Guest Post: Aaron Jaffery (@aaronjaffery) is Managing Director of Digital Sport Consultancy NineteenEightyFour.
A growing public interest in English cricket has undoubtedly risen from the Ashes. The popularity of the sport has increased ever since Michael Vaughn led the side to victory over the seemingly-invincible Aussies back in the Summer Series of 2005, and this is reflected in the burgeoning presence of the English Cricket Board in digital and social media channels. This is not to say that the Australians have been left behind.
What was, in the Nineties, a foregone conclusion has once again become an intense and unpredictable rivalry; although this heightens the entertainment for the neutral spectator, Cricket Australia have had to ensure that their digital strategy keeps a fan-base that is used to victory, engaged in defeat.
Yet while both the English and Australian Cricket Boards have acknowledged the importance of digital engagement, perhaps they have not yet taken full advantage of the marketing opportunities available through social media during the Ashes Series itself.
FIRST TEST: WEB PRESENCE
The websites assigned to each Board is impressive in terms of digital performance. Both homepages display an attractive and easy-to-navigate user interface that provides direct access to the corresponding Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts of the ECB and Cricket Australia. Unsurprisingly, they offer access to news, photos and video highlights of the current Ashes Series, as well as archival footage and past statistics, and include squad lists, itineraries and broadcasting schedules for both TV and Radio coverage.
What is interesting, however, is that while the ECB focus on the reporting element of the Ashes – the latest news, stats and exclusive interviews, all instantly available through the Ashes Breakfast Email feature – Cricket Australia seem more concerned with the personal side of their national squad and its supporters. The “Meet the Australian Men’s Team” feature is particularly attractive to a cricketing newcomer by creating an individual profile for each player that appears alongside his live Twitter feed. Furthermore, the “Fan Face Off” section of the Cricket Australia website taps into the rivalry of the Ashes by measuring the digital presence of both national cricketing Boards.
This is achieved through a direct comparison of social media statistics, in a bid to increase fans’ online engagement with their national side. While the ECB’s website demonstrates a greater endeavour to improve the accessibility of the Ashes for what seems to be an established fan-base, Cricket Australia appear to be more aware of the need to expand their digital outreach to include the more inexperienced cricketing supporter.
FIRST TEST: AUSTRALIA WIN (1-0)
SECOND & THIRD TESTS: SOCIAL MEDIA USAGE (Cricket Boards and Teams)
So who is winning the battle of the fans in the social media sphere? Cricket Australia boasts an impressive 2,061,280 likes on Facebook; making the ECB’s 764,970 likes somewhat disappointing in comparison. However, the English fan-base on Facebook is largely divided between the ECB and Official England Cricket, which amasses a further 766,337 likes, making the total a more acceptable 1,531,307 with the two pages combined. Twitter is a closer affair, although the ECB still trails with 225,220 followers compared to Cricket Australia’s 262,105. Content is mostly similar, and so this close encounter can be considered a draw.
However, the popularity of individual players on Twitter seems more favourable for the English. Kevin Pietersen, the most-followed cricketer in either Ashes squad, is followed by 1,457,787 fans: more than double that of Aussie captain Michael Clarke, with only 616,201.On average, the English professional cricketer tweets more regularly than the Australian and, noticeably, with more personality. Clarke, Ryan Harris and James Faulkner limit their tweets to publicise infrequent news updates or advertisements; Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann and James Anderson offer personal anecdotes, amusing photos via Instagram, and inter-Tweet sarcasm, that is often directly associated with the Ashes and is appreciated by their online fans.
Somewhat astonishingly, many of the Australian squad do not even have Twitter accounts at all and those that do are outnumbered by the amount of parody accounts set up by fans. The absence of Brad Haddin, Shane Watson, Steven Smith, Chris Rodgers, George Bailey and Peter Siddle from the social media channel signals the vast potential for increased digital outreach that is still to be exploited by Cricket Australia.
SECOND TEST – BOARD SOCIAL MEDIA: DRAW (Australia 1-0)
THIRD TEST – TEAM SOCIAL MEDIA: ENGLAND WIN (1-1)
FOURTH TEST: FAN CAMPAIGNS
Yet it is Twitter that seems to be the chief medium through which both cricketing Boards have chosen to focus their digital campaigns. Both teams have a trending phrase – ECB continue with #RISE from the Summer Series, #uniteaus is selected for Cricket Australia – that successfully unifies the digital cricketing fan community and that is subsumed by the internationally-trending #Ashes. What is more, Twitter seems to be the first choice for developing fan engagement with the two Boards. ECB have allied themselves with Twelfth Man, the official fan community of English cricket, and have launched the competition Twelfie Selfie.
This encourages fans to upload a photo of themselves supporting the English cricket team during the Winter Ashes using the Hashtag #TwelfieSelfie to either Twitter or Instagram, where the winner will entertain Mathew Hoggard in their own home to watch the second Ashes Test on the 6th December. Australia’s corresponding campaign is in commercial partnership with KFC, who have altered the colours of their logo design to green and gold because, because “England’s colours are red and white”.
They promote an online quiz of quick-fire questions, where one wrong answer leads to disqualification, but success could lead to the major prize of $5000. However, while this is included within the renowned KFC #bucketheads trend on Twitter, the specific hashtag for the competition, #KFCgreenandgold, tends to get lost amid the online support for the NFL’s Green Bay Packers who also lay claim to the hashtag #greenandgold.
The ECB’s engagement strategy seems to be have the potential for greater success. Because it mainly uses Twitter the campaign is better advertised and accessible than its Australian counterpart, which is primarily accessed through the Cricket Australia website. Moreover, there is nothing to limit the participants in Twelfie Selfie competition: anyone can upload a photo. Cricket Australia’s KFC quiz, on the other hand, is reliant on a certain degree of cricketing knowledge and thus excludes newly-recruited fans.
FOUTH TEST WINNER: ENGLAND (2-1)
FIFTH TEST: SERIES COVERAGE
The most important consideration with regards to fan engagement during the Ashes, however, is undoubtedly how to provide digital coverage of the Series: particularly for those fans on the other side of the world to where the matches take place. In this Winter Series that is the English, and the ECB have striven to report the events of each Test in greater detail than previous years. Not only is the whole Series televised live on Sky Sports 2, but, in response to the station’s highest ever outreach to listening audiences, Radio 5 Live now provide around-the-clock coverage of the Ashes.
Sky Sports have also launched the Ashes Event Centre PC and iPad app, alongside the ECB Cricket app for both iPhone and Android, and the ECB website provides access to a number of RSS feeds as well as their own Audioboo channel for further audio coverage. In many ways, the time difference has actually enhanced the ECB’s strategy for an increased digital presence, as it means that fans are reliant upon social media and mobile applications for a regular engagement with the Ashes when live television coverage becomes inconvenient.
Because we’re based in the UK its difficult to a certain the true extent of Australian coverage. So, with England building an unassailable lead with a diverse range of tools, bad light stops play and the test is declared a draw.
FIFTH TEST: DRAW – ENGLAND WIN THE SERIES 2-1
What is apparent from looking at the digital strategies of both the ECB and Cricket Australia is that they are largely comparable. In terms of statistics, there is not a lot that separates them in the popularity of their social media channels, and the user-interface of both websites are similar in their navigational simplicity and attractive display. Yet on the occasion where their campaigns can be distinguished from one another, it is always down to one Board conveying a greater sense of personality than the other.
This explains why the English players boast far more Twitter followers then their Australian rivals and, similarly, why the Cricket Australia website demonstrates a greater sense of accessibility to the inexperienced cricket fan than that of the ECB. It is primarily this sense of digital personality that can be further developed by each cricketing Board in the design of their online channels to capitalise their turnover during future series of the Ashes.