By Jim Salveson
From the polite ripple of applause at a village green game, to the unmistakable sound of leather on willow and the raucous brass “Om-pah” of the Barmy Amy band at a test match. The 'sound' of cricket has always been a rich part of the sporting experience.
From a Broadcast point of view, audio has been every bit as vital a part of the cricket experience as visual. For over 100 years (the first cricket commentary was broadcast in the 1920s in Adelaide, Australia) the ability for radio to be an “accompanying media” to whatever other activities a listener wishes to indulge in has perfectly suited the drawn out, sometimes slow-paced nature of the game.
In the UK, for decades, Test Match Special has been the sound of cricket. The poetic prose, cake-based conversations and accidental innuendo has engaged cricket and non-cricket fans alike with a unique mix of sports commentary, soap opera and comedy routine (sometimes it would feel like the cricket was almost incidental) that's hard to imagine accompanying any other sport.
But times they change. Cricket is going through somewhat of a revolution with new formats and new frontiers being explored and the old formats, traditionally dominated by middle aged white men, perhaps don’t marry with the modern, diverse future of the sport.
This is where podcasting is coming to the crease.
Right now, cricket podcast audiences are booming. Part of the growing appeal of the medium is undoubtedly the same attributes that have made radio and cricket such a great partnership in the past - but why has there been such a boom in cricket podcasts in recent years?
During the recent Ashes tournament Voiceworks’ Sport Social Podcast Network saw its Cricket audience almost double (96%) growth as fans of the sport turned to on-demand digital audio to hear from their favourite voices and their views on the tournament. It’s a trend that we expect to see continue into the 2023 Cricket World Cup.
Adam Collins (along with Geoff Lemon) is the voice of The Final Word on Cricket, a global cricket podcast, who recognises the growth of podcast is not just in audience but also in the number of products available.
“There has been a proliferation of cricket podcasts in the last 3 years, no doubt fuelled by Covid and lockdown. That’s got to be a good thing, the democratization of the media. We’re now seeing more diverse voices covering the sport than ever before.”
One of the brilliant things about podcasting is the ability to find content that suits whatever niche you are looking for. Almost every topic is covered in a way that will reflect your opinion, culture or background. If you are willing to look hard enough for it. Adam says that they have seen a rise in “non traditional” cricket fans coming to the sport and the podcast:
“We’re pretty proud of the fact that our audience has a lot of people who aren’t what you would consider “traditional” in England. In Australia the sport is more widely watched and historically audiences are less class focused. We make a determined effort to showcase other areas of the game, such as women’s cricket and to tackle issues around diversity and racism. I think that lends itself to more, and different, people listening to our podcasts.”
That diversification is no more pronounced than in the women’s game which has contributed to a whole new fanbase coming to the sport. The rapid growth of the sport is contributing equally to the rapid growth of the media, as fans seek to scratch a content itch that perhaps traditional media struggled to keep pace with - as Mellisa Story, host of Storylines: The Women’s Cricket Show explains:
“I think cricket podcasts are growing to be so successful because cricket is a sport which invites debate and thrives from an engaged and informed audience who want to share opinions and insights into the game. Specifically in Storylines case we are joining a rapidly growing conversation with the women’s game branching out into new territories of marketing, coverage and public interest. It’s hugely exciting to join so many dedicated women’s cricket fans in praising, and criticising, developments in the women’s game, as well as creating a platform which welcomes newer fans.”
It's very much an evolution of the audio medium but one that is not just seeing new audiences being engaged via podcasting but also those traditional audiences, who have grown up with the likes of Test Match Special, moving to a new source of coverage.
Sport Agent Andy May has recently been involved in the launch of The Cricketer Podcast, with Jonathan Trott and George Dobell which is the world-renowned publication's first foray into podcasting. He recognises that podcasting is just an extension of this longstanding relationship;
“Cricket and audio are so intertwined. For decades, fans have fed their love of the game by way of consuming cricket audio. Podcasting is quite simply a continuation of this rich tradition.”
He also comments that, maybe unlike other sports, Cricket fans are used to embracing new technologies and innovation when it comes to coverage (and the sport itself) which has perhaps contributed to the rapid growth of the vertical.
“Do we see similar audiences across the podcast and other digital/print products? To a great extent, yes, It should also be pointed out that cricket supporters of all ages are already actively using the latest technology (e.g., Pay TV and OTT viewing platforms and tablet-based written articles) to follow the game.”
So, not only is podcasting attracting new audiences to cricket but cricket it is bringing new audience to podcasting!
For Nathan Kosky, creator of hit cricket podcast Middle Umpire Please (with Mark Wood and Miles Jupp) he points out that the sports fan based is already very comfortable with audio formats (and we can thank TMS for that) but also that there is an opportunity within cricket that may not exist within other sports
“Podcasting gives the opportunity to do a few things; first and foremost, to link the highest level of the sport to grassroots club cricket and fans of the sport. There are obviously huge differences, but there is also much that is similar and a direct connection with someone like Mark Wood having come from his local team to be a double World Cup winner. Miles Jupp obviously has a totally different perspective from behind the boundary rope, but podcasting gives you the time to tell stories from both angles, and in our case find the huge amounts of humour in the sport. Finally, having a current player at the top of the game as a host is possibly unique to cricket; I am not sure it would be possible in most other sports of a similar size, especially discussing things so openly and without just reeling off media trained answers.”
It’s an interesting take. The success of podcasting is based so much on personality and authenticity and the freedom - for the likes of Mark Wood to talk openly and honestly about his experiences is undoubtedly appealing to audiences and taps into those elements that are at the very core of the medium. Whether other sports will or can allow their stars the same freedom is a question for debate but certainly there is a growing understanding in the sports market that personal stories and authentic personalities are a great way to grow fan engagement. Podcasting is a great way to deliver that.
Is podcasting a threat to the major broadcasters and traditional media coverage though?
Not according to Collins who believes that the medium adds a different layer of coverage that can better suit an individual’s tastes:
“I don’t think people have stopped watching broadcasts or stopped listening to ball-by-ball commentary in favour of podcasts. On the contrary, I think podcasting has created greater enthusiasm for the sport. I think what you get out of our show, and a lot of other podcasts, is a wider perspective outside of what would have been previously available. I like to think what we do helps people get more out of watching the sport live.”
There’s a lot that other sports can learn from the cricketing space. Here we have a sport than in recent years has a need to diversify and develop and it is podcasting that has lead the charge. Where perhaps there isn’t always space for deeper conversation, fringe issues or diverse voices in the mainstream media, podcasting provides that bandwidth.
Rather than seeing podcasting as a competitor for attention, cricket as a whole has embraced the medium which has, in turn deepened engagement with existing fans and brought in a whole new audience to the sport that I have no doubt will continue to grow during the World Cup and beyond.
Voiceworks Sport and Sport Social Podcast Network are sport audio experts who enable brands and podcasts to engage more deeply with fans across the globe and create thriving sports communities.
Sport Social, Europe’s biggest sports podcast network, provides support for distribution, discoverability, monetisation and audience growth for some of the world's most popular sports podcasts, enabling creators to access the best value from their content. It is home to some of the worlds biggest cricket shows including Simon Hughes: The Analyst , Wisden Cricket Daily and The Shackles Are Off from The Barmy Army.
Voiceworks Sport work with world leading rights holders and brands, from Premier League clubs to ParalympicsGB, to develop audio strategies and provide production execution support, helping organisations unlock commercial growth.