Cricket Marketing the Ashes

The 3 Ps of English test cricket’s reinvention

By Neil Hopkins, Sponsorship Strategy Director

M&C Saatchi Group


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July 27, 2023 | 6 min read

From the explosive playbook known as Bazball to the first joint campaign for the men’s and women’s Ashes series, this year’s cricket tentpole has seen plenty of change. Neil Hopkins investigates.

A cricket ball, nestled in grass

Cricket has changed a fair bit in recent years. In 2023, it changed again. / Alessandro Bogliari via Unsplash

Every two years, hosted by each nation alternately, the same two countries play each other at cricket over a series of five matches, each lasting five days.

The brand concept is a simple one, but when it comes to brand provenance, it’s a different story.

A four-inch terracotta urn, purported to contain the ashes of a set of bails, has become the unlikely miniature emblem of a titanic struggle that has led to superhuman performances and sparked diplomatic incidents. Burnt in response to a newspaper’s mock obituary of English cricket following defeat to Australia at the Oval in 1882, the cremated remains of those bails have been fought over by legendary giants of cricket from Bradman to Botham to England’s current captain, Ben Stokes.

It is Stokes who, alongside England coach Brendan McCullum, is now busy reinventing test cricket, the longest format of the game and the basis for an Ashes series.

Taking the test

English cricket fans remain committed supporters of test cricket. Ashes tickets sell out as soon as they go on sale and represent one of the great bucket-list items for British sports fans.

Even so, as is the case with most sports that aren’t football, cricket is fighting for the attention of a new generation. This has meant shorter formats such as T20 and The Hundred being introduced to meet the shorter attention spans of the digital age. Test cricket, though, remains the pinnacle of the sport in terms of technical challenge. To the purists, it offers the richest textures and the greatest nuance in terms of a sporting spectacle.

Stokes and England coach Brendan “Baz” McCullum’s innovative approach to the format has been dubbed ‘Bazball’. Although designed to make the sport more attractive, it’s not a marketing strategy per se. It’s simply one for winning more matches, and after all, in sport, winning is by far the best marketing strategy. Just ask Manchester United. Or the All Blacks. Or the New York Yankees.

So, forget product, price and promotion; Stokes’ England team market the sport through power, passion, and pandemonium, tearing-up decades of cricketing convention to speed up the game and eradicate perceptions amongst the uninitiated that it is in any way boring. They just want to entertain.

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Ashes Two Ashes

The intensity of this summer’s Ashes has provided the perfect crucible for Bazball. Momentum has swung one way and then the other with a relentlessness rarely witnessed in the series’ long history.

Oh, and that’s just the men’s Ashes by the way.

For the first time, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) marketed this summer’s men’s and women’s series against Australia together as with the line ‘Ashes Two Ashes’.

The women’s series, consisting of a test match as well as one-day international and T20 series, sold a record 110,000 tickets, nearly five times the number of attendees for the 2019 women’s Ashes. It also attracted Metrobank as a new sponsor of the women’s game.

The ECB will be hoping that the Bazball-effect can also help attract a new sponsor to England men’s test cricket as LV= Insurance bows out at the end of the summer.

After all, there can barely have been a more compelling showcase for potential commercial partners than this summer’s action.

So, despite the fact Australia has retained the Ashes, Bazball may play as big a part in rejuvenating test cricket off the field as it has done on it.

Cricket Marketing the Ashes

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