Australian cricket is in great health

Date: January 26, 2017 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

The Big Bash League has become a juggernaut. The sixth edition of the Twenty20 franchise league has again broken records.

Last night’s crowd at the Gabba for the second semi-final between Brisbane Heat and Sydney Sixers took the aggregate tournament attendance to 1,032,165. With the final still to be played on Saturday at the WACA Ground, BBL06 will register a new 35-match attendance record, eclipsing the existing record of 1,030,495 from last season.

When the BBL moved to its current 35-game schedule in 2012-13, the aggregate crowd was 503,262. Attendances have more than doubled since then.

This season’s average attendance will be over 30,000 per match against the 14,379 in 2012-13.

With the Scorchers moving from the 21,000-seat WACA Ground to the new 60,000-seat Perth Stadium next season another rise in attendance figures will likely be on the cards.

For Cricket Australia, the BBL has been a godsend.

When the next Big Bash TV deal is signed, CA will savour a quantum leap in rights fees. The Ten Network secured the current broadcast rights in 2013 for $20m per year. When the present agreement ends next year industry insiders predict the rights could go for as much as $60m per season.

Such is the drawing power of the BBL, last week, except for the Nick Kyrgios match on Wednesday night, it rated better than the Australian Open on the Seven Network.

Once again, it has also pulled larger TV audiences than Australia’s one-day matches against Pakistan.

Cast an eye over any of the telecasts and you will see a higher proportion of children in the crowd when compared to the other forms of the sport.

There are numerous ‘hooks’ that have help attract the youth market – scheduling the tournament in its entirety during the school holidays; the fact the match is all over inside four hours; and the constant razzmatazz, music and pyrotechnics.

What remains to be seen is what the viewing habits of these new fans will be in the decades ahead.

Cricket Australia will be hoping that the fledgling supporters follow the path that David Warner did with his international playing career – moving from T20 to ODI to Tests.

If my 11-year-old son is a barometer the transition will take a while.

He very quickly became a rusted-on Perth Scorchers member and fan. He will be at the final on Saturday, along with three mates from his junior cricket team. Yet, when asked if he wanted to go to the ODI between Australia and Pakistan last week at the WACA Ground his response was a definitive ‘no’. The answer would have been the same had it been a Test match in prospect.

As I am penning this column he is glued to the TV watching the Heat-Sixers semi-final. He will be unlikely to give today’s ODI at Adelaide Oval more than a cursory glance on the television. And this from a boy who is being raised in a household of cricket purists.

Richie Benaud opined 30-odd years ago that Test cricket would, in time, become primarily a television event, one that would be followed intermittently on the tube rather than from the ground.

In most countries that has become the norm. Except for England, Australia and India crowds have thinned substantially.

Even in India, where the sport is followed with an affection akin to what Brazilians have for football, cities like Delhi, Nagpur and Mohali rarely manage half-filled stadia.

Whilst Australia has led the move to day-night Tests, and with it a spike in crowds, it is hard to envisage the longest form of the game ever attracting the global spectator base of year’s past.

But, in the end, how important is that in the grand scheme of things?

While some will never see T20 as being ‘real cricket’ it nonetheless helps underpin the longer forms. Spectator numbers dropped off when ODIs became a widespread phenomenon. Nowadays, the T20s have drawn spectators away from the 50-over game.

In the end, though, each of those spectators is watching the game of cricket.

They may not be watching the form that all of us prefer but I would contend that more people turn out to watch the sport nowadays then in past years, and surely, for the sport that is a good thing.

In any business, and that is what the game is at the elite level, the key is attracting clientele.

Presently, cricket is maximising that by catering for varied tastes.

In the end the whole is made up of various parts. And in the current day those parts add up to a sport that is in good health in this country.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 26 January 2017, soliciting 39 comments