Hooking the barmy army

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With England taking on New Zealand, South Africa and India, 2008 is a great year to promote cricket. Simon Creasey looks at the key opportunities...

With England taking on New Zealand, South Africa and India, 2008 is a great year to promote cricket. Simon Creasey looks at the key opportunities

Cricket and drinking are perfect bedfellows - whether you're out enjoying a lazy summer afternoon watching your local team or holed up in a snug cheering on England on their latest series in some far flung corner of the globe, a glass or two of something is never usually far away.

Unfortunately following the team's torturous winter trip to Sri Lanka, England cricket fans have had little to celebrate of late. The comprehensive series defeat led to England falling in the world rankings, but most commentators believe that the performance was merely a momentary blip. A number of top players were absent due to injury - including the talismanic Andrew Flintoff.

The team will get the chance to win over doubters in 2008 as they face a busy 12 months, culminating in a tricky tour of India in November - India usurped England in the rankings to add spice to what's always a fiery encounter.

Before then the country's elite players face a testing time with an action-packed calendar of events, which kicks off in February with a visit to New Zealand for a series of tests and one-day internationals. The arrangement is reciprocated in May when the Kiwis journey to England to play one Twenty20, five one-day internationals and three tests.

Then from July through to September, England play host to South Africa in a four-test series with Twenty20 and one-day matches also planned. As well as keeping fingers crossed that the likes of Flintoff can stay injury free, the nation's "Barmy Army" of fans will also be praying that Paul Collingwood can keep the winning touch as one-day and Twenty20 captain. Despite initial scepticism about the Twenty20 format, a dramatic series against India last year captured the imagination of the public and the concept's day/night schedule allows workers to catch up on the action.

On the domestic front the English County Cricket Championship gets underway in April with title-holders Sussex launching the defence of their crown with a tricky visit to the Rose Bowl to take on Hampshire. Chris Adams' side are vying to become the first county since the 1960s to win the title in three successive years, but look set to face tough competition from the likes of Durham and Lancashire. The championship wraps up in September following a busy summer of one-day tournaments.

In July the semi-finals of the Friends Provident Trophy - cricket's FA Cup equivalent - take place, with Lords hosting the final in August. Durham edged out Hampshire last year and both sides are likely to be in contention once again.

Meanwhile the final of the Twenty20 cup takes place on 26 July at the Rose Bowl. Last year's exhilarating event was won by surprise victors Kent Spitfires who triumphed over Gloucestershire, thanks largely to the stewardship of their excellent captain Robert Key.

The NatWest Pro40 kicks off on 15 July with a floodlit Division One match, when current champions Worcestershire Royals host the Nottinghamshire Outlaws at New Road, while the competition will feature a further

23 matches under lights in the second half of the summer.

getting it right: Lord Nelson, Brentford

One of the most popular sports pubs in west London is the Lord

Nelson, which is renowned locally for its fantastic organic fodder.

Lessee Dianne McKeon has run the establishment for 23 years and, while football and rugby always feature strongly, McKeon's Kiwi roots ensure that cricket also gets its fair share of screen time.

"I love cricket," she says. "And I'm really looking forward to the

upcoming tests between New Zealand and England." Due to the time

difference the pub won't be showing the matches in New Zealand, but the Kiwis are due to visit England later in the year and McKeon says that they will definitely be holding some events centred on the series.

Depending on the nature of the match, anywhere between 50 and 70 punters cram into the pub to watch the TV screens that line one side of the venue. And McKeon employs her canny marketing prowess to introduce enticing promotions that help maximise returns over the bar.

One of the most popular promotions was a drinks loyalty card during the cricket world cup last year. "The card has 12 squares on it and for every drink they buy, customers get a stamp," explains McKeon. "When they complete a card they get a free drink and their card - which has their name on it - goes into a glass. At the end of the tournament we hold a prize draw." Prizes include sports shirts or a voucher for a meal for two in the pub's restaurant. In addition, when different countries are involved in a tournament the pub occasionally serves themed food dishes, which have also proven to be a hit with the punters.

In fact, the pub is so entrenched in the sport that throughout

McKeon's tenure a local cricket team has always been affiliated to it.

J Diane's top tip: "You need to do something that attracts everybody's interest. People like to feel that they are getting something back - especially if they spend a lot of money in the pub - even if it is only a T-shirt or a couple of drinks. Everybody likes to get something for free."

Marston's: smashing the opposition for six

Before the projected slowdown in early 2008 threatens to take hold, now is a great time for your pub to forge a solid reputation as a venue for watching sports.

Once the summer cricket matches are here and sporting fans, starved of any

other decent matchplay nourishment, start racking their brains for a venue to watch some Twenty20 action, it will pay to pull out all the stops to make your pub stand out from the crowd.

Essentially, you have to position your pub as a great place to watch some cricket - build a reputation and become famous for it.

Marston's is the Official Beer of the

England cricket team. Marston's Beer Company marketing manager Ian Ward says that being hooked up to Sky isn't all there is to it. "Think about the PoS - last year we produced a stunning cricket-stump hand pull, some creative branded glasses, some top stump cards for serious fans to enjoy

as well as Hoggy's Night Watchman beer," says Ward.

"Think about your food - maybe cucumber sandwiches and a pint of Pedigree might be pushing it too far, but you get the idea," adds Ward. "Be creative with the subject and avoid getting caught short. Just dust

off your

sporting calendar,

do some warm-ups - then hit your customers

for six."

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