The England & Wales Cricket Board copped some flack last week over the unveiling of KP Snacks as lead partner for the new competition, with various KP brands (from Tyrrell’s to my personal favourite, Pom-Bear) adorning the front of the new team kits.
Almost immediately, a variety of children’s health charities were issuing statements condemning the ECB for partnering with a company that sells unhealthy snacks. The Hundred is a competition largely aimed at families, so it’s obviously a bad thing to use it to (metaphorically) shove crisps down kids’ throats. Right?
Well, it’s a bit more nuanced than that, even setting aside the debate about parental responsibility and the fact that, as far as I know, no children will be forced to eat their weight in Butterkist as a result of this deal (as fun as it was, that kind of activation rightly went out of fashion in the 90s).
The reality is that the ECB needed a sponsor to help them engage parents and kids in the new competition. And, realistically, that needed to be an FMCG brand of some kind. Why? Partly it’s about money, but it also has an awful lot to do with reach and penetration.
As generous as the ECB’s own marketing budget will be, there’s no substitute for working with a brand that can provide the sort of exposure that a business like KP can deliver: KP enjoys 98% category penetration in the UK, with over 20 million households regularly consuming one of their brands. It’s basically every household in the country, across all demographics, buying KP products every week, to be consumed by adults and children alike.
Assuming The Hundred features on plenty of on-pack and other promotion, that’s one hell of a marketing platform for the ECB to turn down. And from KP’s point of view it gives them a great platform to reinforce their brand awareness and drive sales through association with an exciting new competition.
Yes, the ECB could have found a different category of partner, but if you dig deep enough, it’s possible to level criticism at pretty much any big company or brand. There is a line to be drawn somewhere, but if we applied the purist approach to all brands involved in sports sponsorship, there wouldn’t be a lot left.
So why didn’t the ECB take the purist approach and not have brand sponsors at all? Again, it’s that point about reach and using those brands (plus the money they provide) to bring new fans and players into the game, as well as filtering some of the cash directly down into the club system. The ECB probably could survive without the income from deals such as this, but it would make it much, much harder for it, and the game, to thrive in the long term.
It is a balancing act, but it’s one the ECB team will have gone into with eyes wide open, and presumably taken the view that the upsides outweigh the downsides. You can also bet that part of KP’s activation will be campaigns encouraging kids to get active and play cricket, supporting another of the ECB’s core objectives.