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Stick Cricket is a website visited by more than 2 million unique users every month, with each user averaging more than 20 minutes per visit. The website is positioned outside the sporting website category by internet research firms, and this oversight does not consider the valuable consumer segments that these types of websites may hold. This case study describes the business decisions of the Stick Cricket developers in taking a flash-based computer game and creating a website that has been transformed into a sporting portal. The factors that contribute to this success are discussed and provide useful tips for website developers and sports marketers.
Previous research in sports marketing has examined a number of issues concerning the utility of the internet for sporting organisations. Primarily the internet was used by sports organisations to provide news and information to the sports consumer (Delpy & Bosetti, 1998; Beech et al, 2000). As websites have evolved from this information focus to having more of a business focus, emphasis has been placed on e-commerce applications and the internet's role in supporting the overall marketing communications mix. One of the key issues facing all sporting organisations is the level of interactivity on their websites. Interactivity--the creation of a 'sticky' website--is central to their ability to retain internet users. This paper aims to highlight the existence of sporting entertainment-games sites that have as yet to be considered 'real' sporting properties (Hitwise, 2005) but have nevertheless created a new category of online sports organisations. Although these sites do not deal with the administration and management of physical sporting leagues, they require consideration as components of the sports marketing industry.
The overall purpose of this case study is to highlight the ability of these entertainment-games websites to attract and retain potentially valuable segments of consumers.
To highlight the challenges and opportunities faced by web developers, this case study is organised as follows:
First, the background will cover existing research on the use of the internet in sports marketing and will define a number of key terms to be used in the article.
Second, the objectives and rationale are presented. Central to this is the growing worldwide popularity of cricket, which is the dominant sport on the subcontinent politically, economically and socially and which is beginning to gain the attention of sports marketers interested in tapping into this global reach. Key cricket websites are analysed to provide context for understanding the growing interest in this area.
The findings in this case point to tips for the development of sports organisations to capitalise on their online products--in this case the game of Stick Cricket. The case details the problems encountered by the business developers in establishing the website and achieving financial viability--relevant to sports marketers and practitioners in website management. The case also addresses the maintenance of relationships between the website and its business-to-business and business-to-consumer markets.
The final section highlights implications for online sports marketing and the importance of considering entertainment-games sites--and the consumers of these sites--as a legitimate aspect of the online sports segment.
Existing literature and terminology
Research into the use of the internet in sports marketing arose in the mid to late 1990s, at the same time as the internet phenomenon was growing as a matter of public interest. Initial research undertaken was investigative and based on opportunities for existing sports businesses that operated physical sporting leagues and competitions (Delpy & Bosetti, 1998; Kahle & Meeske, 1999). Investigations also focused on the number of sports enthusiasts and fans going online in order to satisfy their hunger for team- and sports-related information (Duncan & Campbell, 1999; Brown, 2003). It was this desire for information that led initial developments in sports website design. E-commerce applications, now a feature of many professional sporting websites, were at that time restricted through lack of security in online transactions; opportunities for business development were limited.
Once the information needs of many sports fans had been partly satisfied through the provision of pages of related information, research began to focus on critical issues such as the website's commercial viability and the choice of financing models (Caskey & Delpy, 1999). To finance a website, developers generally have three choices: the sale of advertising space; the use of sponsorships and partnerships; and the use of subscriptions. Each of these methods requires maximising unique user hits. This research also collected opinions from web developers on the role of the website in a business: it was found to be a secondary business function. This critical approach highlighted the difficulties in making information technology a value-adding aspect of the business, rather than just an isomorphic reaction to competition--'the only reason we have [a website] is that everyone else has one' (Caskey & Delpy, 1999).
In response to these issues further studies have investigated the management and strategic use of websites (Beech et al, 2000; Evans & Smith, 2004). It was identified that the internet should be incorporated into the organisation's mission and objectives in order to exploit all the opportunities that arise. Sports club and league websites must also transform from simply satisfying information needs to contributing value-adding business functions that cater for the needs of their users. Burmaster (2006) states that if sports websites are to attract and retain unique users, and compete with general entertainment websites, user needs must be identified and satisfied. Central to success is the updating of a website with frequent product features and service extensions. Other research has examined the content of websites and their overall congruence with the sports organisation's marketing mix (Carlson et al, 2001; Filo & Funk, 2005). Findings suggested that the majority of sports websites focus on the product-related aspects of the marketing mix but exclude other elements. Filo & Funk (2005) went further, to find that there was little congruence between the attractive aspects of the offline product, as learned from consumers, and what was presented and promoted online. Again it appears that the business objectives of the organisation as a whole were not in line with the website and the needs of the consumer were being …