Australians live for sport; Football in the Winter and Cricket in the Summer. As the sporting landscape evolves and technology allows for greater excitement for fans, new sporting formats continue to emerge. With three hours of non-stop action, fireworks, music and loads more entertainment, the KFC Big Bash League (BBL) is the ultimate family night out. The sentiment goes something like this; match experience, entertaining, affordable, fast, easy and safe.
The Bugg Report spent some time with Anthony Everard; the Head of BBL to understand the key drivers behind this growing phenomenon, which began its journey in 2011.
Anthony, I understand you had a three year stint as Marketing Manager for Cricket Australia in the early 2000’s. In your view, what are the overriding changes to what sporting fans want today versus during that time?
Things have changed a lot over the past 20 years. We did not have YouTube, Facebook or Twitter in those days. Sports now are catering for a far broader audience and therefore we need to be nimble about how we deliver our product. We must now have broader appeal to engage the audience. Along with technology evolution we now compete against other sports and other entertainment platforms including concert acts and the like. We need to be confident that we can deliver a product that is as good, if not better than our competition.
As we approach the 6th season of BBL, have the fans now adopted a clear team based allegiance?
We are still only 5-years-old but we are beginning to see strong team allegiances, particularly in the single team states. It is worth remembering that people were initially confronted with a raft of team colors that were not necessarily aligned to the particular state. The two-team states have tended to catch up over recent years. It was fantastic to see at the Sydney Smash last year the strong support for both teams. The fans are certainly now showing their support or tribalism to their respective teams.
From a commercial standpoint what is the ongoing strategy to engage the fan base with the consumer products program attached to the BBL?
I believe there are three elements to answering this question. Our first priority, off the back of the success of the competition, is to push into mainstream retail. We have realised strong growth from our at match sales platform. This is driven by the fact that we now have 1 million fans attending our matches during the season. Online sales have also tended to be very strong. Secondly we want to develop the depth and breadth of the range beyond the core, hats, replica t-shirts & apparel based merchandise and grow into other categories. Thirdly we are keen to grow our kids ranges. Recent data indicated that based on sales of replica shirts during the season that there is an appetite for kids to be better catered for with a broader offering of merchandise. Probably our biggest barrier at present is our lack of exposure in the mainstream retail space. Having said that, the supporter ranges for women and kids is a big play for Myer & David Jones and the bigger online platforms remain important to us.
I noticed that you partnered with Warner Bros. last year with a major competition based promotion for Batman v Superman. Can you explain this activation and was it leveraged with merchandise?
Yes this began as a rather small promotion that evolved during the season to become a major activation. It started as a retail opportunity however as we learnt more about the Warner Bros. business we saw the opportunity to engage a much larger audience outside our core demographic. We were able to leverage the brand equity in Warner Bros. and what began as a merchandise play soon evolved into a much bigger promotion with Movie World and their cinema arm which included holidays for families and the like. We tapped into the strength of their brand and communicated with a new audience. It was very successful.
You also launched a promotion last year with Zooper Dooper. I believe these sold out in most supermarkets! What did this promotion mean to the season?
It was a wonderful brand fit. The alignment was perfect. Zooper Dooper is already a part of summer traditions and the fact that their ice treats mirror the 8 colors of our teams could not have been better. This allowed the BBL to play in the grocery space. They secured an exclusive tie up with Coles and then ran a national promotion giving away family passes to BBL matches. This was perfectly in step with our priorities. This reinforced the value proposition “A fun night out for the family “and we will build on this next year.
I read recently that the BBL is now the number one rating competition, viewer-for-viewer, in Australia. With an average audience of 1.1 million, what plans do you have to translate this enormous interest into encouraging more people to come to the games?
We want to differentiate the live experience. We see a significant shift in that families are looking for a vehicle to allow them to spend more time with each other. With the fast paced world we live in and the associated pressures this brings upon families, the BBL is an ideal avenue for mum, dad and the kids to spend time together. We experienced a 25% growth on both attendance and viewing audience last year. The attendance has basically doubled since we began. Last season we had 1 million fans attending the games.
Can you explain your plans and evolution for the specific team based merchandise programs?
The licensing program is run centrally at present and largely is a one size fits all across the league. We do have a challenge in terms of scale, as the season is quite short and sharp, so we want to service the latent demand via the mainstream channels first. I suspect that we are not quite mature enough at this point to develop significant team based merchandise ranges. We are however looking at developing specific items that will resonate with a particular characteristic of a team. For example in Tasmania where it can be cooler than other destinations we are planning a beanie as a core item in that market. We are probably looking more seriously at driving the event based merchandise.
Is the format ready for merchandise that relates to the stars from both a Local and International angle?
Yes I think it is. We are a truly global sport now. We have 16 of the biggest International stars in the business from around the world, plus the established local Australian Superstars. We have global broadcasting rights and push into all of the key markets, including India and the UK. We are able to sell online internationally and although it is aspirational, there is no reason why we cannot establish franchise markets off shore. We need to keep focus on developing the local league.
Network 10 recently won the Logie for Most Outstanding Sports Coverage for KFC BBL. What commercial opportunities does this create for you?
Credit to Channel 10 here. They have not traditionally broadcast cricket before and there were certain reservations as to how it would perform. They really have not missed a beat. I believe the market still under estimates the power of the BBL during summer. It is equivalent to 35 Friday night games along with a million viewers in a truly national market spread. We are fortunate to straddle a number of key selling periods including, the lead into Xmas, Boxing Day sales, School Holidays and our finals coincide with Back-to-School, therefore any brand who seeks to talk to this audience, we tick all the boxes.
As the world continues to change at an alarming rate, it is difficult to plan too far ahead. What are your three key goals for the league for the next two seasons?
Firstly I would say that we are focused on consolidation. We certainly do not see this as a race. We want to continue to establish the BBL as a family summer holiday tradition. The BBL is there to attract new fans to Cricket. We have to be mindful not to disrupt our core fan base. There are many families who are still not engaged with our league and that is the big upside. One of the most exciting things for us now is the WBBL. We launched the women’s league last year. We were caught by surprise by the popularity of this brand. TV ratings and attendance were both significant for the fledgling competition. We have identified and implemented a mantra of one club, two teams. This means that each club can field a male and female team under the same franchise. The WBBL has been created to challenge the perception that Cricket is only for males. It gives us a real competitive advantage.
KFC have been your key partner from the beginning of BBL back in 2011. What does this mean commercially to the competition?
In the early days they brought a real competitive advantage to the sport. To have an established brand on board from the beginning gave us an authenticity and as we are a not for profit league, their generous sponsorship can be re invested into the many initiatives we initiate with the BBL. It also provides us a great channel to speak to our fans. This is destined to be a long-term relationship as they are delighted with their involvement and Cricket does prize itself for building long term relationships.
Anthony, thank you again for taking the time to enlighten us on your thoughts and plans for the BBL. It is an exciting time to be leading the team and we look forward to more engaging competition and entertainment from BBL when the new season kicks off later this year.
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