Cricket fans have been waiting for 18 months for the big one to get going again. From the moment the first ball is bowled in Brisbane, England fans will be hoping that the team can win the precious urn in Australia for the first time since 1986/87.
For marketers in the UK who want to take advantage of the heat of battle, the return leg of the Ashes presents particular problems. The best of the sporting action takes place when the bulk of the target audience is asleep.
How different it will be to the 2009 series when England’s official beer Marston’s Pedigree took its message to a mass retail audience with a special limited edition Marmite variant packaged up as a cricket ball.
And how different it will be from Australia, where MediaCom client KFC will be fuelling its traditional association with Summer cricket via a massive programme of in-store activation, integration into Channel 9’s TV coverage and even sponsorship of the nearest thing Australia has to England’s Barmy Army, the Bucketheads – radio promotion winners kitted out in KFC t-shirts and wearing KFC buckets as hats. In addition more than 110,000 Facebook fans are ready to join in with some deep-fried banter about the on-wicket action.
So what can English marketers do to make the most of the night time action?
Firstly, given the fact that the time difference makes it hard to follow sports events in Australia live on TV, it is even more important for sponsor brands to be considering their digital and social media channels.
Sky Sports has been particularly strong in this area in the past, which is not that surprising given it uses major sporting events to drive subscriptions.
I would expect Sky to be using a combination of traditional above the line channels to drive people online to view details of its packages for the Ashes and to encourage people to use the Sky Player service to catch up on highlights and coverage.
England's team sponsor, Brit Insurance, sells most of its products through brokers and intermediaries.
It is likely to be doing little in the online or even above the line space to push its association with England this winter – unlike previous sponsor Vodafone. This leaves an opportunity for other sponsors, which include Adidas and Jaguar, to fill the void.
In addition, non-sponsors may look to make use of content that media owners will create around the series such as news reports. This provides an opportunity to associate with England on a potentially very compelling tour at a significantly lower price than when the Ashes take place in the UK.
If brands are prepared to be smart and utilise this coverage they may benefit from the reflected glory of a first England away Ashes tour victory for more than 20 years.
The risk, of course, is that in sport the result is far from guaranteed. If England play badly then interest will wane quickly and sponsor brands – official or unofficial – may be left with a platform that delivers smaller numbers than hoped.
Brand managers should look at the Ashes as a dry run for the Rugby World Cup, which kicks off in New Zealand in September and October 2011. Once again, there will be a huge range of opportunities for brands to get involved officially or unofficially.
The key difference with the Ashes is that the International Rugby Board doesn’t allow individual teams to be sponsored during the tournament. The only brands with on-screen exposure will be the official IRB sponsors – including DHL, Mastercard and Emirates – which will benefit from perimeter advertising at matches.
This means that the likes of O2 – which sponsors England and Ireland – will have to work extra hard or be smart in order to drive their associations during the tournament. However, as Visa and Coca-Cola showed at the 2008 Olympics, the inability to put your brand on the field of play is not an impediment to success.
The key to success with events taking place in unfavourable time-zones – as with all sports sponsorship – is having a coherent strategy prepared well in advance.
Charlie Dundas, global head of partnerships at MediaCom