Rethink on strategy to attract Asian fans

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The Independent Online

The conspicuous lack of support for Pakistan until the final day of the third Test in Leeds is likely to prompt a rethink in marketing strategy for future series.

The Headingley Carnegie Stadium enjoyed sell-out crowds on four of the five days, which drew more than 78,000 spectators in total. Yet despite substantial efforts by the host county, Yorkshire, to generate interest among the huge Pakistani population in the Leeds and Bradford areas, only Tuesday's audience contained any meaningful numbers cheering for the touring side.

Yorkshire had expected interest on a similar scale to the 2001 series against Pakistan, when the Headingley fixture was played against a colourful, noisy backdrop more in keeping with Lahore than Leeds, and the chief executive, Stewart Regan, admitted that the club would have to examine other ways to sell future games after this year's strategy produced such disappointing results.

"We are one of the first clubs to market a Test match in two languages, both on local Asian radio stations and in Asian newspapers, particularly in the Bradford area," Regan said.

"However, the enormous interest in the England side generated by the Ashes series prompted many England fans to buy tickets in advance and there was a big early take-up for the first three days. These were bought largely using credit or charge cards through the Ticketmaster system and we think that might be one reason why fewer Pakistan supporters bought in advance. The ECB [England and Wales Cricket Board] has looked at the buying habits of Asian cricket fans and it appears they are less likely to buy in advance or to use plastic than England supporters, preferring to pay with cash.

"It was significant that on the last day, when tickets were on sale at £15 for adults and £5 for children on the gate, there was a huge turnout of Pakistan fans, the biggest the series has seen so far."

The Tuesday crowd was estimated at 16,000. The first three days sold out at 17,000 with around 11,500 in attendance on Monday.

Regan said: "From the club's point of view the crowd figures were a great result but we will have to see what else we can do in future to encourage Pakistan supporters to buy tickets early. However, we obviously need to balance the desire to attract more fans from the Asian community against our commercial targets."

Horns and whistles, which were popular with Pakistan fans in 2001, have since been banned from cricket grounds on security advice, and Regan admitted that stewarding at Headingley had been "very robust" in the light of problems five years ago when fans invaded the field and pulled up the stumps. A steward suffered a broken nose.

Regan did not think those measures had a deterrent effect. "Pakistan fans are passionate about their cricket," he said. "I don't think they were put off. When they did come along they were dressed in their replica shirts and draped themselves in flags."

Headingley's experience reflected that reported by Lancashire after the second Test, where similar efforts to publicise the game among Manchester's Pakistani community also received a disappointing response.