Cricket Australia sends technology in to bat

This article appears in the Summer 2012 iPad edition of Computerworld Australia, available free in the iTunes store now.

ComputerWorld - IDG Australia

When men and women step out onto cricket pitches around Australia this summer in their whites, it’s not just the eyes of the crowd upon them but a wider audience following the action online.

Faced with competing summer sports such as soccer — and families who may not have the time to attend some matches — this is all part of Cricket Australia’s long-term strategy to hold its spot as one of the most popular sports in Australia.

The national cricketing body uses technology to both attract new blood to the sport and support its players and staff.

The markers connect to the athlete management system which is a database that contains all of the information about the organisation’s athlete, including fitness testing, nutrition, medical and training details.

Player support

As any team manager will tell you, player recovery and support is a very important part of ensuring professional athletes perform at their best.

For example, the national men’s, women’s and state teams all have access to a private iPhone and iPad app. This app includes a calendar of matches and a contact list that lets support staff send bulk SMS messages out to the players.

These messages contain travel details, training schedules and accommodation details — for both around Australia and overseas.

Cricket Australia IT program manager Katie Twomey says the latest update to the app allows the players to submit forms containing Sport Science and Sport Medicine markers.

“Staff use this information to monitor training and playing loads as well as monitoring general muscle soreness and wellbeing,” she says.

The Science and Medicine markers also include a set of wellness questions which ask about the players sleeping habits.

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The markers connect to the athlete management system which is a database that contains all of the information about the organisation’s athletes. This information includes fitness testing, nutrition, medical and training details.

“We’ve recently employed a data architect who is solely dedicated to developing a data orchestration layer, business intelligence and analytics for the team performance department,” Twomey says.

“We have an abundance of data in relation to players which has been collected over a long time but it is a matter of collating that data into a single data warehouse and starting to analyse it.”

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Stadium tech

In addition to supporting its players with technology, Cricket Australia also helps sports reporters file cricket match stories. For example, it supplies Wi-Fi devices to media at certain grounds where existing stadium systems are deficient.

Last season it implemented an online accreditation tool for all media and key stakeholders.

“This summer [2012-13] we are launching an ‘at match’ accreditation mobile solution,” Twomey says.

“This is a custom-built road case with tablets where anyone who needs to be accredited at the ground can self-register, be approved and print their passes.”

Behind the scenes

Within Cricket Australia, staff use laptops and a mixture of BlackBerrys and iPhones. While the organisation has a bring-your-own device (BYOD) policy in place, Twomey says that it supplies devices to the majority of staff.

Software employed by the organisation includes Microsoft Office 2010, SharePoint 2010 and Microsoft’s Dynamics 2011 CRM package.

“We don’t have any immediate plans to move to the Windows 8 OS as we completed a migration of our data centre in September 2012,” she says.

“It was not only business critical systems [migrated] but also publicly facing websites and services that needed to be benchmarked, pilot tested and migrated with a minimal impact on our customers.”

By the numbers On Facebook, Cricket Australia has 1.5 million fans

88,665 accounts follow Cricket Australia on Twitter

It is listed in 22,500 Circles on Google Plus

The T20 Big Bash app was downloaded 90,0000 times across the iOS and Android platforms in the 2011-12 season.

The crowd goes wild

Like all sporting organisations in the 21st century, Cricket Australia is harnessing the power of the Internet to attract and retain fans.

“We have a collection of digital assets which we build and operate ourselves in addition to working with our commercial partners like Vodafone to produce apps such as Cricket Live,” says online product manager Kane Washington.

The Cricket Live app includes live match video streaming. It was developed in 2009 and supports iPhone and Android devices.

“This app is very important in our strategy and puts Australian cricket content in the hands of our fans anywhere at any time,” he says.

For the 2012-13 cricket season, the Cricket Live app will have domestic live scores included within it for the first time.

In addition to the Cricket Live app, the sporting body has developed an iOS and Android app for the 20/20 shorter version of cricket called the KFC Big Bash T20 League app.

Fans can customise it to the team they follow, whether it be the Melbourne Stars or the Adelaide Strikers.

“The app can be customised it to feature the team’s players, news and latest scores. It also integrates social networking into the app including Twitter feeds during the game,” Washington says.

According to Washington, there were 90,000 downloads of the app across iOS and Android in the 2011-12 cricket season.

Cricket Australia also operates where it provides live scores on a ball-by-ball basis for matches ranging from the Australian men’s team and the CBA Southern Stars right through to interstate men’s and women’s senior competitions.

These live scores are also fed out via the Cricket Live app.

“We live stream the Bupa Sheffield Shield matches onto the Cricket Australia website from all the major venues around Australia,” he says.

According to Washington, the organisation has received “very positive” feedback from fans about making matches available in a format which is convenient.

“There is a fan base out there that is heavily invested in interstate cricket.”

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Social networking

Hand in hand with the apps and website come social networking sites. On Facebook, Cricket Australia has 1.5 million fans while on Twitter it has 88,665 followers.

Cricket Australia is also in 22,500 circles on Google Plus.

“When cricket matches are taking place, whether they are interstate or international matches, we find that there is definitely more content and engagement on those platforms around those matches,” Washington says.

Cricket Australia also ramps up activity on social media sites when specific events happen such as Adam Gilchrist’s recent induction into the Australian Sporting Hall of Fame.

“We try to make sure the fans are engaged and we have a set of hash tags on Twitter that we use to try and aggregate the conversation between all the fans,” he said.

“We’re not only posting content but we’re deliberately trying to engage and respond to fan queries and comments.”

For example, these comments can vary from fans asking when matches are taking place to app updates.

Another area of fan interaction that the organisation is looking to use this summer is video chats with some of the national men’s or women’s members.

It is also investigating the use of Google Hangout for player chats this summer.

“We have been very strong advocates of our players using Twitter,” Washington says.

“To help with that we maintain a list of players and officials that we verify that should fans want to follow, they can check out that list.”

However, if people get nasty and start abusing or ‘trolling’ players, Cricket Australia has procedures in place to ensure its athletes aren’t subjected to a torrent of abusive tweets such as that experienced by Australian-based TV presenter Charlotte Dawson recently.

“The thing about Twitter is that you can either respond [to the trolls] or ignore them. We take either of those approaches at the appropriate time,” he says.

“With Facebook we have a set of community rules that we have on our Facebook fan page. If you don’t abide by those rules, we use the administrator functionality to block or report people.”

Grassroots cricket

However, social networking does not end with urban communities as the organisation is keen to keep cricket top of mind in the rural and remote parts of Australia.

In 2008, Cricket Australia established a digital platform for grassroots communities called MyCricket. This is a free Web platform for its associations and clubs to manage respective cricket seasons and share information.

“In terms of grassroots, we have uptake all around Australia,” he says. “About 85 per cent of [cricket] clubs and associations use the platform.”

“On the admin side of things we’re providing the tools that allow club cricket to communicate with all of their players via their own website or MyCricket. They can send emails or SMS messages out via the admin capabilities out to their group.”

Looking to the future of the game, Washington says that shorter match types such as T20 will be an integral part of the organisation.

According to Washington, usage of the T20 Big Bash platforms and attendance at matches last season indicated that it has been successful in trying to attract teenagers back to cricket.

“People are increasingly time poor as well and some adults don’t have six or seven hours to spend playing cricket on Saturday.”

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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