In a year that already appears to be a major milestone for women’s sport, we caught up with Beth Barrett-Wild, Head of The Hundred Women's Competition & Female Engagement at England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB), to discuss how things are shaping up for the second edition of cricket’s newest competition.
“I think we're in a good place,” says Barrett-Wild, speaking one month out from the opening game of The Hundred 2022. “It's really funny, reflecting on where we were this time last year in terms of going into the competition for the first time in that Covid environment. At this point, we still didn’t absolutely know whether we were going to have crowds in the stadia. So, in comparison to last year, it feels relatively calm.”
Barrett-Wild and her colleagues at the ECB have good reason to feel optimistic about the upcoming edition of The Hundred. Despite the difficulties of operating during a pandemic and widespread grumbles about the wisdom of introducing yet another format of the sport, particularly during a time when the national game appeared to be floundering, there can be no doubt that the inaugural year of the competition was anything but a resounding success, and as a result, deservedly won both Event of the Year and the Data & Insights Award at the Sport Industry Awards 2022.
Aided by a ticketing strategy designed to attract crowds from outside the cricket bubble, over 510,000 tickets were issued for the 2021 competition, with 55% of buyers being new to the game, while 21% of attendees were female, 19% were under-16 and 12% were from ethnically diverse backgrounds.
“I don't think we’re too hung up about proving people wrong because that's not the purpose of The Hundred,” says Barrett-Wild downplaying the need to win over traditional cricket fans, who, when the concept was first announced, appeared to be the most vocal in their dissent. “The Hundred is all about just trying to get more people into the game and get more people falling in love with cricket, like I did as a ten-year-old.
“I think last year, what it did beyond cricket and for women's sports was massive in terms of really demonstrating that if you put it on the big stage and you wrap it around with the event presentation and you give it the scale and the visibility and the marketing investment exactly the same as you do for men's competition, people will watch it and it does have that mass market appeal,” she adds.
As with everything The Hundred is doing nowadays, it’s a statement backed up by results. The 2021 competition saw records for women’s cricket smashed from day one with a peak audience of 1.95m people watching the Oval Invincibles beat the Manchester Originals in last year’s closely fought curtain-raiser to the tournament, while across the four-week competition, Barrett-Wild explains that “267,000 people came to watch the women's matches, with an average attendance of 8,000.”
The facts and figures come easy to Barrett-Wild, who explains that “the whole premise of the competition is built on data and insight”, something that’s in good supply thanks to The Hundred’s early onboarding and ongoing collaboration with Sport Industry Awards 2022 Agency of the Year winner Two Circles, an organisation that prides itself on a data-driven approach. “It's not some sort of marketing thing that's been thought up by people in a room as some might be led to believe. It is built on customer research, and we’ll always stay true to that,” she continues.
Thanks to the competition’s broadcast on both Sky Sports and the BBC, more than 16 million watched the competition on television last year, and Barrett-Wild credits the repetitive frequency of fixtures as being crucial to fans’ ongoing engagement with the competition.
“That short, sharp concentrated approach works well,” she explains. “At three o’clock you had the women's game, at six o’clock the men’s game. Having that cadence for 30 days in a row, in a concentrated window, with matches every day, definitely helps to build that narrative. We've got stories of people's grandma's, nephews, nieces, just getting hooked and it just being on in the background the whole time,” says Barrett-Wild adding anecdotal evidence of success into the mix.
The partnership with the BBC, however, extends beyond eyeballs and into earholes, with music embedded throughout the competition. Last year’s link-up with BBC Music enables The Hundred to tap into BBC Introducing - a network of unsigned, undiscovered, and under-the-radar UK music talent – meaning that as well as having a local DJ assigned to each team, every fixture on the 34-game calendar will also have a live act to accompany the evening’s entertainment, with British rock band Bastille headlining the final on 3rd September at Lord’s.
“It's another opportunity to engage with a wider audience that perhaps we wouldn’t have been able to talk to before, and that's really important,” Barrett-Wild explains. “It just enables us to get new people into the ground, watching on TV, engaging with cricket, and realising that it's this brilliant, wonderful thing that they've never seen before, and they want to come back and watch more.”
It's this ambition to “throw the doors open”, a phrase often heard in connection to The Hundred, which this year has seen the competition announce new partnerships, activations, and initiatives, all designed to target young fans.
Earlier in the year, The Hundred released a short explainer of the competition’s rules that starred The Minions, characters from Universal Pictures’ Despicable Me film franchise, while more recently it engaged children to aid with the design of an immersive stadium built within the video game Minecraft.
“I don’t really understand Minecraft if I’m honest,” admits Barrett-Wild, “but I do know that my eight-year-old nephew loves it, and he has not been interested in cricket before and he got involved. Sadly, he didn't win the competition, I wasn't able to pull any strings there, but it just got him interested, and he now knows what The Hundred is and he's looking forward to watching it on the television.
“Those partnerships are just different ways for us to talk to this wider audience, this family audience in a way that traditionally cricket hasn't been able to before. It's the gateway. If we can get them watching The Hundred then we can get them watching the array of formats and products that we have across the range,” Barrett-Wild explains.
With so much invested into the marketing of The Hundred - most recently it was announced that both the men’s and women’s opening games would be live streamed on Sky Sports’ TikTok channel - Barrett-Wild explains that the organiser’s are careful not to lose sight of the competition that sits are the heart of what they’re doing.
“Ultimately, The Hundred is a cricket competition and we want it to be the best domestic cricket competition in the world. That's certainly an ambition for mine in the women's game. How do we set up as the premier domestic women's comp anywhere in the world?
“The thing that excites me the most about that is the halo effect it can have on women's cricket more widely, and not just in terms of our participation, but around England women in particular and how we can use The Hundred as this vehicle to drive attendances and viewing figures in women's matches.”
“I think in terms of format, we've seen it works and people are playing it as well, I even had something this morning come straight from the Northumberland Cricket Board and asking for a copy of the playing conditions because they're going to play an under 13 competition this weekend. So, it’s being picked up in the recreational game now, which is really exciting. That's just another demonstration of how The Hundred can be this vehicle to hopefully drive and inspire participation at the grassroots, as well as at the top end of the game.”