Unlocking opportunities both through new and traditional platforms, Estonia’s ‘Always On’ Strategy has claimed the ICC Digital Fan Engagement of the Year award.
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An example of a small Associate Member “punching above its weight”, Estonia’s ‘Always On’ digital campaign mapped out and executed a number of its objectives, leading to both a rise in exposure of its cricket to the world, and a growth in their own backyard.
From generic announcements and Instagram giveaways to the creation of their own app and even cryptocurrency donation, Estonia thought outside the box with their digital strategy, standing out in a time where attention and eyes are competed for.
Estonia Cricket Association President Stuart Hook says the governing body took inspiration from some of their European counterparts, highlighting their differences by playing on the curiosity of cricket in the Baltics.
"One of the strategies we wanted to use was the uniqueness of cricket being played in Estonia," Hook said.
"It's a little bit of a unicorn, where everyone knows there's cricket now in the Netherlands and the Ireland and European countries like that, it's unique. When you're scrolling through all the main nations, England, Australia people just click through, but all of a sudden you get cricket in Estonia."
Naturally, people are drawn to Estonia's idiosyncrasies.
"Eyebrows are raised. What is cricket in Estonia? How are they doing it? Are they doing it on a turf pitch? Is it concrete?" Hook added.
"So it got people just thinking what is happening in Estonian cricket? And we just saw that with a longer angle as well.
"We weren't going to beat the big countries by copying the content, so we just wanted to let people know that there was cricket in Estonia and not just park cricket."
The strategy had a three pronged approach: to keep the existing cricket community engaged in spite of lockdowns, to promote the game to a new, young audience in Estonia, and to support the Covid relief work around the world with a particular focus towards India, battling the Delta variant.
The results were telling. In spite of Covid challenges for both the ECA and around the world, the organisation saw a boom in reach and impressions across platforms, with up to a 1000% growth on their YouTube channel, with similar improvements across other channels. Weekly round-up videos are produced, alongside match result posts, and photos showing off the game in front Estonia's unique backdrop.
For Hook, who has been an ICC delegate for the country for half a decade, working with others in Europe, even in the digital sphere, drives the game forward on the continent.
"We're just bouncing ideas off each other," he said.
"I was having a look at what Finland were doing. Finland are having a look at what we were doing. I was helping Croatia, Montenegro would chuck some ideas in as well. So it sort of grew pretty quickly, but the majority of the stuff was done with video and that's what created a lot of the attention.
"We wanted it to be active as well. When the rest of the world was sort of shutting down, we wanted to make sure that we were seen to be active, be it planning, be it telling stories, be it forming online partnerships."
On the front foot, Estonia pledged the equivalent of one lakh in crypto-currency to the Indian Oxygen Covid Relief Fund to help with purchasing of supplies in a first across all members of the ICC.
"As one big cricket loving family, we all need to work together to help each other out when we have the opportunity to do so by any means possible," ECA's statement read back in April 2021.
Back home, the emphasis on publicity, alongside diverse revenue streams, was a boon for the club cricket community, with a sharp rise in registered clubs almost too quick to keep up with. In one instance, an entire cricket club was formed as a result of the exposure.
"One season we got one whole club out of just contacting people through liking our Facebook page," Hook said.
"They were all moving to Estonia from Bangladesh to study, and so they were following our indoor season. So when it came to our outdoor season, they already knew where to come and knew who to contact.
"We helped them form a club and away they went. So that's probably the biggest instant repayment we got on volunteers."
Those already inside the Estonian ecosystem have benefitted as well. Fundraising from the the several streams has led to improvements for club and junior programs, and taken the weight off the board when planning cricket journeys abroad for men's, women's and junior national teams.
Progressing ahead of schedule, the men's side enter T20 World Cup qualifying for the first time next month, one cycle earlier than targeted. Former English batter Jonathan Trott will be working with the team on their path to the 2024 tournament in USA and the West Indies, with their qualifying journey starting through Group 2 of the Europe Qualifier B tournament, alongside the Czech Republic, France, Norway and Switzerland.
Outside of T20 World Cup qualification, Hook hints at some big potential projects across the next year.
"We've got some big ideas. We're working with other countries like Cricket Spain, Cricket Croatia, even Montenegro, and also our neighbouring countries, Latvia, Lithuania and of course our main big brother, which is Finland.
"We just want people to keep asking 'what else?' 'What have they got?' And by us having different formats across different social media platforms, it gives them the answer."
Though like most Associate Members, what's most remarkable about Estonia's past, present and future is the volume of work undertaken by a handful of people wearing several hats.
"We currently running on three board members. That's it.
"We have one paid development officer, which is Dave Robson. He's full time. We have a part time guy called Howie (Fitzmaurice), he does three days a week during the summer and two days a week during the winter. So in the summer, he helps cut the grass, and then he does the commentary for us on Saturdays and Sundays. And in the winter he turns to looking after our finances, chasing clubs, also doing stuff on social media."
"We're looking at increasing our manpower by at least one this year and potentially another part-timer and next year, because our volunteer hours is a lot."
"All the volunteers around the world are doing a really great job."
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