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How do you solve a problem like attracting younger and more diverse audiences to cricket matches? You put Jen Vile in charge. As Marketing Director of The Hundred, Vile has not only brought an entirely new product to market, but she has contributed to a seismic shift in audiences for women’s sport. Pointing to a future of equitable sponsorship deals and a world in which sport is simply sport.
The Hundred, a professional franchise 100-ball cricket tournament involving eight mens and eight women's teams, which launched in July 2021 is worthy of that most over-utilised mantra in marketing ‘game changing’. Speaking as part of Creativebrief’s interview series with the Women in Marketing Awards Vile revealed the lessons behind the groundbreaking tournament.
“The biggest lesson is a simple one,” explains the straight-talking Vile “We trusted the insight and we remained focused on the audience.” It was this focus not just on the existing audience, but crucially the audience that was not currently engaged with existing formats, which provided the lynchpin of the new format.
The Hundred gives equal weight to both men’s and women’s sides, with almost all the matches taking place as back to back doubleheaders at the same venue on the same day. One ticket gives access to both games and men and women share the same prize money.
With the benefit of the warm glow of retrospect, it is easy to conclude that the success of the new format was assured. Yet the response, particularly on social media, was cutting as the Twitter hashtag #OpposeThe100 gained traction. While former MCC Chief Keith Bradshaw turned to the damning by faint praise beloved of the Status Quo hangers-on that he hoped it wouldn’t be ‘innovation for innovation's sake.’ Yet the new format revolutionised the game for women cricketers, allowing many to turn professional for the first time.
Overcoming critical feedback isn’t always easy but Vile’s relentless focus on the audience allowed her to maintain her focus and belief in the format. She shared that the team had over ‘a million data points’, all of which addressed the barriers to cricket reaching a new audience; namely time, complexity and perception. When critics threw mud at the format Vile doubled down on her belief in the audience; proving that active listening is fuel for innovative, disruptive products.
If the complexity of the game was a key barrier to cricket reaching new audiences, Vile recognised that a new format could remove that perception barrier. “With The Hundred brand, we addressed the issue of time and complexity with the introduction of a new format, the 100 ball cricket.”
The format didn’t just change the game; it levelled the playing field for women’s cricket. “It was really important to us to set up the mens and womens teams at the same time,” explains Vile. This was a major undertaking, as she explains: “We built up 8 new teams with their own identities all rooted in insights to create fresh, modern and representative teams.”
Introducing a new product to market is always fraught with challenges and the tendency to second-guess or water down a product is difficult to avoid. So did Vile ever question the vision? “I can hand on heart say there was no point that anyone working on the hundred doubted the vision,” she explains.
When doubt came from other sources, the team would revisit the research. “We really did our due diligence with our insight across everything we had. The Hundred had a clear purpose and we kept going back to that to ensure that we were super tight as a team,” she adds.
Vile shares that keeping to the vision was a “100% commitment from the top down.” It was this leadership, consistency and vision which ensured The Hundred achieved its true potential.
Pointing to the clarity of Beth Barrett-Wild, Head of The Hundred Women’s Competition & Female Engagement at the England & Wales Cricket Board, equality remained on the top of the agenda the whole way through. “Beth Barrett-Wild was that consistent voice all the way through and really ensured that we made that cultural shift happen. All the way through we asked; does this decision meet with our gender-balanced proposition agenda and ambitions?”
The thing about The hundred is its equality is part of the appeal from a sponsorship perspective because you are sponsoring a competition with gender parity at its heartJen Vile, Marketing Director, The Hundred
The Hundred has changed the game in the truest sense of the word. The Women’s Sport Trust's research revealed that 2021 beat all records for a broadcast audience of women’s sport in the UK, growing from 46.8m in 2019 to an estimated 51.5m by the end of the year — marking a significant increase on the 27.3 million achieved in 2020 when Covid-19 hit the visibility of women’s sport.
The research, conducted by Futures Sport, underlined that The Hundred was a remarkable marketing achievement; an engine of cultural change.
Notably, when moving the dial on sponsorship is so vital to driving equality in sports Vile underlines the breadth of opportunity for rights holders to accelerate this progression. She explains: “The thing about The hundred is its equality is part of the appeal from a sponsorship perspective because you are sponsoring a competition with gender parity at its heart.” She continues: “The beauty is you are able to celebrate the shared platform and we have seen our title sponsor renew which shows the commitment and how brilliantly it worked.”
The opening game was a career highlight for Vile. She explains: “No new tournament had
been launched in that way with a women’s game. We took many risks in our ambition to genuinely throw crickets doors open.”
Describing the atmosphere at the Kia Oval as ‘electric’ Vile explains: “The atmosphere was electric and people knew they were going to be part of something really historic - it still gives me goosebumps. Everybody was just so appreciative of this moment in time it was so special.” It was at this opening match that ticket sales went crazy and the naysayers went quiet.
Bringing a new format to market in the wake of the pandemic which put live events on hold was a particularly fragile challenge. With the cost of living crisis rising rapidly, the team was focused on creating a really valuable day out for the family. Tickets are free for under 5’s, junior tickets are £5 and adult tickets start at £10. Vile shares that with restrictions easing the team are focused on bringing more grassroots elements to the events and encouraging more children to have a go at cricket.
The entertainment element of The Hundred is key - there’s live music, team DJs and activities around the concourse. “What we are curating is really tapping into an area that people have missed out on,” explains Vile. She believes that offering a multi-sensory experience in the wake of lockdown was vital to The Hundred’s success.
“Everybody was really aware of what they have missed out on,” she explains “It became very clear what life was like without these enriching experiences the appetite and demand for The Hundred suggests people have missed those shared experiences.”
Having begun her career in customer services at the Lawn Tennis Association before transitioning to the marketing department, it is clear that for Vile ‘customer-centricity’ is more than an empty marketing buzzword. Looking back on the learnings from the launch the need to maintain a relentless focus on the audience is the red thread which runs through its success.
“Everything came together in a really transformative way you could feel something
magical happening,” says Vile. Sharing her proudest moment, she points not just to the brand visibility of The Hundred, but to its impact on women's cricket, womens sport and its visibility more broadly.
From merchandise completely selling out to the electricity of the women’s team's performance and the game-changing equality of the tournament itself, the story of The Hundred is one of the very best marketing success stories. Vile and The Hundred team didn’t just change the game; they levelled the playing field in the process.
The story of the Women in Marketing Awards is one of building a movement and a network that is the antithesis of the ‘old boys’ network’, which has historically excluded women from key networking and profile building opportunities, so vital to building a career in the creative industries. As we look towards the 2022 awards, Creativebrief will be asking winners and supporters of the Awards to open up about their experiences in the industry and give their advice to the marketing talent poised to enter and pick up the much-coveted awards in the future.
Q: Tell us what the most challenging moment of your career has been and how you got through it?
A: The most challenging thing I have done is The Hundred. Creating a completely new format, with no existing audience and no blueprint. It wasn’t universally welcomed by commentators so the most challenging thing was protecting my team from external criticism and keeping them focused on doing the right thing.
Q: Tell us about the biggest high point of your career?
A: Launching The Hundred was also the most brilliant high point. We launched nine brand new sports brands for each team. So although it was challenging, it was challenging in a really fun way.
When we were interviewed people would ask ‘what's it like working on The Hundred?’ The truth is your brain would ache when you get home every day because there is not a rule book to follow. But its success was also about embracing and enjoying the unknown we had to keep bearing in mind that that challenge was a privilege not be overwhelmed by it.
Q: Tell us about the impact of winning a Women in Marketing Award and being part of the WIM community?
A: It was so special, I was so overcome that my peers at the ECB wanted to recognise me. I am young and new to a director role, to be alongside women doing amazing things
and game-changing stuff it blew my mind.
Q: What would be your advice to women starting out their career in marketing today?
A: Just be really hot on audience, brand and strategy and then you can't go wrong. That advice is really applicable everywhere you go. That approach brings you confidence in your
decision making and it allows you to be bold in your creative decisions. Always look to draw a really clear line back to your strategy and audience. That has allowed us to do things with The Hundred that were very different. Without that strength of strategy, I would have felt much more anxious. Going into any job really understand the heritage of your brand and what makes it better and use that to draw strength from.
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