It's not often that the England and Wales Cricket Board gets an opportunity to live up to its name. Not at the highest level, at any rate. So this week's ECB showpiece is even more remarkable.
The first match in the England versus Australia npower Test series got under way on Wednesday (or at least we hope it did: this was written recklessly, somewhat in advance, without consulting a weather forecast) at Glamorgan's Sophia Gardens Ground.
It is the first time that a Test Match has been played in the principality - although the rest of the series has a more reassuringly familiar look about it: Lord's, Edgbaston, Headingley, fetching up at The Oval for a final Test beginning on 20 August.
And it's a big deal, this time around. A home Ashes series will always occupy a pre-eminent place in the litany of the nation's sporting summer - but the affection it was accorded, before 2005, was all about nostalgia. It had become an eccentric museum piece of an event thanks to Australia's crushing domination during the 90s.
And, in fact, England hadn't really recorded a resonant home victory since the Ian Botham-inspired miracles of 1981. But in 2005, a fresh legend was born. Andrew Flintoff inspired some new miracles, stayed up all night to celebrate the final victory then partook of the open-top bus parade and staggered on to the team's reception by the Prime Minister chez 10 Downing Street.
Heroism indeed. And of course, although England succumbed to defeat with barely a whimper in the last Ashes series, played Down Under, we expect (nay, demand) a similarly rousing repeat of 2005 this summer. In other words, this is not just cricket any more - and Wales isn't the only virgin territory on the agenda. The Ashes has become, in commercial terms, a whole new ball game.
1. It's obviously a busy time for the principal event and team sponsors, all of which can be expected to mount related marketing initiatives during the series, not least in the form of themed advertising and websites. The series as a whole is sponsored by npower; the England team sponsor is Vodafone, Australia's is Travelex. Marston's will have a vitally important part to play in the home effort as the official beer of the England cricket team; Foster's will offer similar services to the Australians, who also have a wine partner in Wolf Blass. Betfair is the official in-ground betting partner of the ECB and will also supply the Betfair Blimp above each venue to provide aerial pictures for the television coverage.
2. Sky has the rights to live ball-by-ball coverage of the entire series, the first time that a home Ashes series has been exclusively live on pay-TV (Channel 4 had the rights in 2005). Five is showcasing the day's highlights each evening. The sponsor on Sky is Brit Insurance, while Wolf Blass sponsors the Five highlights. Jaguar is sponsoring Sky's online coverage on skysports.com and Sky has also signed a deal with Spotify, which will see the music site stream score updates.
3. The emergence of the Ashes as an event bordering on the stature of a football World Cup is evidenced in the fact that it has inspired a single. Matt Jagger, the head of entertainment at Naked Communications (and formerly a vice-president of Universal Music), took a lead role in producing the single for the Barmy Army, the England team's hardcore supporters. Sponsored by Blue Square (a long-term sponsor of the Barmy Army), The Sun and Marston's, this raucous production invites the Australian captain Ricky Ponting to get back on his kangaroo and admit that his Ashes quest is a hopeless cause. The single will be promoted at events featuring the Barmy Army Babes (also known as the Barbie Army) in tight T-shirts and the similarly attired Marston's Maidens.
4. Most brands targeting men will pile into Sky and Five's television coverage, although only a minority will produce specially-themed creative work. In the digital market, ZenithOptimedia has signed a solus deal to take Five's entire inventory (banners on its Ashes microsite and pre-roll video in the cricket slots on Demand Five) for its clients.
5. One of the most inspired of the Ashes-themed marketing initiatives this time around was a limited edition Marmite jar tweaked to look like a cricket ball; and the ad that perhaps best sums up the spirit of the occasion is a Marston's press campaign with the catchline: "We're English - we brew beer. You're Australian - you serve it."
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- Newspapers especially will be praying that the series isn't effectively over by the end of the second Test, which starts on 16 July. There's precious little else in the way of sport (not sport with popular emotional appeal at any rate) until the Premier League season gets under way - kick-off this year is scheduled for 15 August.
- A rousing Test series can come as a godsend to newspapers during the silly season - the deadest time of year for political news. When there's nothing on the front pages, the only thing shifting papers off the newsstands can be the headlines on the back.
- Most newspapers marked the start of the series with lavish supplements. There was even a special edition of the free weekly, Sport, edited by none other than Andrew Flintoff.
- And on the television side, for Five at least, given its current uncertainty, a good series could come as a life saver.
- There's good value to be had this summer if you're a television advertiser targeting men. And because each Test can stretch across five gruelling days, with breaks for lunch, tea and drinks, there are plenty of advertising opportunities in the live coverage. So you don't even have to pay a premium to be associated with one of the most important and evocative events in the sporting calendar.
- Cheers. A few weeks of sunshine, a thumpingly good Ashes series, a glass or two of Marston's/Foster's/chilled Wolf Blass(1) and the recession will suddenly seem like a distant memory. Won't it?
(1) Delete as appropriate.