With the 2021 County Championship season getting underway in England & Wales, we caught up with Laura Angus, Head of Commercial at Middlesex Cricket to talk about how they have adapted their commercial approach in light of COVID 19 and the role that digital plays in their sponsorship strategy.
Hi Laura, thanks for taking the time to speak to us. You work for one of the most famous and most historic clubs in world cricket but, for the non-cricket fans out there, can you begin by telling us a bit more about Middlesex Cricket and your role with the organisation?
Middlesex Cricket is one of 18 first class counties in England and Wales. We’re recognised as an iconic brand in domestic cricket, a status that is amplified globally because we play at the Home of Cricket, Lord’s Cricket Ground, and we have a long list of cricket’s great on our books, most recently, England’s World Cup Winning Captain and our T20 Captain, Eoin Morgan.
I joined Middlesex in the newly created role of Commercial Manager at the end of the 2016 season, as part of a commercial shift in the club’s strategy. Since then, we’ve grown significantly, expanding our partner network and developing products to maximise revenue for the club. I now head up the Commercial Department and am responsible for sales and servicing of sponsorship, strategy, revenue generation and product innovation.
How has Middlesex’s digital offering changed during your time with the club?
We’ve always been very keen to develop our digital offering, both to enhance our fan experience and the opportunity for sponsor involvement. Prior to 2019, our focus remained very much on our social channels and e-comms. Since then, our strategy has shifted to developing new products to expand our reach beyond the crowds at Lord’s, maximise our engagement with fans both in the UK and abroad and create new sponsorship opportunities.
Middlesex generally only have a small number of televised matches each season, so there was huge scope to maximise our reach during non-televised matches, which equates to more than 30 days each season. The ability to livestream these matches in 2018 was a huge step in building our digital presence and supporting our existing social media strategy. Since then, we’ve continued to invest in our streaming production and naturally, this became hugely important in 2020 allowing us to deliver value to our members and fans, whilst they couldn’t be in the ground as well as redistributing value for our shirt sponsors.
We also launched our very own fantasy cricket product in the 2019 season and remain the only county to have a club specific and owned fan engagement tool like it. A free product that allows fans to make predictions on all Middlesex matches home and away, it’s been an amazing engagement tool, bringing fans closer to the club and maximising our engagement across all three competitions and the season as a whole.
What role does digital, and in particular your social channels, play now in the way you engage with your fans and how have you had to adapt your digital approach to mitigate for the impact of COVID on live match attendance?
Our social channels have always played a huge role in our communication with fans on match days. When fans aren’t watching in ground, and particularly due to the long format of County Championship cricket, social media is often how fans follow the match, consuming clips and highlights to keep up to date. Our livestream has proved to be an extension of our social channels, offering fans the ability to follow every ball of the action. Due to this existing infrastructure, we’ve been able to continue to use social as a key channel of match engagement even when behind closed doors.
In 2020, we made further investment to enhance the production of our livestream to provide a quality product for fans while they couldn’t be with us at Lord’s. In doing so, we increased our viewership 150% with 1.5 million views. This was particularly impressive considering 2020 was a truncated season where we were missing our overseas players which always result in significant follower and engagement uplift. Going into the 2021 season, we have a 5-camera production, our own commentators and full editorial control over our stream which not only allows us to create personalised content for fans watching but it also offers a new channel for our sponsors to access a much wider audience.
The stream has transformed our content strategy by giving our Comms Team access to an enormous amount of video footage that can be repurposed for to engaging non-match day content year-round.
Earlier this year you launched a new digital partnership package offering a mix of sponsorship and editorial opportunities across your different digital assets – how has your overall sponsorship proposition changed due to COVID and how you are using your digital channels to offer value for your sponsors, during these restricted times?
Historically, a lot of sponsorships were driven by cricket loving decision makers who wanted to entertain at Lord’s and, whilst client entertainment remains a key part of sponsorships and their activation, brands are now looking for an investment that does more with proven ROI. Naturally, for Middlesex and many rightsholders, digital is a key commercial growth pillar.
Whether we’re discussing partnership activation with an existing sponsor or discussing a prospective sponsorship with a brand, digital is always a key focus of how we can maximise the value of the partnership. Our digital growth and investment have allowed us to build a new stand-alone sponsorship product and ultimately develop new and robust revenue for the club.
In the pandemic, we’ve been able to utilise our stream and digital content to redistribute shirt and in stadia branding value lost and we’ve been forced to look for new ways to bring value to our sponsors and their network. Although digital doesn’t completely make up for what’s been lost in sport over the last 12 months, it’s helped us give back to fans and proven the importance of digital growth continuing alongside the return of crowds.
How has the focus on digital changed your relationship with existing sponsors and what change, if any has it brought about in the types of partnerships you are targeting?
We work with some amazing people at some incredible brands who are genuinely invested in Middlesex and our work at every level of the game. As I’ve touched on, we used digital to redistribute value for our shirt sponsors and have found new ways to bring them closer to our fans and engage with their own networks. This has only allowed us to strengthen our relationship with our sponsors as we will continue to build on the activation and engagement in 2021 and beyond.
As far as new partnerships, by investing in our digital assets and proving their worth through sponsor redistribution in 2020, we now have a more comprehensive digital offering which allows us to target likeminded brands looking for targeted and measurable sponsorships as they grow in their respective industries.
How important is data to your new digital partnership offering and how has Horizm’s platform supported the development of these packages, in terms of understanding the value, and commercial potential, of your different social channels?
Data is everything when it comes to evaluating our sponsorships and even more so when creating a new proposition. It’s hugely important to develop a product that is fit for purpose and valued correctly before entering the market. Horizm provided us with an objective valuation of our assets that gave us confidence and clarity in developing our digital proposition for market. It will also become a crucial tool in annual reviews of partnerships and tracking the value of our continued digital growth.
Finally, thinking about the digital transformation the club has undergone during the pandemic, what have been your biggest learnings and which of the changes you have made do you see as continuing to be part of your approach after fans have returned?
It’s clear that fans everywhere are very much looking forward to returning to live sport and although nothing can match the experience of watching cricket at Lord’s, sport will continue to be consumed digitally and the scope to grow our audience beyond existing cricket fans is huge. With that in mind, there’s so much content online so as rightsholders, we need to work harder to be producing top quality content and engaging products to truly capture the digital audience.
Looking to the 2021 season and beyond, we will continue to grow and engage through social, produce exclusive content for our members, invest in our stream production and fan engagement and of course, partner with brands who can support our efforts digitally.
For more information on Middlesex Cricket please go to www.middlesexccc.com
For further cricket insight, check our report on The Globalization of T20 Cricket which looks at he social audience of the IPL; how it compares to other major sporting competitions and what it’s market share says about the game’s future growth.