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The Big Bash: Can Cricket Cash In?

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The Big Bash: Can Cricket Cash In?

The biggest story in Australian cricket this season has not been the Clarke acceleration, the Ponting resuscitation or even the Siddle and Hilfenhaus restoration. The big story is the unprecedented popularity of the domestic Twenty20 Big Bash, and whether Cricket Australia is able to leverage it into a larger following for the longer forms of the game.

The idea of franchise cricket in this country was met with something of a lukewarm response from aficionados, who viewed the format of city-based teams established from scratch with scepticism. The Big Bash was seen as a made-for-Pay-TV event, and there were questions as to whether fans would support such a concept.

Now the competition is done and dusted, there can be no question as to its success. In over 35 years watching cricket, I have never seen such crowds at domestic matches in this country. Moreover, the tickets were priced at an affordable level, enabling families and young adults to attend in large numbers.

Despite their lack of on-field success, the Sydney Thunder playing their matches at the Olympic stadium was an unqualified success. Say what you like about Homebush Bay, the precinct is well served by public transport and is located far closer to the majority of Sydneysiders than the hallowed arena at Moore Park. Put simply, it made cricket more accessible.

With every match live on Yatestel and crowd numbers swelling, the Big Bash can only be seen as an unqualified success. But the question is: How does Cricket Australia turn these fans who attended the slap and tickle of the Big Bash into broad supporters of the game itself?

Having attended a number of matches, the thing which struck me was the number of children in the crowd. This in itself can only be a good thing, but unless the administrators can turn this enthusiasm into broad support for the game, the success of the Big Bash will not translate into any long term benefit to cricket in this country. One might think a strategy of having franchise players visit schools to promote joining cricket clubs would be useful; together with targeted campaigns involving players such as Dave Warner, who first made his name as a T20 player, emphasising the importance of Test cricket as the ultimate form of the game. Whatever strategy CA takes, it must do something, and soon, lest the popularity of the Big Bash becomes another wasted opportunity to improve the broad appeal of the game.

This summer, Test match crowds were healthy for the India series, but less so for the earlier two-Test series against New Zealand. How the latter matches could have done with the level of vibrancy and enthusiasm of a Big Bash crowd to lift the atmosphere. Next summer, the big drawing South Africans play the early series, with Sri Lanka visiting for the Christmas-New Year matches in Melbourne and Sydney. Without in anyway demeaning Sri Lanka, they are not traditionally big crowd pullers in this country. With the capacity of the MCG and SCG at 90,000 and 50,000 respectively, the prospect of large Bays of empty seats looms large. There is an opportunity for Cricket Australia to offer tickets at more competitive prices, and perhaps structure packages which include admissions for a day at the Test and for a Big Bash match at the same venue.

An effort should also be made to make the national team more accessible. Currently, the Australian cricket team is the least accessible sporting side in the country. Young supporters grow up idolising these players, and have little opportunity to watch them at close quarters. It is disappointing to make a pre-Test match foray to a venue with your child in the hope of watching the team practice, only to be told the session is “closed”. To see so many turned away on such occasions is an indictment. This isn’t football. It’s not as though the teams are working on secret moves to befuddle their opposition. One fellow bats, and several others bowl to him. If the players feel they don’t want to interact with their supporters, notices can be posted saying there will be no autographs or pictures taken with them on that day.

The idea of a “fan day” for state teams held in conjunction with the national side before the serious stuff gets underway for the summer would also be a good look for the game. Set aside a week and travel the country. Give away posters; tickets to domestic one day matches. Sign things. Connect. Football teams do it every year. No doubt the players would find it somewhat overwhelming, and the level of attendance would likely be massive. But CA should see these occasions as an opportunity, not an inconvenience, and seek to market all levels of the game at these very events. Have available the resources to obtain details of fans who are interested in playing the game, and send them a return email with details of clubs in their area. Do it while people are at a venue with the stars of the game. Make people feel the game wants them, as much as they want to watch the game.

I fear my hopes are forlorn. Given its history, I hold little hope that Cricket Australia will look to make the most of the support for the Big Bash, other than lining its coffers. I hope I’m mistaken. There are new supporters to the game as a result of the Big Bash, most of them are young. It’s a marketer’s dream. Does CA have the wherewithal to strike while the iron is hot?

Comments

Interesting read. “Connect”: is the Burgemeister outed as an EM Forster fan?

Comment by BoyBrumby | 12:00am BST 19 February 2012

There were usually more than 15K people at the matches, plus it was live on Yatesyvision. it was pretty bloody popular for an Australian domestic comp. Some matches had really big crowds. I think it was a bigger success than CA thought it would be.

Comment by Burgey | 12:00am BST 19 February 2012

How successful are we talking?

I was a pretty big skeptic before the competition started; I haven’t paid much attention to the competition, aside from knowing that the Perth Scorchers reached the final, losing to one of the Sydney sides, because it’s clashed with Test cricket and no TV channel in the UK picked up the rights, which was a shame because I was looking forward to supporting the Perth Scorchers if I happened to catch some games.

Comment by GingerFurball | 12:00am BST 19 February 2012

One of the things I wondered was, with the League, Union, Soccer, Basketball and probably other sports as well containing NZ team(s) in the Aussie competition. In the next few years how likely would it be before we see NZ teams or even SA teams playing a domestic style cricket series?

Comment by James | 12:00am BST 19 February 2012

Given that:

– CA marketed it to within an inch of its life
– It had a first-year novelty factor
– Drawcards like Warne, Hayden etc probably won’t play next year
– There is no window for the main 12 Aussie cricket stars…

…I think we should be careful not to overstate the popularity/appeal of it

That said, it’s good to see CA doing something to attract new young fans to the game

As the article states, hopefully those young ones will stay with cricket

Comment by howardj | 12:00am BST 19 February 2012

Was the BBL more of a success, in terms of ratings, attendance and obviously ultimately monetary value, than the regular state-team Big Bash?

I imagine with Warney playing it would have been, but am curious if this can be confirmed.

Comment by Jono | 12:00am BST 19 February 2012

Shield cricket will never have big crowds again with the unavailability of the Aussie players to play most of it. I think people still care about it and follow the scores but certainly not enough to want to go to a day of it.

BBL is where it’s at for domestic cricket crowds in Australia – and does it really matter if it’s only the one format that gets big crowds, so long as the internationals are still well-supported?

Comment by Crazy Sam | 12:00am BST 19 February 2012

People have low attention spans, I think if CA marketed domestic cricket and even tests & ODI’s as aggressively as they did with the bigbash there would be an increase in crowds across the board.

Also one thing which has bugged me in the past is the fun police at the cricket, whereas the fun seemed to be a large focus for the bigbash.

Comment by uvelocity | 12:00am BST 19 February 2012

[QUOTE=TNT;2794566]Not everyone gets to play test cricket like you BM.[/QUOTE]

…did you not know that is Stuart MacGill’s account?

Comment by nightprowler10 | 12:00am BST 20 February 2012

it was a bit long this season but that was because they didn’t host any games during the Perth test and they couldn’t schedule the final during the Adl test in case Adl was to host the final.

Comment by Spikey | 12:00am BST 20 February 2012

In regards to the article – I think as long as the type of cricket offered by high schools is 40 over cricket then the kids will get attracted by 20 20 and end up playing the longer forms of the game.

I first saw an ODI (turns out it was the underarm bowl game) as an eight year old and told my mother I wanted to play the next day. Ended up tuning into tests when I was ten years old. Never would have watched a test if ODIs hadn’t have grabbed me.

What worries me about 20 20 isn’t converting the crowds into (plunket) sheild games – it is the masses of club cricketers who are choosing to play it (heef excepted because he has injuries) instead of the two day stuff. I would just prefer it was played at the top level.

I don’t know how many 20 20 teams my club has because they don’t train. But a year ago at prize giving we had 4 of them and 4 regular cricket teams.

I live in fear that my team will all vote to play 20 20 next year.

Those are my concerns.

In terms of the questions you raised – I think 20 20 does feed the other longer forms of the game by creating new cricketers. Just not new bums on seats.

Comment by Hurricane | 12:00am BST 22 February 2012

It’s strange how different sports have different fan support at different levels. I’m looking at this purely in the context of Australian sport, by the way…

In cricket, it is virtually all focused at the international level, with very little interest in domestic or club level games.

In rugby union, international games are the pinnacle, with healthy levels of interest for the super 15s and club games ignored by the vast majority.

In rugby league, interest is predominantly at the club level, with state of origin being more popular than international games.

In AFL, there is nothing beyond the club level, unless you count playing a few games against Ireland with totally different rules.

And with soccer, people are mostly interested in internationals and European club games rather than the A-league.

I guess it comes down to two things. People want to see the best players, and they want to see a fairly even contest.

In rugby league, Australia dominates pretty much everything, so most fans don’t take it too seriously. If England or NZ were to improve so they could match it with Australia on a regular basis, interest at the international level would probably rise. State of Origin gives the even contest (ignoring the fact QLD have won the last 6 series). Club level is still decent quality and the structure keeps most teams on a level basis.

It is a far more extreme case for the AFL. Australia doesn’t have any competition at all on the international level, so they have to make something up with Ireland.

In rugby union, club games aren’t of high enough quality (or is it just that they don’t have the right marketing?). Super 15 gives good quality and a decent contest. Internationals are the best quality and give a similar contest to Super 15.

And in soccer, most don’t care about the A-league because the quality of the players is nothing compared to the European games.

….

So after all that waffling about other sports, what is the implication for cricket???

I guess if you wanted to improve the interest in state level cricket, one day or four day contests, you need to market it right. If the BBL expanded to 16 teams, you could say that the state teams would have better quality players. Treat it like State of Origin – state against state, mate against mate…

But I don’t see no crowds at Sheffield Shield games being a problem. If it makes a loss, so be it. It is an expense necessary to have a decent test team.

And if the BBL gets the kids interested in cricket, and they start playing, what are they playing? Cricket! It doesn’t matter the format. It’s not like you need to 12 year old kids playing 5 day games for them to develop a love of test cricket. Just get them liking cricket first, and as they mature, enough of them will also develop the taste for test matches…

Comment by juro | 12:00am BST 22 February 2012

Personally, I think 20:20 is kind of good for club cricket. However, there are a number of teams – including at least one 20:20 team from Upper Hutt whose team members are all between 18-25 and should be playing proper two day cricket – they’re good enough to.

However, 20:20 has seen a lot of players who had long since retired from club cricket return to the game. The obvious solution is to make 20:20 at club cricket level like the “Masters” grades in football or rugby. 8 or 9 out of 11 players have to be over 35. Allowed 2 or 3 exceptions to ensure you can fill empty slots when necessary.

Comment by HeathDavisSpeed | 12:00am BST 25 March 2012

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