world including in Sri Lanka and South Africa, I landed our first nationwide contract when CricHQ became the technology platform for all New Zealand cricket: from grass-roots to grandstands.
Sport is no longer a national industry, but a worldwide one, as CricHQ is proving. In your experience, how do you think globalisation has impacted sports on a wider scale?
Globalisation has meant that fans of all leagues of all sports have sprung up around the world. People get up at all hours of the night to watch English Premiere League games here in New Zealand, and the IPL is gaining a big following in Silicon Valley in California; while from a business perspective it's allowed organisations like ours to have an impact worldwide. Before the spread of the internet and global communication it would have been a struggle for a company like ours to grow in the global market in the way we have, from a base in New Zealand. We're proud to call New Zealand home but we're an international company.
Broadcasters such as Sky and ESPN have reported falls in audiences recently? Why do you think that is?
People all around the world have so many choices in how they consume their sport. We're no longer tied to our TV screens. People can watch the action on their mobile phones and tablets, and through software such as ours. Interest is not waning in sport, quite the opposite, it’s just that customers now have more options on how they choose to consume it.
So how can the cricketing world increase global audience and participation?
Currently cricket is the second most popular sport in the world but many governing bodies are grappling with how to compete with the alternative options people have today, eSports is a prime example of emerging competition. For cricket to grow, there are a lot of strategies that can and are being applied such as developing the women’s game, providing more flexibility for those participants wanting to play less time-consuming formats and at hours that suit them better like mid-week evenings after work. We also need to develop ways to inspire new fans and players; obviously technology can be a huge driver for this.
Do you see gambling as providing an important revenue source for rights holders in the future?
I believe sports betting will play a part in the monetisation for many sports in the future driven by inevitable changes in the broadcast business model and their relationships with the rights holders. As these relationships between sporting bodies and the rights holders to broadcast them evolve, different revenue models will have to be looked and sports betting is one such part.
Virtual Reality (VR) is the latest trend hitting sport at the moment, is it all hype or are we about to see it take off in sport?
It's not hype, but it is very early days. A lot of what people enjoy about sports is that shared excitement, turning to your friends after a "did you see that" moment. VR can be exclusionary, it's just you in a headset at the moment. That said, some of what’s being developed is amazing. Being able to see what players and referees see will really help immersion so people can feel even more like they’re a part of the sports they're watching. I think as the technology gets better and more widespread, we will see higher rates of adoption but I'm not sure it's going to be a huge sudden sea-change.