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Glowing embers The business of Ashes cricket


Glowing embers The Ashes is one of the oldest and richest rivalries in international sport, a Test cricket contest predating the first modern Olympics and the birth of Fifa. Now, with back-to-back series in 2013 and faced with a changing global game, it is set to fire commercially as never before. By Eoin Connolly. Photographs by Graham Fudger.

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t is the littlest big prize in sport, a tiny terracotta trinket of a trophy. In it are supposedly borne the ashes of the smallest but most significant items of cricket equipment: the bails. Absurd it may be, but this is the greatest treasure in the history of Test cricket’s two oldest combatants: England and Australia. The Ashes urn is too old and fragile now to leave lock and key at Lord’s cricket ground in London – the winning captain receives a replica after each series of fiveday games – but metaphorical pursuit of it has threaded ties between the countries over 13 decades. Folk heroes have been born and villains damned, triumphs split, jokes shared. Fortunes have risen and fallen; its very inspiration was a mock obituary notice, mourning English cricket’s death in Australian defeat in August 1882. If it is not international sport’s oldest rivalry, the Ashes must at least qualify as its longest, most eventful wake. For its followers it seems to banish thought of all else and this year that will almost literally be the case. In 2013, the old foes will play their first back-to-back Test series for almost 40 years – in England in July and August, and Australia from November to January. They meet again in England in 2015. The sequence is a one-off, caused by a reschedule moving the series away from the ICC Cricket World Cup, and administrators in both countries hope to take maximum advantage. “It’s not been driven by commercial purposes but it’s obviously beneficial to us in the commercial world that we’ve got a lot of Ashes content within the next three years,” says England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) commercial director John Perera, speaking to a small gathering of industry journalists at Lord’s in April. Whatever their hold on the popular imagination, Ashes series are not the most directly lucrative for either the ECB or Cricket Australia. In June, ECB chief executive David Collier reminded the Sport Industry Breakfast Club that the Indian market now creates around 80 per

cent of world cricket’s revenue. Perera reveals that the 2014 visit by the game’s financial hyperpower will be “massively more important” to the ECB than the Ashes in terms of revenue thanks to its Asian TV deal with Star – worth a reported US$200 million over seven years – while further exploration of the subcontinent’s sponsorship market is planned before the end of the year. Within the domestic markets, however, the Ashes is the priority – for players, fans, and partners. “Attendances will probably go up by 20 per cent on the average that we get across the rest of our four-year cycles, and TV ratings probably a similar amount,” says Cricket Australia executive general manager Mike McKenna, who heads up the body’s commercial activities. “We have an Indian series following the Ashes, we have South Africa touring; they’re all pretty compelling but the Ashes definitely has an edge to it.” More than that, it is the series neither country can quite bear to lose. Just over a fortnight before the first Test at Trent Bridge, Cricket Australia abruptly sacked national team coach Mickey Arthur, replacing him with the former Australian international batsman Darren Lehmann. Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland’s explanation for the move is telling. “The status quo wasn’t going to be good enough and we couldn’t let this Ashes series go by without changes that we felt were necessary,” he says. Arthur had gone into the Australia job with a strong reputation but his 18-month tenure was marked by inconsistency. His sacking – or perhaps more accurately, Lehmann’s appointment – quelled what had been a troubled build-up for the challengers, characterised by an incident which saw batsman David Warner disciplined for striking his cherubic opposite number Joe Root in the Birmingham branch of an Australian theme pub chain. England, by contrast, entered the double-header with a settled team of

established international stars. With victories in three of the last four series – including a comprehensive and longoverdue 3-1 win in Australia last time out – the holders are clear favourites for the first time in a generation. For those English cricket fans raised on years of unbroken Australian dominance these are strange times indeed, and most would still expect a pair of closely fought encounters. Even the most dispassionate analysis of the two teams will soon become moot, of course. What can be said is that off the field, while they face some differing challenges, the ECB and Cricket Australia match up well. In early June, Cricket Australia completed new five-year domestic broadcast deals with free-to-air networks Nine and Ten, the former for international cricket and the latter for its homegrown Big Bash League Twenty20 franchise tournament. Those more than doubled its domestic TV income to AUS$590 million. The ECB’s own domestic arrangement with Sky, an exclusive four-year live TV deal signed in January 2012, is of a comparable value and will make up the bulk of its UK£350 million broadcast revenues over the next four years. For both organisations, television brings in a considerable portion of overall income. The ECB, according to Perera, makes 80 per cent of its money from the sale of media rights. On the commercial side there is a similar balance. According to Perera, the ECB makes “about UK£40 million per annum” from sponsorship. England team sponsor Brit Insurance and domestic Twenty20 sponsor Friends Life will exit this year after financial restructuring but their slots in the sponsorship roster have already been filled. Supermarket chain Waitrose was unveiled as the new England sponsor in May in a reported UK£20 million deal. Cricket Australia has reorganised its own commercial portfolio following the withdrawal of long-term Test cricket sponsor Vodafone – also for

“The level of scrutiny that comes with an Ashes series is just higher and more intense than any other series.” SportsPro Magazine | 3


corporate reasons outside of the game. Commonwealth Bank, a sponsor of Australian cricket for over 25 years, stepped up to replace the telecoms brand, with Victoria Bitter becoming the lead sponsor for one-day international cricket. Again, the numbers bear comparison with those at the ECB – McKenna posits Cricket Australia’s annual sponsorship earnings “in the region of AUS$50 million to AUS$55 million a year”. “The strategy we have is to try to do more with less partners,” says McKenna. “Unlike a lot of codes we spend a fair bit of time controlling the environment. We basically own all the rights inside each of our venues and we control them ourselves.” Perera espouses the same approach, suggesting an “ideal” cap of ten partners and echoing McKenna’s approval of category exclusivity and reduced “clutter”. “I think cricket needs that and deserves that,” he adds. “It needs that element of, how should I put it, presentation that doesn’t overtly commercialise every opportunity. That’s important, because what we have done – particularly with Test match cricket – is make sure that the branding is done in a way which reflects the values of Test match cricket. That’s important to the game as I see it.” In London for the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) annual conference in June, Sutherland admits that Cricket Australia has “a lot in common with the ECB” and that the two organisations “think similarly” about the future of international cricket. The Ashes rivalry, he believes, is a major part of that. “It’s

Brit Insurance will end its sponsorship of English cricket this year but its successor has been found

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England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive David Collier, pictured at Lord’s in December 2011

the pinnacle for both Australian fans and English fans,” he says, “and so I think that in itself binds the two countries together and helps us to work together to make sure that we preserve Test cricket and protect its primacy as the ultimate form of the game.” With that in mind, it is perhaps unsurprising that work has been afoot in recent years to make more of the Ashes as an international brand, even if operationally the two bodies run each series independently. “I think one of the things that’s reasonably clear to me is that it’s really the home team – the home board – that has the responsibility to build and support and promote the series each year,” says Sutherland. “We come to England now this summer and we’re very much in the hands of the ECB in terms of how they’ve promoted it and, similarly, when the Ashes comes to Australia later in the year it’ll be our turn to manage, promote, and put the event on. I think both organisations, over the course of the last decade or so, have done a really good job of that.”

Discussions spring from there as to how to move the series forward. “We talk a lot to the ECB about building the brand of the Ashes contest,” confirms McKenna, “and we’ve done a lot of work with one another around it. I mean, there’s always more you can do, and every time you have a series – and particularly unique series like this one – there will be learnings out of it in terms of how we can continue to enhance it.” McKenna explains that official travel packages for Australian fans in England and English fans in Australia are also now being marketed as a joint venture by the two boards. There is some coordination in areas such as digital media campaigns and knowledge is shared in other, less consumer-facing endeavours. “We cooperate a lot more than we did eight years ago in terms of commercial rights protection,” says Perera. In that process, there is also a third partner to consider. The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), owners of Lord’s, historic lawmakers of the game, and erstwhile custodians of the England team, are

James Sutherland, the chief executive of Cricket Australia, pictured in London in September 2011

“It’s obviously beneficial to us in the commercial world that we’ve got a lot of Ashes content within the next three years.” in fact the sole guardians of the Ashes urn – both the original and its zealously protected trademark. Together with the ECB, the MCC have also registered ‘The Ashes’ as a trademark, while the ECB owns the rights to ‘Investec Ashes Series’. Perera followed developments around rights protection during London 2012 but points out that unlike Locog, bodies like the ECB enjoy no “legislative protection” for their properties. Nonetheless, the ECB will work with the MCC and on behalf of Cricket Australia to monitor any abuses this summer, with their Antipodean counterparts doing the same in that market. Yet the rivalry is not often sold as a single property in itself. Both Cricket Australia and the ECB, for their key

partners, build Ashes series into comprehensive long-term deals. “Our theory is that we would like the certainty of income over the next six to ten-year period,” says Collier, explaining the rationale behind the ECB’s multi-year partnerships with the likes of Sky, Test series sponsor Investec, free-to-air highlights broadcaster Channel 5 and BBC Radio. “And by doing that we can go to all of our stakeholders and say, ‘Here is what we as the game’s governing body can invest in for you over the next four-year period.’ That’s very important to county cricket, it’s very important to club cricket, and it’s very important to schools.” By way of example, Collier reveals that the ECB signed a memorandum of understanding in May that it would

commit UK£96 million over four years to the recreational game. “We couldn’t do that without long-term agreements,” he adds. “We’d be guessing. When I started back in 2004/5, we were still into oneyear agreements.” Perera notes that for a handful of FMCG brands, an Ashes summer has offered a short blast of publicity – citing deodorant brand Sure for Men’s involvement in 2009. Such deals are overwhelmingly the exception, however. The value of an Ashes series, for England and Australia, is the security it creates within longer relationships. “What happens in an Ashes year,” argues McKenna, “is actually that you deliver such compelling value for those partners that it becomes very easy for them to renew.” This works both ways. In the UK, Sky has rebranded one of its sports channels as Sky Ashes for the summer. “I think it’s a wonderful initiative,” says Collier. “It just shows how big the Ashes series is, both home and away.” Maybe so, but it is hardly in the pay-TV giant’s nature to be sentimental: as new fronts open up in its developing multi-billion pound broadcast war with dangerous newcomer BT Sport, this is a reminder to British viewers of what they won’t be able to watch on the other side. For good measure, ECBaffiliated cricket clubs were offered the chance to subscribe to the service with a specially inserted six-month break clause – just long enough to keep their members at the bar for the whole series. If BT’s arrival gives English cricket another chance to exploit its appeal as a subscription product in the years ahead, in Australia – where live international cricket remains under the protection of anti-siphoning laws requiring that freeto-air broadcasters bid first – Cricket Australia has also made the most of local market conditions. “We expected the networks all to be interested,” says McKenna of its successful recent tender. “As we know, live sport content is compelling content for broadcasters, particularly free-to-air partners who are relying on an advertising model to sustain themselves, and there’s nothing [during the Australian summer] that’s going to get large audiences committed to watching live television – and therefore advertising – other than cricket.” SportsPro Magazine | 5


The notion of an Ashes summer as a shop window has implications at all levels of the game. Around ten years ago, the Cricket Foundation charity began plans for an initiative to get cricket back into British state schools. Chance to Shine launched during the raucous and mesmerising Ashes

summer of 2005, and has since become one of the most successful development initiatives in UK sport. “The idea was to reach a third of state schools in this country – 7,000 state schools – by 2015, and during that tenyear period raise UK£50 million and also

reach two million children,” says Chance to Shine chief executive Wasim Khan. “So we set our aims pretty clear and those were pretty much the numbers we were driven by. Nine years on, now, we’ve reached the 7,000 schools already, we’ve raised UK£47 million, and we’ve already

Multi-tasking: The Women’s Ashes


here are not two, but three Ashes series being played in 2013. The women’s Ashes was inaugurated in 1934 and will be contested for the first time this year as a multi-format series, with six points on offer for August’s Test match at Wormsley, six for the three-game oneday international series, and six for the three-game Twenty20 series. “The thinking was around how we could refresh and really modernise what was the Ashes for women’s cricket,” explains Clare Connor, the head of women’s cricket at the ECB. “The men’s game doesn’t need to do that: it is the icon Test series, it’s what Test cricket is all about. For us, we don’t have this kind of contest of Test cricket anymore. It’s been gradually dwindling since the emergence of international Twenty20, which is realistically where the women’s game is going to grow in terms of participants and profile. “But we felt really strongly that we didn’t want that Test – that real battle between the two teams over the longer format – to fade away completely, so it was a case of trying to look at: how do we rebrand it? How do we make the women’s Ashes modern, compelling and dynamic? How do we give it real context and real credibility?” Connor is one of the more significant figures in the history of the women’s Ashes. As a player in the 1998 series, she was among those to sign and subsequently burn a cricket bat in the Harris Garden at Lord’s, the ashes of which were used to create the competition’s first trophy – the prize having been figurative until that point. In her last Ashes series on the field in 2005, she captained England to a first win over Australia in 42 years, reigniting a rivalry

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England retained the women’s Ashes in 2009 but Australia took the title back on home soil in 2011

which is now the most significant in the women’s game. Australia arrive in England as the world’s leading team, usurping England by winning the most recent ICC Women’s World Cup and Women’s World Twenty20. In May, Cricket Australia rewarded its female stars – including part-time soccer international Ellyse Perry, a new entry in SportsPro’s most marketable athletes list for 2013 – with a dramatic restructuring of its pay structure, making them among the bestpaid women’s athletes in the country. It is a development which Connor wholeheartedly welcomes. “They’re prepared to reward their players appropriately for being the best players in the world,” she says, while pointing out that the ECB introduced player fees in 2011 and constantly reviews their levels. “And that’s a really strong message for their players but also for us. That’s great, that’s another sign

that the women’s game is edging towards full professionalism.” Several of England’s senior women’s players combine international duty with ambassadorial work on the Chance to Shine schools project, with Connor reserving the highest praise for them as role models. But while the success of encouraging participation among girls is markedly changing the image of women’s cricket, commercial activities may soon have their own impact. Connor says that the ECB is “close” to being able to seek dedicated women’s partners, but also believes in an “integrated” approach for the men and women of Team England. “I know it’s important for the players and it’s important, I think, in terms of public perception,” she says. “That said, I’m sure there will be ongoing conversations in the short term around what the future looks like commercially for the women’s team. So that’s exciting.”

hit our target of two million kids.” Khan is speaking to SportsPro a few days before being awarded an MBE for his efforts with the Cricket Foundation, and the work of Chance to Shine with boys and girls has won near-universal praise. Yet 2013 will be a crucial summer for the scheme, which aims to get around half of its annual UK£5 million funding target from private donors and sponsorship. Its current title partner is the withdrawing Brit Insurance, and Khan also raises concerns of “campaign fatigue”: “People will say, ‘Well, you’re very successful, you’ve raised UK£47 million. You don’t need my money.’ As well as looking for a replacement for Brit, Chance to Shine will host a range of events and seek to attract donors through a tiered funding model. “So people feel that ‘if I give you my money, it’s actually going towards something and not just a general pot’,” Khan explains. The ECB also aims to convert interest into grassroots development this summer. Around 1,500 schools have been persuaded to participate in the Ashes Challenge, which links cricket to the curriculum for pupils aged nine to 11. Local clubs, meanwhile, have been given incentives to host fundraising open days on Ashes Saturdays. Activities outside England include a live streaming deal with the UK for the series for mainland Europe and Latin America, while the ECB will produce a live

A legendary Australian line-up celebrates a 5-0 triumph in the 2006/7 Ashes, the team’s last series win

broadcast for the first time on 20th August when it streams the Natwest Women’s ODI between England and Australia from Lord’s on its website. Discussions are already underway with Sky to see what other games can be made available in that manner in future summers. As the action unfolds in England, Cricket Australia’s focus back home will be on getting ready for the return, a process which Sutherland insists will not have “really changed too much” despite the back-to-back series. “The expectation is that in the early part

Kevin Pietersen with the cherished little trophy England have won three times in the last four series

of the Ashes we’ll sell the vast majority of our seats to games, particularly the Test matches, back here,” explains McKenna. “The rest of it’s really about getting organised and making sure that our fans, who will get right into the Ashes whether they watch on TV or go to the matches – or go to a pub and enjoy the sponsor’s product – are all having a really good time.” Once that is underway, the Australians will have their own job of riding what Sutherland calls the “spike of interest” in an Ashes summer through to the following year, when the country co-hosts the ICC Cricket World Cup with New Zealand. Cricket Australia will have its own schools projects in place in time for the competition. As Australia’s population diversifies, Sutherland is in little doubt as to the importance of seizing the “unique opportunity” the tournament represents to reach a new generation. “It’s not that often that there’s a real focus on something happening in Australia,” he says. “We’re a smaller country, at least population-wise, and a long way away from the rest of the world. So together with New Zealand Cricket we’re really looking forward to the opportunity, and I think our community will respond really positively to that.” Whatever the result, all concerned will hope the Ashes produces, as it so often has, the very best of what Test cricket has to offer. The five-day format has come to stand for all that is unchanging in SportsPro Magazine | 7


Back to the cauldron: Surrey and the Ashes “


he Ashes were created here,” says Richard Gould, chief executive of Surrey County Cricket Club. “The first time the Australians beat the English was here at the Oval and that’s where the Ashes were created.” Even before the final Ashes Test at the end of August, this will have been an important year for Surrey and London’s Kia Oval, which staged five ICC Champions Trophy fixtures and two international Twenty20 games between England and New Zealand. Such exposure, Gould says, has been “probably unprecedented” and kicks off a three-year period in which the ground will welcome India in 2014 and Australia again in 2015, with “the opportunity to create a huge barrel wave of interest”. English grounds bid for the right to host international matches, leading to a measure of financial exposure, but moving tickets for the Ashes is among the easier tasks a club like Surrey is likely to face. The fifth Test has been a complete sell-out since before Christmas – final day tickets, not usually sold in advance, were available at a discount – as supporters jumped at the chance to be “part of history in a small way”. But for Gould, what will be just as vital is the chance to win new fans and line up sustainable revenue – not least with the English domestic calendar set for a spectator-friendly streamlining in 2014. “International cricket is really important,” he explains. “It’s our bread

international sport but is approaching its own small kind of revolution. In June, the ICC confirmed that the world’s top four Test nations would soon compete in a quadrennial World Test Championship, with the first edition in England in 2017 and the second slated for India. Both Collier and Sutherland are avowed supporters of the proposal, believing it will add “context” to the calendar of bilateral series, some of which lack the commercial robustness of the Ashes. Sutherland, in particular, is similarly enthusiastic about the prospect of day/ 8 |

Spectators watch England play New Zealand from the Kia Oval’s new Corinthian Roof Terrace

and butter stuff. But it’s often the sales of domestic cricket and not international cricket that make the difference.” The Kia Oval is one of a number of grounds in both England and Australia that will be showing off expensive improvements during these two Ashes series. Notably, the newly renamed Emirates Old Trafford in Manchester has been subject to a UK£32 million redevelopment over the past five years while the Sydney Cricket Ground will open its new AUS$186 million North Stand, replete with an inhouse microbrewery, in good time for England’s visit in January. The UK£24 million OCS Stand has added more capacity, better facilities and a fetching arch to the Kia Oval in recent years. This year, it boasts the

night Test cricket. That is likely to get the go-ahead as soon as a pink ball – so coloured for its suitability for use against white clothing under lights – passes ICC and MCC tests. “The logic is just too strong,” says Sutherland, who notes that domestic viewing figures for Test matches in Perth – three hours behind most of urban Australia – are 40 per cent higher thanks to the move into prime time. Such a future seems fitting for a series which began around the time the technology for electric lighting was

impressive Corinthian Roof Terrace for hospitality guests, paid for and operated in partnership with Keith Prowse, with views across London. That and a UK£2 million project to remodel the pavilion and front entrance have been completed well ahead of the Ashes Test in order to show “the most central sports ground in London”, and the club, at their very best for the big occasion. “We will generate good revenues,” says Gould. “We need to make sure that we retain profits so that they can be reinvested back into cricket. But the showcase is really important because we’re going to have people come through our doors perhaps for the first time – often for the first time – and we need to make sure that that’s not the last time.”

invented but whatever happens, its glare should remain undimmed. “The level of scrutiny that comes with an Ashes series is just higher and more intense than any other series,” says Sutherland, asked about the pressures of the months ahead. “So from that point of view I guess the whole business, the whole organisation is under the microscope. No one more so than the players, though, ultimately. It is in their hands, they’re the ones that walk out on to the ground and we’re looking forward to seeing how our boys go.”

Glowing embers  

The Ashes is one of the oldest and richest rivalries in international sport, a Test cricket contest predating the first modern Olympics and...

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