ECB: It’s women’s cricket’s time – How England Women were elevated into the national sporting conscience

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Photo Credit: ECB

Beth Barrett-Wild, the ECB’s director of the women’s professional game, explains how a strategic marcomms approach to the Metro Bank Women’s Ashes Series has set up a future of enduring success.

I want cricket to be the leading women’s sport in this country. But saying it and doing it are two different things. We can’t just expect things to happen; we have to make them happen. 

That’s why, in October 2019, we set out our five-year action plan committed to transforming the women’s and girls’ game. We truly want cricket to be a truly gender-balanced sport. 

Two years ago, we set an objective to increase attendances at England Women’s games from 20,000-30,000 in 2021 to 100,000 this year across the Women’s Ashes and Sri Lanka series. To help us get there, we significantly increased the marketing investment in the England Women’s team – with a complete focus on reaching these ambitious sales targets. 

We knew there was a huge opportunity this summer for women’s cricket to shine and we believed strongly in the growth potential England Women has as a standalone brand. But it needed a coordinated and all-encompassing approach, with full buy-in from the sport’s marketing, communications, fixtures, venues, and technical teams. 

There are two strands to this and one unifying thread: the logistical elements plus the creativity and brilliance of the marketing campaign, executed by putting the fan at the heart of the decision-making process. On a logistical level or supply side perspective, here are some of the things we did: 

  • For the first time in history, international scheduling for the England Men’s and England Women’s team was done in unison. By aligning those schedules, our marketing team could combine both the promotion and sale of match tickets with an advantageous nine-month lead-in period. 
  • We were strategic in the choice of our venues, making sure that we covered a large geographic spread; had the capacity to meet our sales ambitions; and reached large fanbase populations. Combined, this created an important perception shift for the women’s game 
  • For each fixture, we took care to match the format, day of the week, and time of the day, identifying the best slots, which we knew would make it more appealing and easier for fans to attend, giving ourselves the best possible chance of attracting a crowd and maximising each attendance. 
  • Finally, the ECB’s marcomms teams worked tirelessly with their supporting agencies to conceive, plan, and deliver a strategic, integrated campaign that drove awareness and interest among fans of both cricket and women’s sport. 

Both our broadcast and commercial partners shared our vision to take a bolder approach to the marcomms of England Women, ensuring the first ever joint Ashes campaign put men’s and women’s cricket on an equal platform that built off of one another. 

Sky Sports worked with us on the outstanding ‘Beware England Batting’ campaign; the BBC gave an unprecedented level of coverage across their portfolio of channels with equal prominence across men’s and women’s fixtures; and key commercial partners including Cinch and Metro Bank took the same approach when it came to using England Men’s and Women’s players side-by-side in any Ashes promotion. 

In every advert, including a memorable out-of-home comms activation on Tower Bridge featuring our two captains, Ben Stokes and Heather Knight, male and female players were equally celebrated. The result of this approach soon began to bear fruit. Awareness of the Women’s Ashes jumped from 39% to 49%. More than 110,000 attended the Metro Bank Women’s Ashes Series (up 4.5x on 2019) and 5.3 million people watched it live on TV.  

The momentum continued when the subsequent We Got Game ODI series sold out for the first time in England Women’s history. And now the future looks brighter than ever, too. 

This huge summer of success also attracted new audiences, with 85% of those who brought tickets to attend women’s international games coming to a game for the first time. 34% of ticket sales for women’s games were bought by women and three times more junior tickets were sold for the Women’s Ashes than the men’s games. Accessible pricing put the sport firmly in reach of 16-to-35-year-olds, and the match-day experience recorded by attendees at the England Women’s fixtures was among the highest we’ve ever seen. 

Our aim is to be the UK’s most inclusive sport and to continue to push women’s cricket until there’s absolutely no doubt that it’s seen as an equal to men’s cricket. The Hundred showed us the way, with men and women on a shared platform and now we’ve applied that thinking to England games, which is doing wonders for the perception and growth of the women’s game. 

The ECB has already announced that England Women’s players will now receive the same match fees as England Men’s players. As we build towards the home 2026 IT20 World Cup, we’ll continue to schedule England Men’s and Women’s games at the same time where possible. We’ll also maintain that strong England Women’s presence across all our channels and platforms to deliver that consistent message of parity.  

The effect of the incredible performances we saw on the pitch this summer – alongside the award-winning Ashes, Two Ashes campaign – is now being seen with ticket sales for 2024. Interest in coming to see England Women in 2024 is incredibly high, with ballot entries having already surpassed 2023 levels and the Ageas Bowl already approaching a sell-out for the England Women’s game against New Zealand in July.  

It’s such an exciting time for women’s cricket. I can’t wait see what comes next. 

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