Cricket is quite an odd sport in that it has massive global appeal, but relatively little economic power. The principle reason for the unusual mix is that there are few successful domestic leagues around the world and without domestic leagues, each country only has one team (the national team) to extract money. This is particularly the case in Australia. Arguably, cricket is Australia's most popular sport, but it is also one of Australia's most economically vulnerable and one with little market power compared to football, rugby league and even soccer.
20/20 cricket is likely to change the situation. If the new version develops as many commentators expect, there will be a proliferation of domestic leagues around the world, and cricket may end up being the most powerful sport in the world. 20/20 cricket is the first version of cricket that is suitable to a home and away format run along the lines of a football competition. A typical game starts at 5.30pm and is over by 8pm. Fans could watch the game after work, or as part of their weekly routine.
Like baseball in America, 20/20 is also a version of sport that can be played more than once a week. Potentially, a team in a domestic 20/20 cricket league could play 3 to 4 times a week, and pull annual crowds three times more than that of the football codes.
At present, Australia has been relatively inactive on the 20/20 front. It is in India and the West Indies where most of the revolutions are going on. In the West Indies, an American, Alan Stanford, has seen the potential 20/20 to form a bridge between South and North America. With more than 20 countries involved, Stanford's 20/20 tournament is numerically the largest tournament in the Americas. Admittedly, the largest countries of the region, such as Brazil and the United States, are not represented. However, teams could be contrived relatively simply and if so, both would be fertile markets for television. If so, a small sport could grow in a very rapid pace.
In India, two rival leagues have long-term plans to create a league format similar to America's NBA or major league baseball. The Indian Premier League (IPL) is sanctioned by boards around the world. The ICL is a "rebel" league that is not sanctioned by cricket boards. Both leagues are bidding for players from around the world.
The Indian leagues are going to set cricket in Australia on a path of turmoil. In the short term, Cricket Australia will find that it won't be able to sell India television rights to its state cricket competition that is traditionally used to train Australian players for test cricket. Furthermore, more Australian players will play in India and forget about state cricket. Inevitably, state cricket, as it is played today, will no longer be economically viable.
Even if state and test cricket were able to survive in Australia, the Indian developments are going to weaken Australia's competition to such an extent that Australia just won't have teams to play against. International cricket against New Zealand will be one of the first casualties. New Zealand's cricket team was never strong to begin with, and now it has lost half of its players to India. It is unlikely the New Zealand public will tolerate Australia regularly thrashing it even more than it does already, and test cricket in New Zealand will further decline in popularity.
How Cricket Australia reacts to this period of turmoil will ultimately determine whether cricket grows in popularity or falls into insignificance. If Cricket Australia does nothing, there is a small chance that soccer could exploit the chaos in its ranks to become a dominant force in the Australian summer. The only real option available to cricket is to create a national domestic 20/20 league run along the lines of a football competition. Such a competition would not leave much room for training players for test cricket or even one-day cricket. Furthermore, it probably would not have much scope for paying tribute to cricket Australia's traditions and heritage.
Understandably, not everyone in Australia is enthused by 20/20 cricket. That said, these critics are not bothered by the completely empty stadiums that Australia's state cricketers play in front of. Ultimately, the voices of 40,000 spectators paying to watch a game, whatever its format, mean more than a bitter old fogey complaining about traditions being disrespected.
If Cricket Australia maintains its traditionalist position, it may end up suffering the same fate as traditionalists in other industries that put them offside from market pressures. Cricket could die, or their control of cricket could be taken away from them.
In regards to Cricket Australia losing control, it is quite possible that a "rebel" Australian league could be established by the players who want to expose themselves for greater riches in India or the Americas. At present, only a very limited number of players get Cricket Australia contracts and most are underpaid for what they do. Furthermore, many players have been unfairly overlooked for selection, or dropped from the team. Such players would welcome a new cricketing format that would not only provide them with more remuneration but also give them some bargaining power. They would also welcome the opportunity to show themselves in the format where the big money is.
If a domestic league is established, soccer's niche in summer time will close. Furthermore, oval stadiums that can also be used by football will become more viable.
Potential cities for a cricket league: