Listening to customers has always been crucial, and not just for companies. One old-fashioned survey was pivotal in revolutionising cricket at the turn of the century.

By the late 1990s, the popularity of Test cricket was waning. As attention spans shrank, eyes wandered away from a sporting event lasting five days. In fact, one-day international (ODI) matches – seven to eight hours long – weren’t faring much better. 

The England and Wales Cricket Board decided to spend £250,000 on market research, including 30 focus groups and thousands of consumer surveys. Their findings were that many saw cricket as elitist and for older people. Long games that could end in a draw weren’t exciting.

After much negotiation with committees concerned about traditions, and trials to determine the details, the result was Twenty20 (T20) cricket. With a single innings for each team, restricted to 20 overs, matches would take three to four hours – well-suited for an evening slot on TV. The stadium would even have music and additional entertainment.

Many dismissed this fast, flashy version of cricket as a gimmick. The first international men’s match wasn’t taken very seriously, with Australia and New Zealand dressing up in retro uniforms and fake moustaches. Nevertheless, T20 quickly drew in new audiences, revitalising the sport’s reputation long before the Netflix effect ($NFLX) was a way to do it. 

The Indian Premier League (IPL), a multibillion-dollar franchise competition that held its first game in 2008, has become the centrepiece of T20. In India, its match rights are more expensive than the English Premier League’s (soccer); Viacom18 and Star India, owned by Disney ($DIS), paid more than US$6b combined for a five-year broadcasting contract in 2022. Coca-Cola ($KO), LG and Marriott ($MAR) were among the sponsors of IPL teams for 2023, alongside some of India’s largest firms found in the Nifty 50 Index ($INDY). 

While studies suggest the sponsors of IPL winners don’t get a boost in stock price, losses by the Indian ODI national team could have a slight negative effect on the market – a sign that older formats certainly still matter. The ODI World Cup currently being hosted in India is expected to benefit the country’s consumer sector (see $INCO); fares for hotels and flights around match days have gone up by 150% and 80% respectively, on average. 

Still, the success of T20 looms large. A whopping 103 countries have played T20 matches, versus 29 that have played a recognised ODI and just 12 for official Test matches. Sky-high salaries at the IPL and other such leagues (like Australia’s Big Bash) can be more attractive than those offered by national teams. The 2024 men’s T20 World Cup, being co-hosted by the cricket-loving West Indies and the less mature U.S. market, could represent a big milestone for the future of cricket.

Top image: Unsplash


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