Australia’s cricket stars have been told that the national body wants them to help attract more females to the game, as they had their annual briefing from Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland today.
Sutherland spoke to elite players at their camp in Darwin about strategic goals for the summer ahead and encouraged them to get behind their efforts to increase fan engagement and social media interaction.
“James was intending to remind the players of the reason we’re here – it’s about engaging the public,” CA’s General Manager, Public Affairs, Peter Young told SBI ahead of the briefing.
“He was going to emphasise some of the strategic priorities for the next 12 months and that includes, in a formal sense, to make it clear that females in cricket is a priority. Cricket still tends to be male. If you look at the Channel Nine or venues audience it’s still 65-35, so that’s why it’s a priority.”
CA research shows that females, in particular, are turned off by sledging.
“We know that the public likes the players playing hard but fair,” Young said. “The public is very comfortable with ruthless on-field competition as long as it’s fair.
“They don’t want athletes to be namby pamby cucumber sandwich munchers. They are happy for them to take no prisoners, but they don’t like sharp practice.
“Sledging for example, particularly with women, shows up as something that doesn’t have public support – three bouncers in a row at someone, they are completely comfortable with.”
Young said that while the briefings have been a regular part of the yearly routine, the message has been refined.
“We are getting far more explicit with research these days,” he said. “We know, for example, that the public responds really well to the charity projects that cricketers do such as the McGrath and Ponting Foundations, and support for Movember. When we go to the public and say ‘what do you like about cricket’, that rates highly.”
Sutherland also addressed the priority of engaging kids and the importance of the successful Big Bash League to CA.
CA has been promoting the use of social media engagement for several years and many embraced it during last summer’s BBL series. CA sent a study group to the US after that.
“The Americans get fan engagement big time and we’re still on a learning curve in Australian cricket,” Young said.
“We’ve spent a lot of time with the players saying ‘look, we’re in the entertainment business’. We talk about a concept called coming out from behind the helmet. That’s one of the things James is talking to players about today.
“Let the public see a little bit of who you are. We encourage players to use social media and you will see things such as more autograph signing, throwing balls into the crowd after play.
“In Darwin this week, community engagement is part of it, with players going out to visit the Tiwi Islands.
“In those areas, America is far better at than us; big sport combines athletics excellence with leading edge entertainment.”
Young acknowledged there was some risk involved in pushing players to make wider use of Twitter and Facebook but considered it worth taking.
“We continually reinforce to players that social media is fabulous and a great way to interact but it’s a public place and all the disciplines of being in a public place apply,” said Young.
“By and large we haven’t had problems. Every now and again something untoward happens but what I said to James when we set out was ‘from time to time we’re going to have a bad day, let’s not let the isolated bad day put us off the other 364 good days a year when it’s empowering players and fans to have a relationship with each other’.”