What the rise in fans following individuals and a decline in local identity means for the Hundred

In the ECB's new competition you are free to support who you want - even if it's just your favourite player

Cameron Ponsonby
Fans have quickly got involved with the Hundred  •  Getty Images

Fans have quickly got involved with the Hundred  •  Getty Images

During the early stages of the Hundred I got chatting to a Southern Brave fan named Shilly.
Shilly was from Leicester but had no interest in her more local side, Birmingham Phoenix. So why Brave?
"Jofra! I'm in love with Jofra."
And if Jofra Archer moved?
"I would move with him."
This phenomenon of supporting an individual (and in this case an individual that didn't even play in the tournament) as opposed to a team has been arriving steadily across sports over the last decade. But not in the UK. It's been a very American thing, or Asian, or somewhere else. But not us.
Here in England we thump our chest and pronounce that we will support our local team till the day we die. Cut me open and I bleed the blue-and-white hoops of Queens Park Rangers. Always have, always will. "We hate Chels…" you get the point. You Rsssssss!
But a new competition brings new opportunities.
You can still support your local team if you want to, but you don't have to. Those historical ties aren't as strong and households aren't going to be divided when a child walks cap in hand to their parents to announce they are now in fact a Trent Rockets fan and not a Birmingham Phoenix one.
"Get out," says dad, crying. "Get out. After everything Benny Howell has done for you and you come in here and say you'd rather support a team with Tom Moores in."
All this means that people can choose. And the way that people make that choice is different now to how it used to be. And it seems that the pull of a specific individual is far stronger than it ever has been.
But why has this trend begun? And what does it mean from a business point of view for the Hundred in the future?
You need only look at La Liga having lost Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to see the pitfalls of individual branding. La Liga was Ronaldo vs Messi. And now they're both gone. Individuals leave, teams don't.
So is it something the ECB should be wary of, if the pull of an individual becomes greater than the competition itself?
Simon Chadwick is a Professor of Eurasian Sport at Emlyon Business School in Lyon. He is recognised as a leading voice on commercial issues regarding elite sport and regularly contributes to CNN, Al Jazeera, Forbes and the Financial Times.
"It's a really good question and it's actually quite a profound question because I don't think it's necessarily associated with sport," Chadwick says.
Chadwick points to the late 19th century and early 20th century as being the general time that sports in the UK were being codified and subsequently professionalised. Teams and leagues were being created and fans began to associate themselves with particular sides.
"The place that you were born was normally where you died and in between times you went to school, you got a job and you engaged with the local sports team. Locality was a crucial part of your identity"
Simon Chadwick
"But that took place at a time when, not just in Britain, but I think globally, we had a relatively static population," he said.
"So the place that you were born was normally the place that you died and in between times you went to school, you got a job and you engaged with the local sports team. And locality, that's the crucial thing, locality was a crucial part of your identity - it was programmed into your DNA."
What's happened since then is that the world has become both bigger and smaller. Smaller, in that advances in transport and technology means we can travel long distances to work and talk to people across the globe as if we were sat next to them. And bigger, in that those changes mean the world extends beyond the four walls of your hometown. You can move. And people, including Chadwick, do.
"Demographically, we've got a more transient population," he says. "So then, when people like me are moving around the world and having children, our children are not wedded to a particular geographic location. So their notion of nationality and ethnicity and locality I think are more fluid."
Meanwhile, at the same time as traditional notions of locality and geography and identity are starting to dissolve, new notions, such as celebrity and influence within the modern digital environment, are on the rise.
"So I think when you add all of those things together, it means that now, younger age groups and, kind of Generation Z and Generation Alpha are identifying with individuals rather than teams of their geographic location," Chadwick said. "And this is not just cricket, we see the same thing in football [Messi to PSG] and we see the same thing in basketball [LeBron James to LA Lakers]."
Chadwick is keen to express that while the reasons for this happening are in fact quite profound - "What we are experiencing and what we're commenting on is a reflection of the ideological context within which we live" - the answers to what it means, are entirely practical.
In short, individuals can transcend boundaries. So if you can sell Jofra Archer in one market, you can sell him in two markets. And if you can sell him in two markets, you can sell him in three and so on.
And this is where the commercial potential of an individual holds an advantage over that of a team anchored to a location.
"Short-to-medium term [that's] great," Chadwick says. "Our fans are in Wales, our fans are in London, our fans are wherever else they might be. But medium-to-long term, that's a relatively finite market. And that market will mature, and you're not necessarily going to get people switching from one team to another or one player to another.
"So it's at that point you then start thinking medium-to-long term and thinking, okay, how do we engage audiences in India or audiences in Australia and it's at that point I think where the notion of locality becomes a more problematic one."
Whilst not a direct analogy, an example of this can be found in IPL teams purchasing majority stakes in Caribbean Premier League sides. Most recently, the owners of Rajasthan Royals bought a controlling stake in Barbados Tridents in a move that will see Barbados rebranded as Barbados Royals. Rather than needing to be from Rajasthan to support the Royals, you simply support the Royals. And if you support the Royals, you can now support the Barbados Royals too.
The emphasis on locality has been diminished and in turn the opportunity to support the team year round, and also to build the brand, has increased.
Overall, Chadwick emphasises the fact that all the research over the past 30 years has shown that individuals are important. It's just that now we are elevating them higher than we ever have before.
From a commercial standpoint, it is both lucrative and also dangerous if done incorrectly. For it to be the former and not the latter is to "embrace the notion of succession". Have your stars and lift them up in front of the rest of the world, but also have an eye on who is coming through next. And if played correctly, you can then have the best of both worlds, the strength of loyalty through locality, and also the reach of the individual to grow the game across markets.
"The cricket authorities can't just leave consumers, leave fans, for their minds to work and for them to get used to it," Chadwick said.
"They have to continue to reassure older viewers that 'hey, you know this is still cricket, this is still the cricket that you love'. But at the same time they've got to assure new consumers that they're not going back to the old times and this is modern and vibrant and lively and exciting and it's going to stay that way.
"And that requires really, really good leadership and good management and it requires strategy. So I think there is something about that which is walking a fine line between history and heritage and contemporary relevance."
Balancing history and heritage with contemporary relevance. Welcome to the Hundred. You Rsssssss!
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Cameron Ponsonby is a Hundred Rising Reporter