Maaike de Vries, Kia’s events and sponsorship manager, explains why the Korean motoring giants are launching the Kia Summer Smash.
In 2014 Kia took the momentous decision to sign a standalone commercial sponsorship deal to support the England Women’s cricket team. Consequently, when the England and Wales Cricket Board decided to launch its Women’s Super League for 2016, it was “a natural decision” for Kia to get involved and take the title sponsorship, says Kia events and sponsorship manager de Vries.
Now in 2019, launching the Kia Summer Smash, a new grassroots T10 competition for female club cricketers run by The Cricketer, is their chance to extend their support beyond the elite game, says de Vries.
“It’s our way of giving something back to women’s cricket. We have helped women’s cricket go professional at the elite level, and have been part of helping the England Women’s cricket team win a World Cup; now we want to support the girls who will be the national women’s cricketers of tomorrow.”
The Kia Summer Smash begins with four regional festivals for women’s grassroots teams on Saturdays in July and August this summer, and ends in a grand final at The Kia Oval on September 20, soon after the men’s Ashes have been presented on the very same ground.
“The Kia Summer Smash will give grassroots women’s club cricketers the chance to play more matches – and that’s incredibly exciting. It gives the next generation of women’s players the chance to play competitive cricket on good grounds, with the best facilities. This is, for us, the grassroots version of the Kia Super League.”
De Vries says that Kia’s pioneering decision to back women’s cricket back in 2014 has been one which has succeeded beyond their estimation – with England’s 2017 Women’s World Cup success and the steady growth of the six-team Kia Super League over its first three seasons.
“Back in 2014 the Kia philosophy was to be ‘a challenger brand’. We wanted to be known for not doing things the same as every other sponsor and backing women’s sport was key to this.
“So instead of aiming for a game-wide sponsorship, where Kia would mainly sponsor the men with the women an add-on, we decided on a standalone sponsorship of the England Women’s cricket team.
“When we met with the ECB it became very clear that a commercial sponsorship would make a big difference to the progression of the women’s team.
“We decided to make a statement about investing in the future of women’s cricket, and the future of women’s sport.
“I think back then women’s sport was just on the cusp of being popular – now look at it. It’s gone through the roof – and in cricket the England Women won the World Cup. We are delighted to have been part of that.”
In the first year of the Kia Super League, the tournament was not televised. But last season Sky Sports, the ECB’s live broadcast partner, showed 12 games live – and according to Sky Sports Head of Cricket Bryan Henderson, TV ratings for Kia Super League matches compared to men’s Royal London One-Day Cup matches. Kia Super League highlights have also achieved great online interest, especially when India’s Smriti Mandhana was batting for Western Storm.
De Vries says: “When we went into the Kia Super League, Kia thought it would be a slow-growing project and expected it to take around five years before we might see growth and recognition. There was no talk at all of it being on TV at the start. But it took off, with excellent coverage on Sky Sports and BBC Radio, and by 2018 there were 12 games shown on Sky, with the standard of cricket is improving all the time. It’s happened a lot quicker than we expected – which is great news on every level.”
As for the England Women’s players, they are each given a Kia Sportage, an SUV 4×4 – which helps them get around from matches to training to other events. “The players love the Kia Sportage! Every 9,000 miles we swap the vehicles and they get a new one.”
The Kia Summer Smash is part of a strategy to increase Kia’s reach into club cricket, says de Vries.
“We have 192 Kia dealerships across the UK. Up to now we have invested in cricket on a national level, but we wanted to invest at a local level. In 2017, we started a local Kia dealership gift of kit initiative, by which the Kia dealerships could agree to support a local cricket club with a one-off donation of shirts in exchange for running an event at their ground. Launching the Kia Summer Smash is a continuation of this grassroots strategy.”
The Kia Summer Smash begins in the west of the country on July 13 when the first of four regional festival takes place, before the finals day at the Kia Oval on September 20.