The Spin | The Hundred sees ECB double down on ludicrous marketing-drivel
Since it was first announced, back in the heady, innocent days when it lacked a name and the England and Wales Cricket Board was assumed to be gestating nothing more revolutionary than a new Twenty20 competition, the thing we now refer to as The Hundred has been hounded by sceptics.
One criticism in particular has recurred intriguingly. Back in April 2018 an unnamed county representative at the meeting where the ECB’s plans were first announced described it to the Evening Standard as being “like something out of W1A”. This March a county executive told the Independent, on the subject of ongoing discussions about team names: “Honestly, it’s like something out of W1A at times.” In April a county executive told the Sunday Times that at one meeting, “I thought I’d walked onto the set of W1A”. This all suggests two things: that a single county executive with a particular fondness for excruciating BBC comedies has repeatedly said similar things to different journalists under the cover of anonymity; and that, whether the quotes come from one individual or several, the process of creating the competition has at times been painfully cringeworthy, marked in particular – as was the TV series – by the adoption of befuddling marketspeak.
Fast forward to last week’s announcement of the “brand identities” of the eight participating teams, which featured Rob Calder, the tournament’s commercial director, awkwardly ad-libbing in an east London warehouse while assistants desperately attempted to coax some action from a video that was refusing to play. There seems little doubt what our mysterious county executive would have to say about that particular scene.
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The ECB has certainly put plenty of effort – and a lavish budget of £180m over five years – into the tournament’s creation, so much so that in England’s major urban areas there can’t be many groups left unfocused. The Evening Standard wrote that “the ECB are building the eight new team identities based on exhaustive research of their target market”, which include shirt sponsors chosen – according to the Telegraph – to “help the Hundred reach younger urban audiences” and a pared-down two-game knockout round designed – according to the Times – around “concerns about whether a long [finals] day would appeal to their target market of families and young people”. “The Hundred,” says the ECB’s chief executive, Tom Harrison, “is going to be positioned as family entertainment.” As if we couldn’t tell.
The ECB has come to resemble the desperate schoolteacher who imagines his students will be suddenly enthralled by Shakespeare if they are told to consider him a lyricist and read his sonnets over a hip-hop beat. In its case, it is convinced that cricket’s fortunes will be transformed when the players are finally free to wear truly garish colours and the logo of a popular prawn cocktail-flavoured snack. When Virat Kohli announced last year that he would be playing no part in the competition, he used one phrase that for many rang particularly true: “I feel somewhere the commercial aspect is taking over the real quality of cricket and that hurts me.”
It was into this environment that the ECB launched the eight teams last week. A less charitable observer would decry their continued attempts at “positioning”, but in many endeavours – we’ll leave Brexit out of this if you don’t mind – there comes a point where even if you consider something misguided, you must grudgingly admire the belief of those who continue to pursue it with absolute conviction. Because far from attempting to mollify the naysayers, the ECB’s snook-cockers turned the irritating market-speak dial to 11, added some loud colours, shouty fonts and an advertising deal with precisely the kind of company for whom the type of people already criticising them would be guaranteed to further criticise them, and sat back to enjoy the pyrotechnics.
In particular, the final team names and the descriptions of their characteristics on the tournament’s official website were so extraordinarily inane they read like the deliberate and really quite aggressive provocation of the doomsters and gloomsters who have been so upset by this project from its very conception. It is, to be sure, difficult to pithily describe the make-up of teams that haven’t yet been made up, but even so this was quite the achievement.
Manchester Originals are “celebrating a global city of firsts” and “laughing in the face of limits”. Birmingham Phoenix are “a celebration of the strength in diversity, because different is good”. Northern Superchargers are “powered by positivity and people who get stuff done”. Southern Brave are “endlessly curious, with an insatiable appetite for adventure”. Trent Rockets will launch “the biggest party in the country” exclusively for those “who don’t mind having the most fun”. Welsh Fire are “burning bright with intense passion and relentless energy” with – and this phrase might have felt particularly meaningful for whoever penned it – a “hunger to prove the haters wrong”.Ali Martin (@Cricket_Ali)
Who are The Hundred teams? What do they stand for? The official website has the answers... https://t.co/wSrhwFxutXOctober 3, 2019
Given the opportunity to change people’s perceptions the ECB, which had been repeatedly criticised for using ludicrous marketing-drivel during private meetings, had used even more ludicrous marketing-drivel in public. These tactics seemed extraordinary, but then a few hours after the ECB’s press conference wound down a different one took place on a different continent in which a president under fire for making objectionable requests of Ukraine in private decided that the best way to beat off that allegation would be to also and more publicly make the same requests of China. The ECB continues to be criticised for its approach in creating the Hundred, but at least it knows President Trump would be fan.
It is clear that no amount of parody or protest will change its path now. The ECB has been burrowing itself into a Hundred-shaped hole, and instead of seeking a way out it ordered up a digger. Perhaps it’s time to give up on the grinching, before it gets its hands on some dynamite.The Spin: sign up and get our weekly cricket email.