Showcase public events have been a big part of this World Cup, such as this community painting project in Bristol

Showcase public events have been a big part of this World Cup, such as this community painting project in Bristol

© Getty Images

What goes into the making of a World Cup

A peek at the organisation of the tournament, and the legacy it seeks to leave behind in England

Adam Collins  |  

Twenty-three days, one hour, 32 minutes, 38 seconds. This is the amount of time left according to the the modestly sized countdown clock when the Cricket Monthly is invited into the World Cup's inner sanctum. Based at Lord's within the ECB headquarters, a floor of 110 organising committee staff are doing their bit to make the 2019 edition of the tournament the best one yet.

The transient nature of event management means the colleagues in red uniforms don't necessarily know each other that well. A pinboard in the office kitchen displays getting-to-know-you cards; a trumpet scholar and a beatboxer are among the ranks.

"Connect - Entertain - Inspire," says the slogan on one wall, the motto for the team. "Are You In?" asks another.

Despite being told this is the most stressful time in the life cycle of an event, there is a quiet confidence that everything is under control. Twenty years ago, the last time the World Cup was held in England, six dedicated staff limped to the starting line well short of resources, as summed up by the messy opening ceremony and a theme song released several weeks too late. The week of my visit, the World Cup managing director Steve Elworthy told his staff that they could have staged this year's tournament a month ahead of time.

Adrian Wells, who oversees the marketing and communications for the tournament, notes that every goal the committee promised the ICC in 2017 has been achieved. "I can parallel with football experiences over the years and I have never known anything like this," Wells, who earned his stripes working for UEFA, says.

The World Cup organising committee works out of the ECB headquarters at Lord's

The World Cup organising committee works out of the ECB headquarters at Lord's © Adam Collins

But to really understand this World Cup is to understand its broader objectives. Not to trivialise getting the primary show on the road: hosting 48 games in 46 days with the whole cricket world watching. Yet, in the UK at least, whether 2019 is considered a success in the longer term depends on whether it helps undo the straightjacket that cricket has worn in the country since it vanished from terrestrial TV over a decade ago.

Those working on the project don't dispute that the sport has a problem in the country of its invention. "How can we use the World Cup to grow and diversify the game?" posits Charlie Dewhurst, the eloquent 30-year-old head of strategy whose brief is to look at how this central question can be applied to all aspects of the tournament.

By putting that front and centre, England has a prized opportunity to capture a new generation of devotees. If they do capitalise on the chance, it will define a much longer period than just the six weeks ahead.

"We had to be hugely ambitious," says Elworthy, who is overseeing his sixth global event, and his fourth in England, since retiring as a South Africa fast bowler. For the last five years, this tournament has been his baby (with the 2017 Champions Trophy and Women's World Cup in between). Elworthy, who has been in the ECB orbit since 2007, understands as well as anybody the need to make this about more than the competition. "You have got one opportunity. To think the last time it was in this country was 20 years ago and it might not be back for another 20."

His mission started with a single lever-arch file and a skeleton staff who initially worked out of a freezing Lord's hospitality box. "What I didn't want to do is narrow the focus so far out," he recalls of the early days. A trip to see how the organising committee operated in Australia and New Zealand leading up to the 2015 tournament reinforced to him that 2019 would need to be a different kind of operation to that in countries where cricket has saturation support.

One element beyond his control, even as that binder and staff grew, was the broadcast of the tournament in the UK, sold to pay television - as all bilateral series have been since the 2005 Ashes. Daily highlights will appear on free-to-air TV every night but Olympic-style wall-to-wall coverage was not an option. So the team had to get resourceful.

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Ten numbers that explain the 2019 World Cup

"We needed to make sure that we absolutely integrated with the ECB, because they are who are going to give us the delivery into schools and clubs and counties and inner cities," says Elworthy. In other words, if this World Cup isn't going to be on free-to-air telly, it had to be absolutely everywhere else.

"Online is a major part of that, with well-developed digital handles, and clips rights belonging to the BBC and ESPN [publisher of The Cricket Monthly] - but nothing competes with direct contact.

Or better still, being there. This made the ticket ballot vital. With 800,000 tickets available (including 60,000 that go to partners) the organisers knew that cricket nuts alone could all but sell out most games, but that might be of limited benefit. So they also searched for groups of people who had never been to the cricket before.

Wells points to a "deliberate marketing ploy" that shifted attention from hardcore cricket fans to those seeking to attend a major event. Their digital advertising was aimed at music fans, for instance, identifying, in collaboration with ticket agencies, concert-goers as the type of people who could be encouraged to come along to something big.

At a broadcast level it was impossible to miss the all-singing, all-dancing "Top of the World" advertising campaign that ran through the second half of 2018 in England. Instructively, current England players - all of whom have played their careers behind a paywall - were jettisoned for it, in favour of those who had made a name outside of the game. It might have lent itself to derision that Andrew Flintoff was the face of the World Cup, but he remains England's best known player because of his hosting work on television and radio after his international career finished in 2009.

The primary focus of the World Cup experience is kids between the ages of five and 12, fans of tomorrow, who will shape the future of the game in the UK

The primary focus of the World Cup experience is kids between the ages of five and 12, fans of tomorrow, who will shape the future of the game in the UK © Getty Images

"We have found and have nurtured a bunch of influencers," adds Wells. "We've brought people on from Love Island, Radio 1 DJs and comedians - a lot of people like that - into the local marketing activities to tell the story of what will make this moment so special."

In all, there were 3.2 million ticket applications, four times the supply. Some 80,000 tickets have gone to kids under 16, many of whom will pay just £6 as entry. A third of those at the World Cup will never have been to a cricket match before. South Asians snapped up 210,000 tickets - a proud legacy of the 1999 tournament's emphasis on that community. A quarter of a million women will come through the gates. This work wasn't at the expense of existing registered fans, who had access to the ballot in the first instance, but - with all respect for their loyalty - this time it wasn't about them.

The effort doesn't end at the turnstiles. "How do you wrap your arms around them to say that cricket loves you and we want you to be involved?" Elworthy asks rhetorically. He is referring in particular to those who won't get that first-hand experience of games. Outside of staging the matches themselves, this is where the most effort has been invested - to try and make this a truly major national event that captures hearts and minds as football tournaments historically have done.

Set-piece public events are part of that, such as the tournament-eve opening party in front of Buckingham Palace, with its crossover emphasis on music and atmosphere. Sites in cities that are hosting matches are also designed to be part of the rhythm of the tournament, places for people to come together and share a communal World Cup experience.

Once again, though, cricket superfans aren't the main game - nor are the group affectionately referred to as the Big Eventers. "They are thrill-seekers," says Paul Smith, who is running the cities and spectator experience operation, having spent 25 years in major events, including three Olympic Games. The Big Eventers are, in modern parlance, the FOMO generation, drawn to being wherever the action is and telling the world about it. For many, that journey began at the London Olympics in 2012 and they have not missed a major event since. The cricket World Cup is merely the next on the list.

Trumpet players and beatboxers are among the 110-strong organising committee members this year, as opposed to the six that helmed the World Cup in 1999

Trumpet players and beatboxers are among the 110-strong organising committee members this year, as opposed to the six that helmed the World Cup in 1999 Adrian Wells / © Cricket World Cup

The primary focus is on the one million Britons aged five to 12, whom the organisers want to engage by the time this journey is over. The number is open to interpretation, but Dewhurst says that by the committee's metrics, 350,000 kids have had a taste through the trophy tour and the schools programme before a ball has been bowled.

"It's all about a longer-term platform for growth by giving them a World Cup experience," he says. "There needs to be that strong pathway, so that's why we are focused on this age group because that's where there is one already in place." He is referring to the ECB's All Stars Cricket programme targets boys and girls aged 5 to 8, an effort to replicate enormous participation gains made in Australia over the last 15 years.

In another initiative, 2300 cricket clubs will receive £1000 grants to upgrade technology like Wi-Fi and point-of-sale equipment. The logic here is that young people entering a club for the first time will expect to be connected, as they are in any other family-friendly social space. A thousand of these clubs have been formally designated "World Cup Clubs". Expanding on an idea from the 2015 Rugby World Cup, they will be given material to decorate their facilities before events on the second weekend of the tournament. Devon, Essex and Cornwall aren't hosting any World Cup fixtures, but 265 of their clubs have signed up for the programme. Each appoints their World Cup Champion, a younger player ideally, who will be rewarded and recognised by the tournament.

"They are individuals the ECB will keep in close contact with, and could again with The Hundred," Dewhurst notes. "You want them to be an advocate for the rest of their lives."

The ECB's new strategy document for 2020-24, "Inspiring Generations", was released in February, with The Hundred the first item listed under the ambition of making the game more accessible.

Ring out the old, ring in the new: the gasometers at the Oval get in on the World Cup action, while an old cricket-themed pub awaits resurrection

Ring out the old, ring in the new: the gasometers at the Oval get in on the World Cup action, while an old cricket-themed pub awaits resurrection © ICC

Taking off the summer after the World Cup, it will be the glitzy new shop window for English cricket - a tournament leading the sport back to the promised land of terrestrial television, at least for 11 games a season. That the England board and the World Cup organisers are in such lock step - due to a combination of physical proximity and their shared purpose in strengthening the sport - puts the ECB in prime position to make the most of the bottom-up programmes the World Cup committee has invested in, such as a network of teachers who have been engaged for the first time through a schools outreach.

"In the past you got organising committees who got very insular without necessarily opening up to the governing body in the way that we have," Dewhurst says. "We have tried to make sure they are tied in to all of our plans as much as possible so that we can, on a plate almost, provide them with the platform."

Cricket in England is estimated to be in line for three times more engagement this year than in a regular summer. Better still, the ECB will have access to masses of data. The information gathered by the World Cup about who applied for tickets, for instance, or the bank of 4000 volunteers who will work at grounds during the competition. If data is the new oil, as the maxim goes, the ECB is about to have it on tap at a time they need it badly.

The transition to 2020 will also extend to personnel, after the World Cup organising committee is demobilised. Of those employed by the World Cup, Wells predicts that only half would be cricket fans, while three-quarters boast major-event experience. It is an obvious recruitment pool for The Hundred, of crucial importance given how badly it has been botched thus far.

With the main event round the corner, the organisers are alert to the array of logistical challenges they will face. Imagine, for instance, if a team cancels a training session.

The World Cup pinboard has just one question for you

The World Cup pinboard has just one question for you © Getty Images

"We have about 25 people we need to notify," says Greg Warnecke, the director of operations. "We need to let the venue know, as we'll have eight net bowlers for every sessions - a combination of right- and left-arm, seam and spin. There is catering for those guys, and we don't want to demotivate them as we have got to get through nearly 300 practice sessions. Groundsmen need to know, because it will change what they are preparing. We need to let the ICC know, because the media might be turning up to practice sessions, and the ICC need to know about anti-doping too for target testing on that day. Hotels need to know that teams will be sticking around. All those movements. The team coach drivers, if they are going to do something extra, we need to work out their hours, because legally they can only work so many hours. All that coordination comes into play."

Elworthy enjoys his senior-team's event focus so that he can focus on bat and ball.

"I've always had, at the heart of me, making cricket front and centre of these tournaments," he says. He recalls fondly his experience as a player at the 1999 event, arguing that the cricket outshone any slip-ups along the way. "You need people with that global event delivery background. And then with me, with cricket front of mind all the time, there is always a temper and a balance in not treading on the traditions of the game. The one thing that's always driven me is from seeing what cricket does. So for me, I want to inspire more people to play. You want to get bats and balls in hands. Simple as that."

Having studied these events since his days running the inaugural World T20 in 2007, Elworthy wants the social impact to be evident. To help with that, he has commissioned a wide-ranging study to measure it, the first of its kind in cricket. "What sense of pride do they feel that they are supporting a team in the World Cup?" he asks. "There is always an economic element, but then there is the social impact of the tournament."

He doesn't want this World Cup to suffer a "Wimbledon Effect", where the nation straps in for the tournament and then checks out. As Dewhurst notes, "In 2013 and 2017 [Champions Trophies] we got big spikes with new audiences but then it goes back to business as usual. Only if you have got a robust channel to convert that into something sustainable through a strong club network and schools cricket can you really grow the game."

That the World Cup celebration at clubs is taking place a week after the final sums this up neatly. "It is so critical we don't focus just on the World Cup and everyone takes a breath on 14 July, thinks 'Thank god that's over' and gets back to their lives," Dewhurst says. "Instead, that they actually see that the 15th of July is the time for us." It's then that the real work begins.

Adam Collins is an Australian cricket writer and broadcaster based in London. @collinsadam