Before you read the rest of what I’m banging-on about today, let me first say congratulations to England on the Ashes Series win. As an Aussie, it’s hard to take but there is no doubt the best team won and deserved to do so. It must be wonderful to have an Aussie coach also. 🙂
If you’re not from parts of the world where you know what the Ashes is, it’s the traditional series of five Test cricket matches between England and Australia that have been going since 1877. For a country that plays many sports and is pretty good at many sports, an Australia v England Test cricket match is Australia’s greatest single sporting rivalry. Bar none.
It is akin to the Yankees v Red Sox in baseball, Chrissy Evert v Martina Navaratilova in tennis, Rangers v Celtic in Scottish football – except it’s a national team and international competition.
Up until a few years ago, the gap between an Ashes Series on home soil, either in England or Australia, was four years. As a consequence, when it rolled around each time, it was highly anticipated and attracted enormous interest from fans and media, and was one of the most commercially successful events on the international cricket calendar.
However, in recent years, as part of the great cricket coup that was reported on by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s 4 Corners program this week, England and Australia upped the ante on the Test matches. In an effort to bring more money into the coffers, instead of one every four years in either country, we’ve been flooded with Test Series in the past few years, even to the point of two in seven months in 2013.
While still at healthy levels, interest has nonetheless waned. The once revered prize of the little Ashes urn has become more of a ‘ho hum’ feature in the regular churn of sporting contests, compared with being seen as the ultimate sporting prize – at least for Australians.
Thankfully, even the International Cricket Council and the respective national boards have seen the error of their ways and are reverting to the old pattern from this year. We will not see another Ashes Series in England until 2019 and the next one in Australia is the summer of 2017-18.
The recent experience of the Ashes Series is a good lesson to all sports brands about the balance between revenue generation – or in some cases out-and-out greed – versus the protection of long-term brand and values.
For all of football’s ills, for example, I can’t see FIFA ever trying to make the World Cup or the other continental cups – such as the Euros – anything other than quadrennial. Putting aside the issues of the busy sporting calendar, it would simple lessen the allure of being World Champion if that title was bestowed more often than a great global event every four years.
One sport that has got this balance right is the British Lions rugby tour. The British Lions is a composite rugby team comprised of eligible players from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. They tour every four years either to South Africa, Australia or New Zealand – which means each of those four southern hemisphere nations only see the Lions every twelve years.
It is an enormously successful concept that has been going since 1888. It brings great financial rewards for the organisers while also having broad appeal and allure to fans and competitors.
As with anything in life, sometimes the ‘less is more’ concept is the best approach. International and national sporting bodies might want to consider the same in the best long-term interests of their sport, their brands and what they stand for.