The Hundred-Branding cricket for the digital age
Danielle Smith, design director at global brand agency, FutureBrand, and Phil Garnham, creative type director at type foundry Monotype, explore the challenges of creating a brand for a heritage sport such as cricket. They look at how design can be used as a way to reach young, diverse, and digitally native audiences.
The Hundred is a new 100-ball cricket tournament involving eight men’s and eight women's teams, located in cities across England and Wales. The tournament, run by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), took place for the first time in July and August 2021. It was created to broaden cricket’s appeal – beyond the sport’s traditional audiences and aims to draw a diverse audience and breathe new life into the game. FutureBrand and Monotype knew this needed a bold and expressive typographic style with a graphic identity that captured the energy of the new game format. At the same time, it was imperative to create its own distinct branding as a sport of the 21st-Century.
The English Cricket Board’s ambition was to grow cricket’s following in the UK from 10 million supporters to 12 million while engaging a wider audience made up of different ages and backgrounds so that cricket could become the nation’s ‘second’ sport. To achieve this vision, FutureBrand was tasked with creating exciting, category-breaking brand identities for The Hundred – a new competition and format of cricket – and it’s eight team brands that would ultimately appeal to a younger and more diverse audience. Essentially, throwing cricket’s doors open to all.
The strategic objective was to create a global sports entertainment brand that recruited the next generation of cricket fans by being simpler, more engaging, more inclusive, and more fun, and to create a tournament full of energy and optimism. We undertook a lot of research and involved many stakeholders on the journey to help us achieve this objective.
Cricket has an incredible and long heritage, particularly in this country. Our biggest challenge was in translating the objectives and values of The Hundred – to engage energetically with new audiences – into the traditional British sport. The design for the new competition injected a new burst of life into the game, capturing the attention of fans old and new, making it feel more relevant and accessible whilst respecting the rich history of the original game. We worked hard to ensure the designs retained a distinctly sporting character and appeared as a credible tournament that was serious about producing first-rate cricket.
To connect with a younger, digitally native audience, we looked to apply design choices that felt familiar and relevant to them, not just aesthetically but in tone and attitude too. The design of The Hundred and its teams needed to reflect a faster, riskier, braver version of the game that was committed to delivering non-stop entertainment. To do this, we looked outside the cricket landscape and outside the category of sport to other digital and entertainment brands popular with a younger audience to reference their visual codes and create designs that would resonate with them.
From the selection of colours and fonts, to motion and behaviour, as well as the physical branding, we took into consideration today’s digital platforms from the outset and developed each asset to maximise its impact both online and offline.
The branding developed for The Hundred was a complete departure from anything seen in cricket today. The visual choices, informed by in-depth research and full of dynamism and attitude, played a significant role in challenging perceptions, signaling a change, and breaking down barriers for new audiences. It was an opportunity to disrupt the common associations of heritage, prestige and tradition and demystify some of the complexities surrounding the game. Instead, we created something welcoming, full of energy and optimism, a sporting revolution that invited everyone to fall in love with the game at its intense, incredible best.
Equally as important was that each of the eight identities created for the team brands authentically and truthfully reflected the character and values of the individual cities or geographic regions they represented. We worked hard to avoid well-trodden clichés and instead presented creative expressions that audiences could connect and relate to; with the hope it would translate into strong support for the teams.
As a completely new competition, the slate was clean. Nothing to retain or remove. However, it was important that as part of the creative process, we found the balance of creating brands that felt recognisably sporting, but not necessarily cricket. We borrowed some familiar symbols and graphics but reinvented them in a way that felt new and unseen.
We wanted to create a fearless brand font, a set of heroic letter shapes with a resolute digital tone. For the ECB to reinvent the nature of a classic sport in itself is a bit of a call to arms, a wake-up call... so we wanted to portray that attitude in the typeface, to engage and draw in a new audience through the design of modular and expressive typography, the kind that would ordinarily be associated with urban sports.
We explored at a ton of type styles, looked in type specimens and our own library of type... primarily modular fonts that pursue legibility. The studio to foundry back and forth collaborative process is hugely important for us, together we established a creative direction that resonated with the broader visual system.
Engaging with a media-orientated audience is exciting, but it was also important not to alienate the sports bedrock supporters. We were very mindful about not pushing too far on the legibility scale, to create distinctive letters forms, but to not overcook them, to retain these fundamental letter skeletons that would be inclusive and accessible for all.
Typographically it was really about tapping into the energy and mindset of social media, a pixel-orientated culture of angular letter shapes for headlines. And combined with the brands photographic energy and off-kilter symbols and colour scheme... it all pulled together into something quite dynamic, the over overall look and feel genuinely creates a sense of competitive enthusiasm.
I think our minds are hardwired to draw associations to certain themes from fonts. Type speaks, it has a voice which can become firmly printed into certain sectors. I’m really interested in the idea of subverting that impression and redefining type’s role in whatever world it appears. You see a lot of breakthrough brand design work that plays with this subversion and reignites the conversation around what a thing should feel like. With the project we really felt unburdened by the past, there was a genuine freedom to be explorative and apply themes from other brand worlds to cricket. That experimentation and re-appropriation really helped to redefine expectations around how this identity should exist.