Exclusive Roar guest column Big Bash League project owner Mike McKenna continues the discussion with Roarers about the Big Bash League.
It has been interesting to read all the passionate comments about the game of cricket, the level of support for Interstate cricket, and the thoughts of dedicated cricket fans on the Big Bash League plans.
Interstate cricket, in the Sheffield Shield and Ryobi Cup (and its previous incarnations), has been at the centre of talent development for the Australian Test and One Day team, since the game’s beginnings in Australia.
Cricket Australia and State Associations invest millions in sustaining these competitions to help produce the best possible players for the national team. Our recent announcement that the Sheffield Shield competition will continue to be played over a full ten rounds and the Ryobi Cup reinforces our commitment to these competitions.
International cricket is by far our most important focus and our Board and CEO continue to reinforce that position and the place of Interstate cricket to that cause.
But let’s get real. How many people are passionately committed to their State team?
Sure, there are plenty who follow the scores, check out the points table and are delighted when their State wins the Shield.
However only a few, very loyal and passionate fans, attend more than the occasional match.
We average less than 1,500 fans to State cricket clashes.
Compare that to the AFL, NRL, the A-League or any other professional sporting League in the world and make your own judgements about the commitment of fans to State cricket.
The Big Bash has come onto the scene in the last five years and has been embraced by fans attending matches, watching the Fox Sports broadcast and talking about local heroes. Fans are telling us that this form of the game is very appealing and that they want more.
In that time we have had more fans attending International cricket than at any time in the past. This suggests that cricket fans are able to support more than one or two forms of the game.
Our research and the evidence of attendees at matches shows that International cricket is still the most popular product we offer but Twenty20 is growing.
While there are plenty of traditional cricket supporters attending Big Bash matches, anyone who has attended the Big Bash can see venues full of families and kids who would not be seen dead at a longer form match.
Clearly the Big Bash provides an opportunity for cricket to appeal to a new audience. Cricket would be negligent to ignore this as an opportunity to engage more fans.
Cricket is at a crossroads, the access the game had in the past to Australian youth has all but gone.
The almost compulsory place on the school curriculum which saw most boys playing some cricket at school, the freedom to play with mates in the streets and parks until it got dark, and the family games at the beach and parks, are a thing of the past.
Add to that societal change, which drives us to busier lives with more options to choose from, makes traditional cricket an anathema to many.
If we do not re-engage Australian youth and the female market which, on average, has always been less enthused by cricket than male, the game will not maintain its current strong place in Australian culture.
If cricket is to have a hope of continuing to attract interest from kids and their busy mothers we need a product that meets their needs. And if we are to be able to continue to invest in growing the game; in grassroots cricket, in the Interstate competitions and supporting the Australian team, we need to find new revenue streams.
The Big Bash is clearly that product.
The Big Bash changes will allow room for more teams to play more matches and deliver the experience that today’s sports fans take for granted in the winter months, frequent regular compelling content played by teams they choose to get passionate about.
We cannot increase the number of teams under the State system which is the core of the other forms of cricket.
The option of introducing teams in the Northern Territory etc is simply not supported by the demographics of Australia or the logistics of travel around the country for teams, fans or broadcasters and ignores the needs of the biggest population centres.
We are not changing State cricket.
Fans that follow their State teams now will be still be able to watch the Bushrangers, the Redbacks and the Blues fight it out in the Shield and Ryobi Cup for years to come.
The Big Bash League is set to grow and we would like all cricket fans to give it time to develop.
Try it and ideally embrace it, but you’ll make your own choice.