Earlier this year the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announced plans for a brand new short format of the game – 100 balls per innings. The media instantly dubbed it ‘The Hundred’.
Recent media reports out of England are suggesting that the idea is gaining traction among potential sponsors. There is apparently a growing belief in England that ‘The Hundred’ represents a fresh opportunity for sponsors in cricket: It will be unencumbered by any previous sponsor baggage or any negative news headlines. It offers something different and thus has a unique selling proposition. As one report put it “for marketers it will be less about associating with a new format, and more about an original brand proposition”.
The trump card of ‘The Hundred’ is the ECB’s broadcast platform. They recently signed a monster broadcast deal with the BBC (terrestrial) and Sky (satellite), reportedly worth just over £1 billion over the next five years that specifically makes provision for ‘The Hundred’.
A 20-over match, with breaks in play, typically lasts between 3½ to 4 hours. To make their investment more palatable, the television stations apparently requested the ECB to ensure that 20-over matches will be no longer than 3 hours. The ECB couldn’t guarantee this but came up with a new idea – voila ‘The Hundred’. With the marketing muscle of the BBC and Sky in the bag, potential sponsors are now licking their chops.
To top it all there are rumours going around that India, which bans its players from participating in overseas T20 tournaments to protect the primacy of the Indian Premier League, are considering making an exception for ‘The Hundred’ because it is played over 100 balls per innings, not 120. A flimsy exception if ever I heard one! Still, if true, the prospect of having the likes of Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni in ‘The Hundred’ is sure to get sponsors even more excited.
From a cricketing point of view, however, the buzz and anticipation for ‘The Hundred’ is hard to comprehend.
Cricket is unique in that it has three different formats played competitively at all levels of the game. I cannot think of any other team sport in the world that offers this. But unfortunately it also carries with it the seed of fragmentation, something which one can already see in the splitting of fans between T20 addicts and die-hard Test cricket followers. Last year in December a ten-over per side tournament (very originally called T10) was successfully staged in Dubai. The International Cricket Council (ICC) approved the tournament. If the ICC should also approve ‘The Hundred’ it means that cricket will have five different formats, fragmenting the game even more.
Taking the fragmentation argument further, the comments of the ECB chairman, Colin Graves, are also puzzling. According to Graves “the younger generation, whether you like it or not, are just not attracted to cricket” and ‘The Hundred’ is therefore meant to lure them to cricket. What Graves failed to point out is how making them 100-ball fans will convert them to the game’s other formats. Or has he already accepted it as fait accompli that ‘The Hundred’ will create a generation only ever interested in this one format of the game?
From a regulatory point of view, the ICC approval is not the only hurdle ‘The Hundred’ would have to overcome before it can be a fully-fledged tournament. Certainly the English players and their union, the Professional Cricketers’ Association, will have to be consulted. And what about that old behemoth, the Marylebone Cricket Club? Will they snort at the 100-ball fans?
‘The Hundred’ might be a sponsor’s dream, but for the future of cricket it makes no sense. The long term prosperity of the game cannot be sacrificed for short term gains and the whims of television stations. Caving in to the demands of broadcasters have cost cricket dearly in the past. Remember 22 runs from 1 ball..?