Friday, September 18, 2020

ICC: How Finland took the ‘Bears’ to screens around the world

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Cricket Finland’s digital engagement and live-streaming initiatives have been recognised in this year’s ICC Development Awards.

Award: Digital Engagement of the Year
This award celebrates where an Associate Member has made innovative use of digital platforms, campaigns or technology to drive engagement with fans and the wider community.

Winner: Cricket Finland

Back in 2017, when Cricket Finland first decided to host a live stream of their matches, the precarious nature of cricket meant the Finland v Estonia T20 they wanted to focus the cameras on was scrapped due to travel delays and poor weather.

The Nordic-Baltic Trophy Finland v Sweden game in September that year was the first one fans at home could watch, with Sweden declared winners by DLS under the darkening skies of the evening. The late arrival of the camera and other equipment made a side-on view the only practical alternative, and there was no sound in the streams.

Since then, though, the association has made great strides in their efforts to take the game of cricket to screens at homes around Finland and the world.

By 2018, they had their wireless bridges in place and a “rather nasty-looking narrow trench” dug outside the boundary for powering the equipment. The camera was propped up three metres high on an old telephone pole, and a boundary microphone added to the set-up. For the 2019 T20Is against Spain, they had commentary. They’re on the cusp of adding their first manned camera. Finland’s T20Is and Finnish Premier League matches now rack up hundreds of thousands of views, making the country a pioneer in the world of Associate cricket in digital scoring and live streaming.

With their digital engagement efforts and cooperation with the national broadcaster, Cricket Finland hope to make cricket a household sport in the country, while also increasing international interest in Finnish cricket. “This project will serve as a model to other Associate Members to be able to set up a low-cost, but professional production,” the association added.

Besides, the stream allows players a chance to show off their playing prowess to friends and family. “To be able to share a link to my Finnish Premier League (FPL) games with my family and friends around the world has been a huge bonus for me personally,” Vanraaj (Van) Singh Padhaal, vice-captain of the national men’s squad told ICC“It’s given me a chance to showcase that we are more than just a novelty cricketing nation but we’re progressing with what limited funding and resources we have at hand as a cricketing community, trying to be a little better year on year.”

Among those engaging with Finland’s digital platforms and sharing pep-talks with the men’s national team, known as the ‘Bears’, are former England skipper Alec Stewart and 1988 Seoul Olympics gold medallist javelin thrower Tapio Korjus.

“We had tremendous support from old cricketing pros pre 2018 ICC regional WCQ tournament from the likes of Alec Stewart, Gladstone Small, Chris Tremlett, Wasim Khan, Jim Troughton, Ian Westwood to name a few that have sent encouraging words to the Finnish Bears via our social media channels,” Padhaal added. “Another example is my dear father, based in the UK, who watches every single Empire CC (my club) game via our live YouTube stream as well as following other key fixtures.

“You realize what’s possible if you create the right channels to create visibility.”

Marcel Burton, who represented Finland at the junior level, and Richard Savage, who spent a decade commentating and reporting on English county cricket for BBC regional radio, are among the commentators sharing their passion for the sport, helping reach new fans in both English and Finnish.

Said Savage, “To see the numbers following the games on media platforms and to read the feedback from Europe and around the world has opened my eyes to how much can be achieved in terms of promoting Associate cricket and inspiring a new generation.”

The association hopes to extend the broadcasts to include their developing women’s team as well. Added chairman and national development director Andrew Armitage, “For a little-known cricketing nation, we make up for any financial shortcomings with heart and vision, which is starting to reflect in our overall standards of playing the game, making steady progress with our national team, the Finnish Bears, giving the best in Europe a run for their money!”

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