It’s just not cricket: Seven promises this isn’t your grandfather’s game anymore

It’s a huge day for Australian cricket fans as the 2023/24 series of the Men’s Big Bash League starts tonight, with the Melbourne Stars taking on the Brisbane Heat at the Gabba.

It’s also a huge day for Seven’s head of sport, Lewis Martin, who will be bringing a newly rejigged BBL format to the screen tonight.

The new BBL offers less of the scheduling bloat and repeat match-ups that plagued previous seasons, with a trimmed-down schedule and a focus on the fast-paced excitement that the league brings to cricket fans — especially in comparison to the languid, lazy Test cricket that usually crawls across the screen over the summer break. As Martin notes, there is a swath of “soon-to-become” fans, who are no doubt put off by the time investment of a five-day Test. This is where BBL hooks them in.

Seven launched the ‘It’s Just Not Cricket’ advertising campaign in August, juxtaposing the more gentlemanly aspects of Bradman-era cricket (staid, sepia-tinged, steady), with the high-energy of BBL cricket (cue sweeping sixes, crash-cuts, and excitable commentators in the rich traditional of Ray Warren et al.) to effectively sell the excitement of this made-for-TV format.

“BBL is big, different, and just not cricket: it’s much more,” Seven’s CMO Mel Hopkins said of the campaign at the time, calling this brand of cricket “a high-energy sport.”

Given that excitement, brevity, and pace is the order of the day for BBL (with the prime-time TV slot dictating a certain level of action) it makes sense that the 2023-24 Big Bash League season has been downsized from 56 games to 40, with a more mathematically pleasing four-team, four-game finals structure – as opposed to the evil, pentangle-shaped five-team finals seen in previous years.

Seven’s summer of cricket is way more than the BBL, however, as fans glued to the telly over the past month can already attest to.

We’ve already enjoyed the women’s T20 international series, a further one-day-international series, and the WBBL series, the latter of which wrapped up on Saturday night with a cool 3.7 million Aussie tuning into the WBBL across the season.

Starting from next Thursday (December 14), the Australian men’s team takes on Pakistan in a Test series, which is followed by a match-up against the Windies, plus the Australia v South Africa women’s series at the tail end of the summer.

Lewis Martin spoke to Mumbrella during the week, breaking down Seven’s plan for the summer of cricket, providing clarity on the new technological advances in the network’s production, and explaining why Australia’s (unofficial) national sport still draws the type of engaged, vast viewership that advertisers are always chasing.

To that end: CBA, Bunnings, NRMA, Lion, Canadian Club, Chemist Warehouse, Menulog, Bundaberg, and Weber are among the big-hitters getting involved this summer.

One final note: As this interview was done via phone, I cannot 100% confirm that Lewis was wearing fluro zinc, bright-white lip sunscreen, and batting pads while conducting this chat — but as I also cannot 100% discount it, either, I invite the readers to imagine whichever scenario makes for a more vivid reader experience.

I can confirm, however, that I was wearing an old Max Walker tee with a cartoon of him wrestling an alligator.

Mumbrella (bowling from the Randwick end): I’d like to start with a quote from Kurt (Burnette: Seven’s chief revenue officer). He said that “research consistently and categorically proves that the most powerful marketing weapon over summer is the ads between overs in cricket.” Why are these ads so effective?

Lewis Martin (batting from the Paddington end): It’s the same as the advertisement after a goal is kicked in AFL. Our advertisers, our customers, find themselves in the storytelling sequence.

That’s my role as the head of sport. We’ve got three stakeholders, from our perspective, and first and foremost, it’s people. So, you’ve got the existing sports fan, the casual sports fan, and, in our view, the soon-to-become sports fan, once they’ve experienced our broadcast.

Then, we have the athletes and the advertisers. And what’s really important about what Kurt was saying, is when we when we plan our broadcast seasons, we sit down with Kurt’s sales team, and we work out how best to integrate the our sponsors and our clients into that storytelling sequence. And that end-of-over break is the ultimate place to be for a premium sponsor. As the producers, we treat that very preciously.

You’re working with Quidich on state-of-art drone technology. How will this be implemented?

Ultimately, our job is to connect the viewers with the with the athlete experience, and to do that, we’ve got to get close as we can into the athletes’ perspective. So we’ve got the virtual drone technology with Quidich, which will be on all Test matches, and we’ll also have it for the BBL matches.

So, ultimately, that will enable us to have a virtual tracker on on all player movements, which will give us an opportunity to interpret tactics and field placements. We’ll also be able to, graphically, take the viewer into the middle of the ground to see the batter’s perspective from the crease, and the field in front of him or her.

So, it enables a viewer to understand the shifting and subtle tactics, which will be interpreted by our commentary team – led by Ricky Ponting.

Is that technology something you’ll shift, should it not work? You’ll have to test it live, in terms of how it jibes with the viewer, and whether it’s effective. It might be disorientating. Are you worried about any of that stuff?

The true test of any new broadcast innovation is what people think of it. What the audience thinks of it. So, until we actually execute…

It’s all about subtlety, and again, we go back to the storytelling: if the innovation enhances the storytelling, sometimes the audience don’t even notice it, specifically. They’ve just had an enhanced experience. If there is a negative audience reaction to it, then, of course, we say, ‘Okay the audience have told us that that’s not required in the storytelling’. We’ve either overused it, or it’s just not required.

In this day and age, we have a ‘mood-of-the-room’ team, and so we’re very aware of how audiences are feeling in the moment.

In terms of the 7plus integration, what have you got lined up?

7plus is, in our view, just an opportunity for viewers to engage with Seven across all devices, whether it be connected TVs, handheld devices, laptops, etc.

You’ll see throughout our sports, all the way from our mic cubes, 7plus is fully integrated into our broadcast offering. And, of course, with all the sports we have on 7plus, you’ll see a significant amount of cross-promotion where we’ll be alerting viewers to where they can experience the WSL and the whole raft of sports that are on 7plus across the year, leading into our digital rights for cricket from September of next year.

We’re deep into the planning of that, of course, and quite frankly, I’m so impressed with the amount of work that our team have done. We could quite comfortably execute those digital rights now, we’re in such good shape.

Once the digital rights kick in, how do you think it’ll affect your free-to-air coverage.

Enormously. I’ve been in this business for a long time, and I’ve never been so excited. So, we saw the combined power of Seven through the Women’s World Cup, where we had 1.3 million people watching on 7plus. We’re not looking towards the future – we’re here now. We’re in action now.

You know, we provided 45 free channels for the Olympics, which was universally acclaimed as the greatest free sports experience in the country’s history. So we’ve got a lot of experience leading into these digital rights. And, we’re going to take it even further. Our digital experience will will spam 52 weeks, right across our sports, whether that be cricket, horse racing, Supercars, surfing and of course, the AFL.

We had so much success with the Women’s World Cup over a four-week period. We’re now going to have that experience over 52 weeks.

This, to me, is the most exciting phase in Seven’s history.

The BBL airs tonight on Seven from 7pm to cricket fans – and confused Home and Away viewers alike. Don’t miss it!


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