CRICKET, and county cricket in particular, is frequently hamstrung by a perception of lack of interest.

At the start of a domestic season, images of swathes of empty seats or lonely spectators wrapped up with a Thermos are circulated which serve only to enhance this ‘one man and his dog’ narrative.

“It is a perception that is just incorrect,” begins Ben Warren, Somerset's digital marketing and communications executive.

“It’s too easy to say ‘no-one cares about it’ – it just isn’t true.”

Warren, 27, has been in his role since 2015 and has been integral in helping to transform those stereotypes through a combination of engaging social media usage and, crucially, live streaming of matches.

The initiative began part way through the 2017 season and, since then, the numbers speak for themselves; last season, Somerset’s live stream attracted 500,000 views from South Petherton to South Korea, while the in-play video clips on social media were watched over 13.2 million times.

As a Somerset fan himself who was brought up in Bridgwater, Warren was fully aware of the strength of the club’s support and has now played a key part in providing the evidence to back that up - as well as connecting supporters from far and wide to their home ground.

“We have shown there is a massive audience for county cricket,” he said.

“Potentially we can now explore avenues looking into that, whereas previously that was just based on people sat in the stands.

“We all know that doesn’t represent the entire interest – people can’t commit full days or four days to come and sit here.

“We always knew we had a huge fanbase and it’s really nice to have a vehicle to prove that.

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“No-one really knew how successful streams would be.

“The numbers here have dwarfed any other county, which is amazing really.

“It has made it so, so worthwhile to explore future innovations and improvements and make it as easy as possible for people to follow Somerset.

“It is also truly humbling to read the messages we receive, on a personal and club level.

“The numbers are fantastic but it’s also about the individual stories you hear about people who couldn’t make it to games through illness, or can’t physically make it to the ground, that can now follow Somerset.

“We have also heard from people with mental health issues that didn’t feel comfortable coming to the ground to watch but now, through watching streaming, they have built up that confidence to come and enjoy the environment here.

“That has been our goal – we want to get the interest in Somerset County Cricket Club, and county cricket in general, as high as possible.”

It is not just the stream which has helped Somerset engage with their fanbase.

The club’s Twitter following has grown from 20,000 to nigh on 100,000 during Warren’s tenure and Somerset were recently named the UK’s best sports club on social media in a survey by marketing agency Red Hot Penny.

Warren is humble about the award - "I am truly overwhelmed by all the messages I have received" - but admits to an understandable feeling of pride as well as excitement as to what the future may hold.

This could include roaming cameras on the stream, which is currently provided by fixed cameras behind the bowler’s arm at either end, though this depends on future broadcast rights deals and the costs involved.

“We would love to keep it free and that is our intention,” Warren said.

“We would consult with supporters as we want to know their opinions.

“We are looking at it from a fan engagement point of view, rather than a business one. It is not something where we are thinking ‘this is a great opportunity to make some money’.”

The players, too, are grateful for the work Warren and the social media team do – with the photography of Alex Davidson, 19, up there with the best the country has to offer in any sport.

“There has been a change in attitude among the players,” Warren said.

“When I started, a lot of people were aware of the negatives of social media but now they see the potential of putting themselves out there and building their brands, if you like.”

Warren cites Dom Bess, “a joy to work with”, as an example of how Somerset’s players have become accessible to supporters both at the ground and online and adds: “People like Tom Banton are at an age where they have grown up with social media and they are right on it.

“They are asking for photos and videos and are keen to post it. We want to build a network of social content and the players are a huge part of that.

“Clearly their primary job is to perform on the field and I’d like to think we have struck up a good balance – we don’t want to disrupt them, but there is a level of trust there.

“We have a really exciting summer ahead of us and, of course, we are all hoping it ends with a trophy.”