BBL marketing expert: We won over sceptics, The Hundred can too
Dan Migala was walking around the MCG during the innings break of Australia's first one-day international against England in 2011 when he noticed the ice-cream stand was closing.
There was a long line of male thirtysomethings queuing for the bar, but the ice-cream stand - which Migala had earlier realised was doing no trade either – was failing to draw in the crowd.
"We're closing it, there's no kids here," he was told by a concession worker.
It was the day before Migala, a US sports marketing expert who works with the MLB, was due to attend a meeting about Cricket Australia's revamped Big Bash League.
"We actually used [the ice-cream stand closing] at the presentation instead of the data - this is the reason why we need the league, to get kids interested in cricket again," he explained to Omnisport.
"I think that was a really interesting moment for groups of people maybe on the fence. The traditionalists get that; they get the feeling that it's the ice-cream stand now and maybe it's the stadium later."
The inaugural BBL, which saw city-based franchises replace states, began later that year and Migala - a man who confesses to having not known "a cricket ball from a hockey stick" when he first arrived in Australia – was instrumental in selecting the team names, the marketing strategy and the on-field gimmicks.
There were critics and sceptics but the BBL grew into a huge success, a record crowd of 80,883 attending the Melbourne derby between the Stars and Renegades in January 2016.
"I remember there were a lot of articles calling the BBL 'The Mickey Mouse of Cricket'," Migala recalled.
"We just chose to keep our head down, focused on kids and mums and then one night all of a sudden 80,000 people show up at the MCG and everything changed."
It is a story that will provide comfort for the brains behind The Hundred – the ECB's new, and controversial 100-ball competition, which will feature teams from cities rather than counties.
On Monday the ECB unveiled more details of The Hundred and revealed research that showed just five per cent of British children put cricket in their top two favourite sports, with the governing body keen to attract women and youngsters to games as the BBL has.
However, in a further faux pas in a difficult campaign so far, The Hundred's website initially launched with a promotional image from a US rapper's concert that was also the top Google result for searches of 'male audience'. That image has now been removed.
Speaking before Monday's launch, Migala admitted he sees similarities with the scepticism the BBL faced early on.
"Talking to [ECB chief executive] Tom Harrison, I just see the same parallels, even some of the apprehension from some people," he said.
"Sometimes we've even forgotten there was a lot of that for us early on. There's an element of people don't like change but we're evolving and I think those were messages that really resonated in the infancy of the BBL.
"At the same time a lot of those people who were apprehensive in year two were the ones that were buying me a pint after a match too."
Migala, a self-confessed baseball traditionalist, believes the ECB targeting women and children is "a brilliant move" and noted how his own son does not have the attention span for an MLB game but will watch BBL matches.
"Your competition now is more a movie theatre or a day at the park versus other sporting events that they might go to," he added.
Crowd catches!— KFC Big Bash League (@BBL) March 21, 2019
We loved them. We miss them. We want to see more of them in BBL|09! pic.twitter.com/A7hzaqVCkj
"Maybe some of the traditionalists or cricket-operations people, they just assume people show up because they love the game so much - what else do you need to do other than just turn the lights on and put a game on?
"It doesn't work like that, it's too competitive a market now. You're even competing with just staying at home and watching Netflix.
"A lot of those people who were very sceptical [about the BBL], maybe early on, when it was in the womb, it took a little while for them to realise that more people are watching cricket live in Australia than any time before.
"Younger generations are asking to go and that's a positive thing. We're putting bats in kids' hands and if it just goes through a different pathway then that's okay and that's a good thing. [The traditionalists] really came around."