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Chris Beck, Licensing Manager at England and Wales Cricket Board, talks us through the licensing programme for The Hundred – and how the brand is looking to throw open cricket’s doors to all.
Hi Chris. Firstly, could you give us a little bit of background to The Hundred?
The Hundred is a UK domestic cricket tournament which is the first of its kind in the world. It’s designed to thrive in our digital era, with the main goal to throw open cricket’s doors to all. The inaugural edition of the tournament was in 2021, so it’s a very new tournament – but one that has already captured the hearts and minds of families across the country.
How does the tournament work?
The format of the tournament is really simple, with each batting team face 100 balls – the clue is in the name! – to score as many runs as they can. There are 10 sets of 10 balls and a bowler can either choose to deliver 10 consecutive balls or swap after five – each individual bowler can’t bowl more than 20 balls per match.
Like you say, it’s a new event, but you’ve been pleased with the reaction to it so far?
Performance has been fantastic across all areas – the cricket itself, fan engagement and merchandise sales have all been brilliant and we’re only just getting started! Given that we’ve been competing with some strong sporting events this year – like the Commonwealth Games and the early start of the Premier League – it’s been a hit, which is great to see.
Design-wise, The Hundred feels very fresh, from the team names to on air graphics. Can you give us some insight into the development process?
The Hundred and its team brands were developed after extensive research in the cities where the competition is played. We spoke to key audiences, in particular 16 to 24 years old, about why they were not currently engaging with cricket. A lot of the research pointed to the brands within cricket not aligning with those new fans and brands they love.
From this were born team brands that represent the people within the cities that they play, whether that be the welcoming nature of Nottingham or the can-do attitude of Leeds and the north-east. We are excited to work with licensees who can align to those teams, using the research to develop products that engage audiences on a local level.
We’ve mentioned how fresh The Hundred feels, but cricket is a sport that has a lot of history and tradition associated with it. How important was it to balance heritage with innovation?
As I mentioned earlier, The Hundred’s main goal is to throw cricket’s doors open to everyone. Everything needs to evolve and The Hundred is bringing cricket into the era of digital and entertainment. It’s not just a cricket match – you have in-game presenters, music acts in partnership with BBC Introducing and loads of in-stadium events.
The above doesn’t mean that cricket loses any of its history and tradition, The Hundred just exists as a different form of cricket!
Good answer! Thinking about licensing generally, who are you working with and what are some of the recent highlights from the licensing programmes ?
We work with a number of key partners across both England Cricket and The Hundred. Our kit deal with Castore is key for us in terms of tapping into a younger audience. As well as kit, we will also have monobrand clothing ranges launching with them this year and next for The Ashes.
For The Hundred, the type of partner we wanted to work with in the early years of the tournament was extremely important… Having New Era on board as their first cricket brand was brilliant. The success of the partnership can be seen in the designs and through the excellent sales we’ve had over both years of The Hundred.
Being a brand made for the digital world also gives us a lot of scope to be creative with our output… The Topps cards we did this year is a great an example of bringing players to fans via a fun and imaginative product.
If you were pitching The Hundred as a brand opportunity to a retailer, what would be your key pitch points to them?
That The Hundred is there for everyone – inclusivity, diversity and appealing to a broad audience are at the heart of what we do. I’ve heard so many stories of people who’ve never thought about watching cricket before going to The Hundred and having a great time!
Children love it… It’s my favourite thing seeing families from all backgrounds having an amazing time at a Hundred game and engaging with the products that we’ve brought to market for them.
How do you see The Hundred developing as a brand over the next few years?
For me, it’s about bringing the right licensed partnerships on-board and making sure that we deliver those to our fans in a way that grows the brand and brings it to new people. The Hundred is all about inclusion so if a licensed product can introduce new people to The Hundred then that’s a job well done as far as I’m concerned.
Taking a wider view – we’re only just getting started! The Hundred as a brand transcends cricket into being an event in both the physical and digital world – this is only going to grow with the tournament itself.
On that, what role does licensing play in the development and promotion of cricket?
It plays a massive part. Merchandise forms a huge part of how any brand increases its visibility and I see cricket being no different to that.
Sport has a unique entry point to consumers in that you can actively reach fans at a given point – matchdays – with merchandise, but I see licensing as spreading both England Cricket and The Hundred brands to places it may not have reached otherwise, whether that be through a unique product or brand partnership.
And I’d imagine sponsorship with other brands is also a key strategy for your IP?
In general, sponsorship sits separately from licensing, but I do think there is scope to blend commercial partnerships and licensing. Our activation with The Minions at this year’s The Hundred tournament is a perfect example of this.
Do you target a range of consumers for your licensing campaigns? And if so, how do address those different consumer groups and their needs?
We have our core cricket fans who we will always be appreciative of, and cater for, with our licensed partnerships and merchandise. I also feel that licensing offers a huge opportunity to reach consumers that wouldn’t necessarily be buying an England Cricket or The Hundred product.
I have a background in children’s and popular culture licensing and very much value creativity in licensing deals – bringing partners on board who can serve our existing fanbase whilst reaching a new one, through retail or their consumer base is a big focus for me.
We also listen to our fans and actively engage with them – if fans are asking for a product, I’m not going to ignore them!
Do you look at other sports to gain licensing insights?
Of course! I look all over the licensing world for inspiration and companies who are bringing fresh ideas into the market. From a sporting perspective, I think Manchester City and Arsenal have got great licensing programmes and, in general, we can take a lot of learnings from American sport. The way the NBA has utilised NFTs is fantastic and I love Primark’s NFL range – really clean and simple.
As a side note – I’m always a sucker for a collaboration that comes out of nowhere so I’ll give the Borussia Dortmund x SpongeBob collab a special mention!
Are there any specific gaps in your licensing programme you are keen to fill?
First and foremost, I want to make sure our core fans have what they want. Moving into an Ashes year for England Cricket, I’ve got a focus on accessories and homeware as well as the collectible market. For The Hundred, it’s such a family-based tournament that homeware such as bedroom accessories and back-to-school items are a must!
For both, I very much want to work, and partner with, companies who share our values and beliefs in how a licensed partnership should be.
Finally, if you were hosting three guests at a Hundred match from the sporting or business world who would they be and why?
Great question! I really like Steven Bartlett’s story and find him extremely engaging to listen to… Diary of a CEO podcast is fantastic, and I think he’s a great inspiration to the younger generation.
When I think about achievements in sport, it’s hard to think past Serena Williams and all that she’s achieved and stood for throughout her career. Even just a couple of stories from her and an insight into the mindset that stood her apart would be incredible!
Last but not least, I’ve got to have Alan Shearer in there! I’m an enormous Newcastle fan and grew up idolising him. I couldn’t have three guests and not extend one to Wor Al!
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