Brands, apps and ‘passionate eyeballs’: welcome to the ICC’s future for cricket | Barney Ronay

    I’ve got a really great idea for an app. It’s going to be massive. You should definitely fund it, on the ground floor, before this opportunity disappears. Basically you’re missing out even reading this far. You need to invest NOW.

    Or ideally, before now. Fund my app in the past, because frankly if you had any vision at all, you’d have rushed off to invest in it the moment I said it’s going to be massive, which it is. To be honest, I’m not sure I even want your money now. Please stop funding my app. I hate you. I’m literally smashing the app with a hammer just to stop you investing. I hope you’re happy with what you’ve done.

    Perhaps the investor pitch still needs a little work. The app is a gamechanger though. It’s basically Shazam for cricket: point your phone at whatever match is playing on TV and the app will tell you instantly what you’re watching, who the players and teams are, which brands are being promoted and if you’re enjoying it.

    The app, which I call CrickFlick or CricSwipe or CrickBait, is designed to solve the only real downside to franchise cricket’s annihilating expansion: the fact it’s an essentially meaningless interchangeable product, the same noises, colours and sounds endlessly repeating, like a kind of sporting death.

    How many times have you switched on your screen to find a figure in a vibrant nylon shirt unfurling a field-splitting leg-side wangle while the commentator who just shouts “wow”, and thought to yourself: yes, I like cricket. It is emotionally and culturally wired into my brain. I hunger for it. But what is this exactly? And is that Wayne Parnell?

    Thanks to face recognition and real-time data Point&Crick will give you all the key stats and memes, will tell you who to support, how you should feel and what products you can buy to reinforce these emotions. This is the dream. Staring at a phone, which is pointed at a screen, while a voice says Canadian Hyper-Smash. Adam Rossington. LG fridge freezers. Alienation. Bang. Cricket solved.

    In fact the app was more of a cover story, prepared earlier this week just in case I had to make emergency small talk with high-flying sports-media powerbrokers. Yes, I went to the lavishly staged ICC Cricket Matters conference in Mumbai so that you didn’t have to. And it was pretty much what you’d expect, even, perhaps, a little more fundamentally disorientating.

    The conference was full of interesting content. It was presented by serious people who really do have a say in how cricket, and indeed every other sport you like, is going to be processed, consumed and violently reconfigured in the next few vital years.

    Pretending I was a mercurial tech entrepreneur seemed more venue-appropriate, less draggy, than being a sports hack. I’d pictured fellow delegates nodding urgently as I described my app, maybe even a buzz, a feeding frenzy. In the event nobody asked me anything at all. But really the point of going was to listen, to overhear the powerbrokers in their natural powerbroker habitat.

    The Hundred ‘is something of a joke’ among those attending the ICC Cricket Matters conference. Photograph: Nathan Stirk/ECB/Getty Images

    I wanted to know about Brands Love Fans in the Stands, and Cricket Matters to Meta and Innovation at Play: Part 1 – The ICC NIUM Hackathon. I wanted to understand the world of eyeballs, the digital dissection of sport, the things we feel happening and interpret as threats to elements of value and existing structures, but which are always happening somewhere else, never actually in the room.

    Nobody tells the truth about this stuff. English sport is torn between agonisingly parochial concerns and greed-driven schemes that can’t ever admit to being greed-driven schemes, which must always hide behind weasel words about heritage and respect for fans and sporting culture. We have Gianni Infantino pretending to be football-Jesus. We have ethics-washing and equality-washing. So the changes in the basic fabric of sport happen out of sight and half- baked, spun to minimise blowback.

    But not in here, among the rainmakers, those who are effectively overseeing how sport is being sliced and repurposed and pulped into a streaming product, where growth is always just a good thing, and new markets the whole point.

    So we filed into a huge panelled room on the ninth floor of an elite-tier Mumbai hotel, decked with thrilling blue lights, twinkly chandeliers and a stage at the front for the panels of heavy hitters. Wonks and waiters tended to tables packed with delegates, but there was above all a sense of urgency. This room will shape your sport. It has sharp edges.

    Brands Love Fans featured change-makers from Mastercard, Coca-Cola and DP World. They filed out to a blast of I’m So Excited by the Pointer Sisters, which was a little jarring as it only got to the words “I want to love you, feel you, wrap myself around you” before the music cut and everyone sat down.

    Who are these people? They’re the ICC’s commercial partners, and global sport’s partners, people who have a tangible input into what will be played and how it will look. You can have all the meetings and reports and root and branch reviews. Money talks and bullshit walks. This is the money part.

    So what do they want? More visibility. New markets, always. They seem obsessed with driving the experience on to a six-inch screen, which is what most of the world has in its pocket. They want less bilateral cricket, more big ICC events, more franchise. They want more prominence in the basic architecture, the dream not just of having a logo on the screen, but of “engagement”, of surfing your passion, owning it.

    skip past newsletter promotion

    This is where the possibilities of the digital revolution will be shaped in sport, where the decision of what parts to junk and what parts to over-expose are ultimately influenced. We can worry about heritage, values, sporting stuff. The contorted physical product we end up with will be carved out by these forces.

    Yes there was some high-grade waffle, talk of fully-parallel consumer experiences, of the shift at this World Cup from linear viewing to non-linear and hybrid. Someone said: “Cricket adjacency leads to very passionate eyeballs.” Someone said: “There are no discrete spaces any more, only overlapping dimensions.” Someone said: “We don’t want to go out and boil the ocean.” The World Cup trophy sat there at the front listening to all this. But there were also parts that made you jump.

    Indian cricket fans before a World Cup match in Kolkata.
    ‘The best part was an explanation of why India projects cricket as it does’. Photograph: Debajyoti Chakraborty/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

    Basically, everyone is convinced everything is going to change very quickly. “What tech is doing to every sector is what it will do to sport. It will change the very definition of what the sport is.” “Sport is going to change more drastically in the next three to four years than it has in the last 50, in terms of how we consume it and in terms of who we consider to be a fan.”

    Oh wow. They said it out loud. That sense of irreversible change is not in your head. And these are the people charged with making it happen.

    A woman from Mastercard explained with devastating clarity why Mastercard was in sport, because “when we go to a bank they say, what are the assets you are offering us”. So this is where sport fits in. As an asset for a bank, “a key passion point” for those sweet, sweet untapped markets.

    There was some waffle about diversity, and even better an insight into why that waffle happens. “Diversity, equality and inconclusiveness is a big part of the gen Z, the millennials. This is why brands need to bring in elements to address this.” Wait. I thought you actually meant it.

    The best part was in effect an explanation of why India projects cricket as it does. Indian politics wants these big global brands to invest and cricket is the driver, out there directly powering that consumer economy. “There is massive unlock still to be done,” the Coke guy said contentedly. And India is a happy, hungry, confident country in so many ways. Consumption and brand worship is an element of that confidence. Cricket has become an extension of both things.

    There was some interesting talk about how cricket can feel typecast as a subcontinental sport, a sense of mild frustration among the brand people that England and Australia may not be pulling their weight. Small talk at the interval provided confirmation that the Hundred (“Is that … dead now?”) is something of a joke in this company.

    As lunchtime rolled around it was the turn of the Meta guys, the Meta dudes to come bowling out high-fiving and hey-there-ing the crowd, here to discourse on “How Meta is working with influencers and the ICC around the Cricket World Cup”. The bros talked about “three billion monthly actives” and how the big thing when it comes to “the connected experience of connected apps” is the move from uni-dimensional consumption.

    At which point it was hard to avoid a creeping suspicion that these were the people who might actually fund CrickZam, not because it’s revolutionary (which it is) but because nobody actually knows what the future of sport, or indeed all forms of human connection, actually look like. This is all potential energy and new forms; and it’s entirely up for grabs.

    Source link

    Related articles



    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here

    Share article

    Latest articles


    Subscribe to stay updated.