Mignon du Preez had barely hit the ground before commentators were calling it “one of the best catches you’ll see this summer”.
But you don’t need to take their word for it. The Proteas star’s awesome hanger – filmed at the second one-day international (ODI) match against Australia at Manuka Oval in November – was caught on camera and you can watch it, and watch it again and again, online.
Thousands have. While more than 20,000 were watching the match live on Facebook, the replay clip “went nuts”, says Cricket Australia’s head of digital, Finn Bradshaw. It’s since been viewed more than a million times.
“That’s a big number for a piece of content around women’s sport,” Bradshaw adds.
The minute clip has proved a boon to the sport (“that is the state of women’s cricket today” gushed Aussie great Mel Jones from the commentary box) but only exists thanks to an extensive digital transformation taking place at Cricket Australia, the game’s national governing body.
And the transformation goes beyond the women’s sport. It will soon be all encompassing, from helping select the national team to allowing spectators to order food from their stadium seats.
200 days of cricket
Cricket coverage – be it one-day internationals, Test matches or the Big Bash League – has topped the television ratings charts for non-news programming every week of the year so far. But not all fixtures are available on TV, for example, the womens ODI match that featured du Preez’s stunning catch.
“We firmly believe that we want to grow women’s cricket and if we're not going to put our money where our mouth is we can’t expect anyone else to,” says Bradshaw.
“Increasingly we’re becoming a content production house ourselves. We will live stream well over 100 days of cricket this year, it may well be closer to 200, and we’re doing that ourselves.”
Those streams go out across Cricket Australia’s digital properties and social media channels. That means matches that weren’t previously available to watch now can be, and to an audience – which includes a booming overseas subscriber base – that couldn’t previously access them.
“We want as many people as possible to be able to engage with the sport, and to try and remove as many barriers as possible between fans and the great content,” Bradshaw adds. “Cricket fans across the world, whatever country you are in, are able to watch Australian cricket.”
In 2014, Cricket Australia contracted Accenture and Avanade to deliver a live streaming platform, a new mobile app and a content-rich website.
The result has been an 80 per cent increase in visitors to cricket.com.au, which now attracts two million visitors a month over the summer. The organisation’s video service delivered 30 million streams in 2016. Last year the Cricket Australia Live app won best brand app at the international Sports Technology Awards. Fans can see exclusive content on Snapchat while Cricket Australia’s Facebook page has an average monthly reach of 24 million.
“It’s a tremendously popular sport but we're in a battle for eyeballs like any entertainment product. We wanted to take control of that,” says Bradshaw. “We want to drive people to watch cricket wherever that may be.”
They don’t play a lot of cricket in Canada. As Cricket Australia’s Canadian head of technology Mike Osbourne admits: “It’s not a prominent sport”.
Nevertheless, Osborne understands how much the sport means to Australians. “It’s wonderful how this game touches so many people here in so many different ways,” he says.
Osborne, formerly a global director at Deloitte, is working on a customer data project that will further personalise each fan’s experience of the sport.
“Part of the purpose is to help [a fan] understand better what content is out there, what they can go and see,” Osborne explains, “but our aspiration is to tie together the journey of a cricket fan, ideally from the time they might be playing with their club all the way through to watching a test match, to going to a match.”
“We’re looking at a number of the touchpoints we have with customers, whether that’s on the digital platforms or whether that’s on hospitality systems, to try and get an understanding of all the different ways a cricket fan would connect with us.”
He’s also bringing the organisation’s various state codes on board and nationalising the available technology.
“One of our big challenges is how do we bring the entire administration of cricket together to allow us to all pull in the same direction,” he says. “Everyone will be equalised as we step the whole platform up. Some is the basic stuff as easy as getting everyone on Office 365 so we can see one others’ calendars, all the way through to more sophisticated things to help us collaborate.”
Bums on seats
When the San Francisco 49ers Levi's Stadium opened in 2013 in Silicon Valley, it was dubbed the most technologically advanced in the world. Spectators there can order food to their seat (brought to them with the help of wireless beacons), access instant replays and even check the bathroom queue from their seat, all via their phone. A similar experience is in Cricket Australia’s sights.
While a holistic digital and mobile experience is great, says Scott Dinsdale, Accenture media and entertainment lead, “you also want to put bums on seats”. Achieving that means bringing the “kind of elegance you can now get sitting at home” into the venues, he adds.
“The experience goes from the minute you think about getting a ticket – the ticket is now on your phone, as you’re going to the venue Google Maps pops up and tells you there’s a traffic jam here, as you get closer an alert says, 'hey there’s some premium parking available – would you like to upgrade?' As you walk to the stadium it says turn left here. When you’re in your seat you can order food, it says ‘Becky is coming down the aisle, she’s got a red shirt on and she’s got your order’,” Dinsdale explains.
“One of the next focus points for Cricket Australia is how do they leverage technology like that to create a great matchday experience.”
It’s just cricket
“In our head we have all these different products but for most people it’s just cricket,” says Bradshaw. “They play cricket at the weekends, they watch cricket on TV, they go to the cricket. So one of the challenges for us is how we create a really seamless, delightful experience wherever someone’s interacting with cricket.
“To do that you need to have digital platforms that are engaging with each other and enable us to know who’s viewing at whichever point they come into cricket.”
The ultimate aim of all the work though, Osborne says, is to get more kids picking up a bat.
“We do all this great work, we build these great teams, we sell these media rights, we do all this stuff to get more kids picking up a bat and picking up a ball and going for a hit on a Saturday morning,” he says. “It’s just incredible to see, and to work for a place where one of the big missions is something that’s as embedded in the culture of the country as this is.”
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