In a World Cup that 'lacked buzz', England's final heroics provide 'once in a lifetime' opportunity

England's Cricket World Cup heroics on the field have left the PR and comms industry purring, but some feel the tournament could have generated a greater buzz and that the sport needs to make the most of the final's success.

England lift their first men's Cricket World Cup trophy after the greatest final in history. (Photo by Stu Forster via Getty Images)
England lift their first men's Cricket World Cup trophy after the greatest final in history. (Photo by Stu Forster via Getty Images)

England won their first men’s Cricket World Cup after Ben Stokes largely carried the nation with a gutsy batting display (and more than a deflection of luck) in what was the most exciting decider the sport has ever seen.

The match itself was spellbindingly close, tense and full of drama with England winning on boundary countback after neither side could be separated following cricket’s version of a penalty shootout – the super over.

Even though some cricket purists have questioned how the boundary countback rule got the nod ahead of counting wickets, and others point out that Stokes’ deflected shot should have registered five runs, not six – nobody can deny England its moment of glory and the sheer entertainment value, drama and buzz of a final that lifted cricket to a fanfare it has not enjoyed since England’s successful 2005 Ashes campaign.

The final will go down in English sporting folklore and was also a wonderful advert for the power of cultural diversity at a time of Brexit division – but could the tournament as a whole be deemed a success from a PR perspective?

Comms experts who closely follow the sport believe that aside from the final, the Cricket World Cup largely failed to generate the sort of buzz you’d expect from a home tournament of this magnitude, despite some nice community outreach work at certain venues. This included Natwest’s No Boundaries campaign, using street cricket as a vehicle to engage youth, and geo-targeted community outreach to improve the cultural vibrancy at stadiums like Old Trafford and Edgbaston whenever a sub-continent side played.

However, many believe the buzz around the elongated format failed to live up of the hype of the Women's World Cup and Lionesses' success.

"I don’t remember a major sporting event hosted in Britain that generated such a low level of fanfare or buzz in the run up," Taylor Herring founder and CEO James Herring said. "The 2014 Tour De France eclipsed it by comparison and cycling is way more niche.

"Our cricket stars have clearly raised their game – and now the marketers around the sport need to raise theirs to engage new audiences and capitalise on the new-found excitement in the game."

Mark Perkins, the ECD at W Communications agrees, adding: "The Lionesses had smashing viewing records on the BBC, building a buzz around the nation and attracting new audiences with every step they progressed.

"By comparison, the CWC had failed to capture the wider public imagination until people watched the final. That was despite amazing atmosphere in the grounds and 47 games of cricket, it was only really the die-hards who were talking about the England side and the tournament."

Alpaca Communications director Peter Elms says that while most of the tournament lacked the buzz of the Ashes in 2005, last night’s final changed all that – "No one is talking about Love Island this morning."

James McCollum, associate director at Barley Communications, described the final as a "stonking success", but believes that behind the on-field drama "there have been plenty of communications elements for PRs (and the cricketing authorities) to ponder".

These include better communications over "operational snags" such as the notorious ticketing website problems that led to negative speculation around "the randomness of tickets reappearing on the portal". There was also confusion around the rules of the sport – particularly the way in which a winner was decided.

"It also feels that there was a missed marketing opportunity to get young people into cricket," he added. "Local clubs should have been supported to do more for young players around the World Cup, including subsidised TV options for clubs with clubhouses to get people together to watch. 

"Marketing to improve participation in schools was also a missed opportunity. In London alone, there are boroughs full of young people playing cricket all year round because of family or friends. This home World Cup was an opportunity to leave a legacy in schools in the host nation around playing the sport."

England's success celebrates the cultural diversity that defines modern Britain. (Photo: Gareth Copley via Getty Photos).

The PR masterstroke

The major gripe for many cricket fans is that not enough people saw the tournament beyond the final, crediting Sky Sports’ decision to simulcast the game on Channel 4 as a masterstroke.

"Cricket’s base support is lower than it should be, as the product has been exclusively hidden on Sky since 2005 Ashes series," Ready10’s associate director of creative Greg Double points out. "You cannot be what you cannot see and for too many, you simply don’t see cricket."

PrettyGreen’s founder Mark Stringer agrees. While he lauded the final as a "brilliant antidote to the feeling of despair of Brexit and knife crime", the real issued with marketing and PR for the tournament is that it isn’t on live, free-to-air television, lacking the "national stature that, say, the Women’s World Cup enjoyed on BBC".

"The benefits to the nation’s economy, moral and health is unquestionable and in future, it should be made mandatory that when we host "world cups" for any major sport they are on terrestrial TV," he added.

James Fenn, senior content and publishing manager of Hill+Knowlton Strategies' Sports and Partnership Marketing team, is more upbeat in his assessment and believes that the "astonishing super-over victory" will wash away any doubts about the success of the tournament and that this could be a genuine step-change in the popularity of cricket in this country, despite the to an extent it felt like the "world of cricket talking to the world of cricket".

"Building on the success of the final, [the ECB] should lobby Sky to make the first day of the Ashes available to all, and further help grow a mainstream audience. Working more closely with schools is another key factor," he added.

Cultural diversity the winner

Pagefield’s chief executive Oliver Foster agrees that England’s World Cup victory provides a unique springboard to grow participation in the sport and "dispel the long-held myth that cricket is a stuffy, old-fashioned game for the elite".

"What is remarkable about this England squad is its diverse nature. It includes an Irish Captain, a strike bowler born in Barbados, a Muslim spin duo, and other players born in South Africa, New Zealand and beyond," he added. 

"These heroes sit front and centre of England’s success and profiling those personalities will help demonstrate to any youngster that anything is possible in the sport, irrespective of their background."

Mark Lowe, Third City’s founding partner, agrees, adding that the big cultural story of the World Cup has been the "awakening of England’s huge South Asian diaspora", which tells an "amazing story about modern Britain".

Foster and others speaking to PRWeek have urged the ECB to look at showing more cricket on free-to-air TV, particularly events like the World Cup and Ashes, which starts later this month.

The benefits for showing a sport on free-to-air TV extend well beyond generating public interest and ticket sales (which were healthy at this Cricket World Cup).

In the decade after the ECB decided to swell its coffers by selling exclusive broadcast rights to Sky Sports in 2005, participation among adults declined by about 32 per cent to 259,200, according to the Sport England People Survey.

With this year’s Ashes behind a paywall and a new format being launched next year called The Hundred, promoting the sport to new fans will be vital. 

"It’s time for the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) to grasp a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to inspire the next generation; no mean feat when, according to their own figures, only seven per cent of primary school children play cricket," Rooster MD James Brooke said. "Their first challenge? A fundamental rethink of the ECB’s strategy, which has sacrificed reach for revenue, the limited reach of Sky’s paywall for the commercial revenue that the ECB needs."

England’s World Cup heroics have laid the foundations for a strong innings if the ECB can make the start to this summer count.

Comms experts are divided over whether the way England won was fair – but they do not care. (Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

PRWeek’s Super Over 

PRWeek threw in a few googlies to comms experts about some of the finer points in yesterday’s decider. 

Some played with a straight bat, others were beaten by the variation in turn, while some hit this publication for six with their response.

Did England deserve to win?

"England won fair and square, but with a huge slice of luck. And the rules added to the drama in all the right ways, unlike VAR in the Women’s Football World Cup."
Matthew Fletcher-Jones, director of communications, Engine Sport

"I don’t think either team deserved to lose that game. Two elements leave a slightly odd feeling for me: the deflection off Stokes’ bat in the last overturned the game. Seven runs from two balls is completely different to three from two. I also felt that NZ losing by boundaries scored, while they had more wickets in hand at the end, is disappointing. It would have been better to do a second super over."
James McCollum, associate director, Barley Communications

"To tie after 50 overs, then tie again in the tiebreaker, only to decide a winner based on boundaries hit, is incredibly harsh on New Zealand. But that said, I maintain that in the moment, it felt like a fair contest. Both teams knew what they had to do, and both had a chance to win right to the final delivery. "
James Fenn, senior content and publishing manager, H+K Strategies

"It was heartbreaking for New Zealand. The Stokes deflection incident should have been five and not six runs according to several former umpires. But that added to all the drama. A game for the ages and the best one day cricket match ever."
Darren Burns, vice chair Asia-Pacific, Weber Shandwick

"At the risk of sounding unpatriotic, I would argue that it doesn’t matter how you make runs, and deciding the game on the number of boundaries hit wasn’t fair. Therefore, perhaps a better way of deciding the outcome would have been the number of wickets conceded during the innings, although this would have handed New Zealand the trophy!"
Tom Clive, associate partner, Sermelo

"In sport you must have winners and losers, this is the nature of the game and why it is so compelling. The game was played in the right spirit and one team had to win, I think New Zealand were unbelievably sporting and gracious in defeat and think that England would have been the same. It’s massively cliché but really cricket was the winner."
Chris Gratton, head of sport and entertainment, FleishmanHillard Fishburn

What about the social media reaction to England’s win, such as Jacob Rees Mogg’s hijacking it for his Brexit agenda?

"Those seeking to hijack the victory for their own means were beautifully overshadowed by England’s Dublin-born captain commenting that ‘we had Allah on our side’."
Matthew Fletcher-Jones, director of communications, Engine Sport

"I really liked the interaction between Wimbledon & ICC on Twitter yesterday. It showed their personality in a fun and informal way and it resulted in huge engagement for both organisations. As for Jacob, it’s a shame that he didn’t read the room. Just as the UK is basking in the success, and enjoying a break from the usual Brexit headlines, he jumps in to remind us all that whilst we’re winners at cricket, our political reputation is in tatters."
Natasha Hill, MD, Bottle 

"There is a heavy sense of irony when seeing Rees-Mogg’s pro-Britain tweets, given that England’s current one-day cricket team is a symbol of diversity and freedom of movement – comprised of different religions, heritages, cultures and backgrounds."
Tom Clive, associate partner, Sermelo

"I hate any attempt to apply identity politics to sport – and JRM’s comments were particularly dim, given the nationality of our captain – so that sort of behaviour can be hit for six and he can get off my bandwagon."
Greg Double, associate director of creative, Ready10

What did you enjoy the most about the Cricket World Cup?

Afghanistan's remarkable story to compete at this year's World Cup was one of the highlights. (Photo by Alan Martin/Action Plus via Getty Images)

"The tournament and subsequent win has lifted the spirit of the nation, giving us a much-needed break from the Tory leadership election, Brexit and political bickering. And with Sky’s help, it has generated mass engagement with a magnificent climax.
Natasha Hill, MD, Bottle 

"The atmosphere at Pakistan v India was like nothing we’ve ever heard at a match in this country. Although my favourite sound was the justified booing of Warner and Smith everywhere they went. I’ll be glad to never have to hear that cricket bat rock guitarist ever again."
Matthew Fletcher-Jones, director of communications, Engine Sport

"World Cups of any kind are extremely special, even more so when they take place in your home country. They bring people together to celebrate their passion for a single thing, sport, and in this instance cricket showed us the true beauty of sport: its power to unite and entertain. The ECB needs to continue to drive all forms of cricket within the country and use the superstars of this team to do so. This can be a seminal moment for cricket, much like England winning the Rugby World Cup in 2003 shot Jonny Wilkinson et al to fame"
Chris Gratton, head of sport and entertainment, FleishmanHillard Fishburn

"The biggest marketing job of all – the England team. Who would have thought in the 1990s – or after the last World Cup – that we’d have the most explosive batting line up in the world that would dig deep to get the job done?"
James McCollum, associate director, Barley Communications

"Watching Afghanistan, a country torn by war and conflict, play such competitive cricket (with an excellent bowling attack) and push the cricket giants like India and Pakistan to the limit."
Tom Clive, associate partner, Sermelo

"That the games were low scoring on challenging wickets. The return of the fast bowlers! And what an amazing and likeable character Kane Williamson is - pure class. How does he stay so grounded?"
Darren Burns, vice chair Asia-Pacific, Weber Shandwick 

"It’s impossible not to say everything after the 99.3rd over in the final, but having got on my high horse about identity politics above – Bradford-born Adil Rashid tearing apart the Aussies, on the day Tommy Robinson went to HMS Belmarsh, felt especially symbolic of how gorgeous sport can be."
Greg Double, associate director of creative, Ready10

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