Cricket Australia acknowledges it has work to do in solidifying its Big Bash League fan base in Melbourne and Sydney but BBL chief Kim McConnie has vowed not to be reactive, declaring the first summer of the expanded competition a success.
Wholesale change is unlikely for next season, however McConnie said the contentious finals format was one of the first agenda items for a post-BBL review, suggesting that momentum was building for the minor premiers to be given a double chance.
Crowd averages in Melbourne and Sydney have been smaller than in previous years.Credit:AAP
The move to a full home and away calendar of 59 games has brought with it a plateau in television ratings and a drop in average attendance of around 6000, although the fact there have been 16 more games has meant overall crowd numbers are up on the 2017-18 summer.
Despite the Melbourne Stars and Renegades making the final, the Sydney Sixers making the semi-finals and the Sydney Thunder being in contention until the final weekend of the regular season, average home crowds have been down for all four clubs in Australia’s two biggest markets. That can in part be attributed to the fact the Stars, Renegades and Thunder all played home games away from their respective primary venues, with games held in Moe, Geelong, Gold Coast and Canberra across the summer.
Despite the downturn McConnie said the season could still get a tick, claiming that CA also knew growth wouldn’t be linear.
“The reason we shifted to a full home and away season was to make sure we are a sport for all Australians, and in order to be a sport for all Australians, you need to play in all parts of Australia,” McConnie told The Age.
“We also knew that it wasn’t going to be about average attendances. We also knew that it was going to take fans a while to catch up … that we’d end up with smaller crowds at some games. And we’re OK with that. It’s going to take us a couple of seasons to push that back up. Because this is only our eighth year, we’ve got the luxury of time.
“The challenges we see are in our two-team markets. As we look at it, there are a couple of isolated areas where in big major cities, we’re just competing against so much more, it’s a little bit harder for us to pick up that momentum. There’s a little bit more work to do in Sydney and Melbourne to build the fan base back up again.”
Pursuant to the broadcast deal signed with Fox and Channel Seven last year, CA is committed to a 59-game season, although McConnie said CA was open to tinkering with the schedule, planning to have next year’s structure locked away inside the next three months.
Any changes to the BBL season will be made within the context of changes to the home season at large. It looks increasingly likely the domestic one-day competition will be played in two pre-Christmas blocks, with six Sheffield Shields rounds to be interspersed around the one-dayers. The BBL could begin slightly later next summer, having started on December 19 this season, although it is still likely to commence just before Christmas and run to mid-February, with the Shield season to be completed afterwards.
“Seven home games is by no means too much for each club. What we’re going to look at after this season though is the window those matches operate in,” McConnie said.
“I think what’s really important is we’re not going to be reactive.
“We moved outside the school holidays and people still came along."
Issues with pitches and a lack of big-name overseas stars have been given as contributing factors to the drop-off in crowds and overall cricket quality this summer, although McConnie said that CA’s reviews had actually found pitches had been better this summer, with isolated problems shaping a negative narrative.
As for attracting better international players, McConnie said clubs would try to obtain the best talent, but noted that supposed lesser-lights like Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan and Nepal’s Sandeep Lamichhane had proved to be popular with crowds. She also said it had been great to have the backend of the BBL season clear for Australian players like Glenn Maxwell and Aaron Finch to feature in their sides’ respective runs to the final.
Meanwhile the finals format will also be discussed after the Hobart Hurricanes became the sixth minor premiers in eight BBL seasons to be eliminated at the semi-final stage.
“The finals is one of the things that we’re going to review first. We’re going to see if this finals structure is the best structure. There’s definitely momentum for the top team getting a second chance.”
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