Sanjay Patel joined the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) as commercial director in September 2014, shortly before the organisation’s new chief executive, Tom Harrison, was announced in October. A brand marketing expert, Patel worked in a variety of roles at drinks giants Diageo and Heineken before being recruited into cricket. Ahead of a panel discussion at The Brand Conference on 30th September, Patel spoke to SportsPro about the transformation underway inside the ECB executive offices.
SP: How far has the ECB evolved in the nine months since you joined, and how far is there left to go before you’re at the finished product?
We’ve made some significant strides in the last nine months. I would say that they are the building blocks of what we need to do for the next five years. We’ve got much, much closer to our audience and how that is segmented and then how we actually understand them, talk to them, get to them, and get insight from them. I think that’s been massively important. But that will keep on evolving. If you said to me after nine months where are we, we’re probably 15 per cent of the way there.
You arrived from Heineken, an organisation with significant marketing chops. What did you learn there that you’ve been able to transfer to the ECB?
There was Heineken and there was Diageo before that, and these environments are significantly different to a sporting environment. So I definitely bring a different perspective into the organisation. At Heineken we were an exceptionally long-term, strategic working organisation, really understanding what that meant to break that down into annual plans, monthly plans, weekly plans, and then getting to the delivery side of it and implementation of the strategy. Obviously Heineken and Diageo are brand marketing experts, so in terms of building brands and how you do that hopefully I can bring a bit of expertise into the organisation there.
You’ve signed deals with Harrogate Spring, Westons and Toyota recently. Are you intending to update the ECB’s sponsorship structure?
I think sponsorship is going to be a longer term place where we evolve. We are going to look at digital and CRM rights, and I think that’s exceptionally important to brands, particularly digital. There are nine and half million people interested in cricket in the UK; we can segment that, we can reach them through our digital channels, and we can help brands. We’re basically the passion point between brands and the consumer, and we can also help deliver a massive amount of content for these brands to talk to their consumers as well. I think that is a huge area where we can maximise, both for the benefit of the game of cricket but also from a revenue point of view. In terms of the sponsorship model that we currently have, I think the title partner model works. The official partner model, I think we have to offer more value to those partners. I think partly that will come through digital, partly that will come through CRM. But it will also come through us partnering them from a marketing perspective.
Could you give me an example of how the ECB uses its digital assets to reach new audiences?
It’s content. A couple of small examples: recently we’ve partnered with other sports, so we had Jos Buttler and Joe Hart, two England keepers, one for cricket, one for football. We shot some great content where Jos was in goal taking some tips from Joe Hart and then Joe Hart was in the nets facing a bowling machine, taking some tips from Jos. We filmed that, nice piece of content, and that is a way of cricket reaching a football audience. We’ve also done some exclusive content with Freddy Flintoff, who’s a big draw. He’s bigger than just a cricket audience in terms of his reach. It’s about getting as much engaging content as possible and being entertaining as well.
In the wider media landscape, there is a lot of talk about cricket not being on free-to-air. Is that a topic of conversation when you’re having discussions with commercial partners? Is it a cause for concern with them?
No not really. Cricket has such broad reach anyway; there’s nine and a half million people interested in the game in the UK so there are different ways to get that. It doesn’t just have to be from TV. And again, it’s about how you reach them – via digital channels, by press or PR or media – there’s different ways to do it. It doesn’t just have to be TV and I think sponsors understand that and I think they’re comfortable with that. The other thing is if you look at what Sky have done for cricket over the last ten years, it has represented the game in a completely different way to how it was represented before. And that has massive amounts of value because when you turn on – I think it was last year, before I was here, Sky won a BAFTA for cricket production – when you turn on and watch cricket on Sky, it is a compelling product. It’s engaging and it’s interesting. That is massively important to us as well.
ECB commercial director Sanjay Patel will speak at The Brand Conference, SportsPro’s two-day event dedicated to a top-to-tail examination of sport as a communications platform. For more information about the event, click here.
Patel was interviewed for a wider piece on the state of play in global cricket in the August 2015 edition of SportsPro magazine.