WELLINGTON, May 16 (Reuters) - Hunched over desks staring at computer screens paid for in part by New Zealand cricket captain Brendon McCullum, employees at a small Wellington company are hard at work laying the foundations for what they hope will be the next social media revolution.
Targeting the estimated billion players and fans of the English bat-and-ball game around the world, CricHQ aims to build an online community which could be crudely described as Facebook for cricket.
“It’s actually a little bit more than Facebook,” CricHQ director of marketing Jarred Sewell told Reuters.
”What we’re trying to do is create a functional social network to give you a reason to be involved across all levels of cricket.
“We’re not there yet, but are on the precipice.”
Sewell and his chief executive Simon Baker, who started the company in 2010 with investments from former New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming and current skipper McCullum, are not the first to realise the potential of the online cricket market.
The runaway success of live-scoring website Cricinfo, marketed through the ESPN brand owned by media giant Walt Disney Co, has led the way for sport online but Sewell is quick to dismiss the comparison.
Cricinfo is only concentrated on “about the top one percent of global cricket”, he said, and generating content is expensive because they need to employ live scorers, commentators and journalists at the ground.
CricHQ’s free app allows its users, at all levels of cricket from the village green upwards, to capture data such as live scoring, pitch and weather conditions and personal information, then contribute it to the community.
The pool of users will expand rapidly in about five months when the company’s scoring and management infrastructure software is rolled out across New Zealand’s club cricket competitions.
“New Zealand Cricket is a massive deal simply because it gets the entire country using CricHQ,” Sewell said of the agreement signed in February.
“What that data capture leads to is fantastic (and) we wouldn’t be able to get the information we needed without them.”
The data will feed into “a cricket themed social network” - hence the analogy with Mark Zuckerberg’s creation - and players will then be able to build their own profiles and ‘follow’ friends, family, team mates and elite cricketers.
Those profiles, unlike Cricinfo or on official websites, are theirs to develop how they like, Sewell said, and at the elite level, players will be able to commercialise their profile.
The ability to be able to post adverts from sponsors or provide ‘added value content’ like images, diaries and video were what attracted the interest of the New Zealand Cricket Players’ Association (NZCPA) and their global equivalent, FICA.
“The plan is for them to engage with people who follow them and build a bit of a following around their own profile,” NZCPA commercial manager Glen Sulzberger told Reuters.
“The best people who use social media give a little bit of insight into what they’re about. If you take that philosophy and engage with people then there is a real ability for players to take control of (the space) and build up a following.”
There has been no shortage of great internet ideas over the last decade and a half but monetising online traffic remains a challenge and goes some way to separating the successes from the failures.
While deals with other national cricketing bodies have been signed, and there are management fees for running club competitions, Sewell said the key to commercial returns would be capturing the data and building the social network with exclusive content to drive subscriptions.
Costing and the subscription models are still being developed, he added, but the added-value content, including performance analysis tools, would also generate revenue.
While attracting tech-savvy sports fans, branded jock-geeks or ‘jeeks’ by academics, was important, the system had been built to include everyone including the cricket equivalent of ‘soccer-moms’, Sewell said.
“They may have no interest in elite cricket but are happy to drop their kids off at the park and go do what they need to, then be notified when their children are about to bat or bowl,” he said.
“(But) whether you are the smallest fan or an absolute cricket ‘nuffie’ (fanatic), we want to give you a reason to be on CricHQ.”