It’s a sporting duel dating back to 1882 but its intensity has not dulled over time. Indeed, as the 2015 Ashes Series gets underway, the rivalry between England and Australia is as fierce – and feisty – as ever.
For the uninitiated, Australia are the current holders, following victory in Australia 18 months ago, but England have won the last three series played on UK soil.
Five Test matches between now and the end of August, beginning in Cardiff on Wednesday, will determine who wins the smallest trophy in sport, the famous old Ashes urn, but the coming weeks will also be vital for the many brands associated with Cricket Australia and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), plus those who have found other ways of attaching themselves to one of world sport’s most eagerly-anticipated sporting events.
While the shorter form of cricket, Twenty20, has developed rapidly over the past decade – Australia’s Big Bash League is broadcast on free-to-air television, attracting strong audiences and sponsors – the Ashes plays an important role in both countries in maintaining interest in the longer, slower, more nuanced, more traditional five-day Test format.
The Australian view
“As per any Ashes series there’s a lot of interest in Australia,” confirms Guy Port, Managing Director of Repucom Australia. “Cricket is a top-tier sport in this market. Our SponsorLink insights consistently rate the sport with general interest ranked second at a national level, just behind Australian Football League – around 40 per cent of the population have an interest in cricket. When you look at avidity at different forms of cricket, Ashes is right up there – three in every four cricket fans in Australia call themselves avid fans of the Ashes.”
Port’s counterpart at Repucom in London is Jon Stainer. He offers the UK perspective. “There’s no doubt that an Ashes series entices more than just the cricket fan,” he says. “It ends up being an opportunity for consumers to congregate over a very big story during the summer.
“Cricket has maintained an interest level of around 25 per cent over the past three years and those people are very interested or interested in the game,” Stainer adds. “We’ve actually seen a bit of a decline in 2015, down to about 22 per cent, but in our last waves of research we’re seeing that number start to increase after the performances against New Zealand [earlier this summer] and peaking towards this series.”
In both markets, that interest provides a golden opportunity for sponsors. The ECB can count on the support of supermarket chain Waitrose, which signed a three-year deal in 2013, and competition sponsors Investec, Natwest and Royal London. Other partners include Yorkshire Tea, Toyota, Etihad Airways, Kia and wine brand Hardys.
Hardys, also the official wine partner of the Australian team, is rolling out a consumer marketing campaign estimated to be worth UK£4 million to support its investment in cricket, part of which will include broadcast sponsorship of Sky Sports’ blanket live coverage of each Test in the UK.
Cricket Australia’s sponsor roster, meanwhile, includes the likes of main partner Commonwealth Bank, platinum partner Carlton & United Breweries, Victoria Bitter, Toyota, KFC, Asics, Bupa, Bet365 and Qantas. Others, however, are keen for a slice of the Ashes action, according to Port. “We’ve seen the broadcast schedule released here over the past few days and some of the large partners of Cricket Australia are not actually sponsoring the broadcast,” he explains. “We’re seeing some new brands involved, particularly in the finance and fast food area that aren’t traditionally associated with the sport.”
Play in Australia will run from around 20.30 each evening with coverage broadcast on Channel Nine’s GEM network. The broadcaster has signed National Australia Bank (NAB) as a broadcast partner, despite Commonwealth Bank’s relationship with Cricket Australia. Fast food outlet Hungry Jack’s will also sponsor coverage, with Big Bash League title sponsor KFC electing not to do so.
“It’s always a bit tougher with an away event like this and the timezone,” Port continues. “You don’t have the benefit of the hundreds of thousands of people going through the gate and attending events as you do in the Australian summer. The timezone is friendly at the start [of each day’s play], but it tails away quickly towards the night. A lot has to be done in the broadcast area for sponsors.”
In the host country, meanwhile, Stainer believes there are opportunities for sponsors as a result of the action moving from the location of the first Test in Cardiff, to London, Birmingham and Nottingham, before the late August finale brings the action back to the capital at the Kia Oval.
“The Tests and one-day internationals moving around the country gives some really nice opportunities for some good event activations and opportunities to have one-on-one conversations with consumers,” Stainer suggests. “I also think there’s some good opportunities for those brands looking to buy at maybe a lower level and activation at a much greater level – Unilever-brand Sure did that really well in 2005 and ran a great campaign, with a number of ambassadors and activations both in-store and at-ground.”
But in a five Test series, he warns that “on-pitch performance is a clear risk”, adding: “If England go 3-0 down after three Tests, media interest isn’t going to be where we’d hoped it to be; that would make it difficult for sponsors to really cut-through. You need to be well-planned and thought-out in your activation.”