Like many sports, cricket has been very slow in recognising the benefits to be gained from a satisfied customer. That might sound like a strange observation, but for too long sport has simply relied on the loyalty of their fans who are prepared to support their teams come rain or shine and have never felt the need to consider their well-being at their stadia or club grounds beyond the necessary health and safety.
But times have changed, and with the rise in the number of sports that are chasing the supporters’ hard earned cash is the demand from that same supporter for value for money. Only now are sports waking up to the need to give their fans a good experience as well as a quality product on the field of play.
My own sport, cricket, is one of those that is feeling the squeeze from competitors as well as a change in its supporters’ life style. When I played for Leicestershire in the 1980’s, county cricket was still reasonably well supported - clearly not as spectacularly as in the previous generation, but many county grounds up and down the country were well attended midweek, and full for the Sunday League. Now it is a very different story with county games attracting only a committed handful and Twenty20 becoming the focus for getting punters through the turnstiles. It might be overly dramatic to suggest that T20 is the last throw of the dice for county cricket, but it does appear to be vital that those who enjoy that shortened form take that enthusiasm into the four or five day game, too.
What I like about CRM is that it really is a two-way street. In cricket’s case, the sport needs the spectator and has to do all it can to keep him or her returning regularly. In return for their loyalty, the customer should receive a much-improved experience, including ‘money can’t buy’ opportunities for those who earn them. These might be based on the same concept as supermarket loyalty schemes, with the chance to meet the players as an obvious example of a reward for regular attendance.
Without collecting data, which enables contact and the ability to offer incentives for its supporters, it is difficult to see how any but the seriously big players in every sporting market can grow. Cricket is faced with the challenge of moving its T20 audience into other areas of the game and also encouraging particularly Indian and Pakistani cricket lovers to come and watch a match that does not involve those teams. Clearly for that to happen you need to know who has visited in the first place and only when that is done can you target the right group of people and devise the appropriate strategy for tempting them to come again.
County cricket is a hand to mouth existence for the majority of clubs with CRM only starting to be introduced to anything like the level it needs to be. It will be fascinating to observe the benefits for the clubs and also their supporters.