It’s time for standalone WBBL finals

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By Mary Konstantopoulos, Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert

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    When I left North Sydney Oval at the conclusion of WBBL03 opening weekend, I did so feeling buzzed for a massive summer of cricket ahead.

    Following the conclusion of a successful Ashes series for the Australian Women’s Cricket team, the 8725 people that joined me through the gates during opening weekend had a real hunger for the women’s game and to cheer on players like Ellyse Perry, Elyse Villani, Ashleigh Gardner, Rachel Haynes, Kristen Beams and Alex Blackwell – all names which are popular and recognised in Australian sport.

    It wasn’t just people watching at North Sydney Oval that demonstrated how much of an appetite there is to watch women’s cricket.

    Over the weekend, more than one million people tuned in to watch on television, with the game between the Sydney Sixers and the Melbourne Stars peaking at 629,000 viewers on Channel Ten.

    And the cricket certainly did not disappoint.

    In the game between the Sydney Thunder and the Melbourne Renegades, the Thunder became the first WBBL team to score 200 runs. This total was later eclipsed by the Sixers in their game against the Stars, where the team made 242 thanks largely to Ashleigh Gardner who scored the fastest half-century and then century in WBBL history. Her hundred came off just 47 balls and included nine 4s and ten 6s.

    All of this contributed to an opening weekend and a summer that started with a bang.

    Ellyse Perry

    (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

    Unfortunately, the summer could not have ended in any more of a stark contrast – rather than going out with a bang, the WBBL ended with a fizzle and it had nothing to do with the quality of the cricket played between the Sixers and the Perth Scorchers in the final.

    The Sixers were exceptional in the field and demonstrated again why they have been the dominant team this summer.

    Let’s talk about Sarah Coyte, who in just her fourth game for the Sixers this summer (after being brought back to replace Marizanne Kapp, who returned to South Africa for international duty), took 3/17.

    Even more remarkable about this story is that Coyte returns to the WBBL after taking some time away from the game to deal with anxiety and anorexia. She had difficulty sleeping in the lead-up to her opening game against the Strikers and has certainly not disappointed, being rightly recognised for her efforts by being named Player of the Match for the Final.

    Or Erin Burns, who took 2/26 and throughout her summer demonstrated why she is one of the most effective and consistent fielders in the game.

    What about the bravery of Piepa Cleary, who even with the Scorchers staring down a total that wouldn’t even eclipse 100, came in at the tail end of the innings to top score for the team, making 18 not out off 14 balls.

    Then with bat in hand, the Sixers chased down the Scorchers total of 99 with ease particularly with Alyssa Healy and Ellyse Perry opening the batting.

    alyssa-healy-sydney-sixers-cricket-wbbl

    (AAP Image/David Moir)

    Alyssa made 41 from 32 deliveries including five fours and one six, and Ellyse made 36 not out from 42 and hit the winning runs.

    Cricket Australia has done an outstanding job in demonstrating that cricket is a sport for all. From the significant pay increases for our female cricketers (at a domestic and international level), to the availability of merchandise for the Australian Women’s Cricket team and our WBBL teams, to having games live on free-to-air television, it’s no surprise that the women’s game has continued to go from strength to strength.

    It’s now time for Cricket Australia to take a big step and recognise that for WBBL04, double-headers for the finals series simply do not work.

    Let’s begin with the inherent unfairness of the system as it stands.

    In the men’s game, home-ground advantage in the finals is seen as a good incentive for teams to strive to finish at the top of the BBL ladder. No such incentive exists in the WBBL.

    While the Adelaide Strikers BBL team had the opportunity to play in front of their home crowd, the Sydney Sixers (who finished top of the WBBL ladder) were denied this opportunity throughout the finals due to Big Bash scheduling.

    The Sixers travelled to Adelaide for their first semi-final against the Strikers and then remained there for their final against the Scorchers.

    Interestingly, Sydney have a very good record at the Adelaide Oval, having won all four games that they have played there, but that certainly does not negate the lack of home-ground advantage they had throughout the finals series.

    Forget there being absolutely no incentive for teams to finish at the top of the WBBL ladder, but the fact that the game is played as a double-header in a place foreign to both teams means that a final, which should have been played in front of thousands of people (just like it was on opening weekend), was not.

    Sarah Aley

    (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

    It was great to see the game televised on Channel Ten. But unfortunately, it looked like it was being played in front of an empty stadium.

    This is so unfair to the teams competing in the final. They deserve to play in front of a crowd – particularly when you consider how many international players featured in the two line-ups. Players like Natalie Sciver, Nicole Bolton, Katherine Brunt, Elyse Villani, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy and Ellyse Perry.

    And as good as it is to have the game on television, it looks appalling for people to turn on and see no one in the stadium. An empty stadium lacks atmosphere and increases the incentive for people channel surfing to change the channel.

    Additionally, it also deprives fans, so many of whom have followed the women’s game with dedication and passion throughout the summer, the opportunity to watch their team in a final.

    I watched the final from the couch – had the game been played in Sydney, I would have joined several thousand of my friends out there to cheer on both teams competing.

    Congratulations to the Sixers on becoming the first WBBL team to win back-to-back titles. An exceptional achievement and one which will see the WBBL trophy remain in Sydney for a third consecutive year.

    But I challenge Cricket Australia to recognise how effective their support and promotion of women’s cricket has been to date and continue to give the women’s game the spotlight it deserves.

    Play the WBBL04 final as a standalone game. I promise, the fans will follow if you lead the way.

    Mary Konstantopoulos
    Mary Konstantopoulos

    Mary Konstantopoulos is a lawyer, sports advocate and proud owner and founder of the Ladies Who empire, including Ladies who League, Ladies who Legspin, Ladies who Lineout and Ladies who Leap. You can find her podcast on iTunes and find her on Twitter @mary__kaye and @ladieswholeague.

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    The Crowd Says (32)

    • Roar Pro

      February 5th 2018 @ 7:20am
      anon said | February 5th 2018 @ 7:20am | ! Report

      I’m not sure the demand exists for a standalone WBBL Final.

      Attendances to WBBL matches throughout the year have been low. Clearly people buy tickets to attend BBL matches not WBBL. Probably less than a 100 people in the crowd for the majority of WBBL games. Similarly, TV ratings for WBBL have been quite weak.

      Maybe if the WBBL go the AFLW route and allow free entry to the Final they’ll get a reasonable crowd. It’s a cheap day out for financially squeezed families. Kids are happy to go and see fireworks, bang inflatable sticks and wear fast food packaging on their heads.

      • February 5th 2018 @ 9:08am
        Simon said | February 5th 2018 @ 9:08am | ! Report

        Nah I dunno about that. I reckon if you had the WBBL final at North Sydney Oval on a weekend arvo there would have been a great crowd there.
        It was also effected by the fact the men’s final was so early too. Usually with the double header final the WBBL starts around 3 so it’s a much easier time to arrive than yesterday

      • Columnist

        February 5th 2018 @ 9:08am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | February 5th 2018 @ 9:08am | ! Report

        Hi anon

        Thanks for your comment, but I’m not sure where you are getting your figures from.

        The latest figures I received from CA were about 3 weeks ago and I can tell you the following:

        – so far, the highest attendance for a WBBL match was 6,745 at the Melbourne Renegades vs. Melbourne Stars match on Saturday 6 January at the MCG.
        – total attendance across all matches to date has seen a 24% increase (65,709 season to date compared to 52,949 after the same number of rounds last year).
        – in terms of broadcast games, viewership is up 2.8%.
        – in terms of streaming, over double the number of total Streams viewed compared to entire WBBL|02 Season. In WBBL|02 Season the peak views was 14,105, with 8 games over 10K views
        To date, in WBBL|03 over 70% games or 17 games are over 10K views, and 9 games delivering over 50,000 views

        In terms of buying tickets, you must be referring to the double headers, because WBBL games are free. DOuble headers pose plenty of challenges (some of those challenges include that often the women play during work hours, so it’s harder to get people there or the strength of BBL (being how short it is) is lost when you have a double header).

        As I set out in the article, thousands turned out for WBBL Opening Weekend and I’m confident that that would also happen for the final.

        • Roar Guru

          February 5th 2018 @ 2:34pm
          JamesH said | February 5th 2018 @ 2:34pm | ! Report

          Some compelling reasons to have a standalone game. I did wonder how many Strikers fans would have been fussed about watching the women’s match first.

          The thing that still concerns me about the WBBL is the disparity between some of the sides in terms of the number of Australian players they have. How is a side like the Hurricanes supposed to compete with the star-studded Sixers? Does there need to be a limit on the number of Australian contracted players a side can have, on top of the cap on imports?

          • Columnist

            February 5th 2018 @ 2:51pm
            Mary Konstantopoulos said | February 5th 2018 @ 2:51pm | ! Report

            James, this is a really interesting question and one that I need to look into more deeply.

            There is actually a limit on the number of international players that a team can have. From memory it is 3 imports (so for the Thunder there was Rachel Priest, Stefanie Taylor and Harmanpreet Kaur) for example and there is also a cap on the number of Australian players.

            What makes it interesting though is that an Australian international is classed as a player that has played 10 or more games for Aus. So for the Sixers, because when contracts were signed Ash Gardner and Lauren Cheatle had not played more than 10 games, they were not considered Aussie internationals. This will change by the time the comp rolls around next year.

        • Roar Pro

          February 5th 2018 @ 3:04pm
          anon said | February 5th 2018 @ 3:04pm | ! Report

          I see your point.

          I think it’s probably a good idea to let the WBBL stand on its own two feet rather piggy back off of the wild success of the BBL.

          Let’s see whether we have a viable league that can pay for itself.

          Put the games on in prime time, stand-alone fixtures, charge a minimum $20 to get in (as they do for the BBL).

          Let’s see where WBBL sits after a couple of seasons.

          • Roar Guru

            February 5th 2018 @ 6:52pm
            Scott Pryde said | February 5th 2018 @ 6:52pm | ! Report

            In the bin… Or back where we are now, with double-headers etc.

            But I’d be happy to give the semi-finals and finals a chance to breathe. Let’s see what the reaction is and go from there.

    • February 5th 2018 @ 7:33am
      I ate pies said | February 5th 2018 @ 7:33am | ! Report

      There’s some massive assumptions made in this article – particularly the one that people didn’t turn up to the final because it was a double header. What if it’s wrong? Who’s going to pay for another pitch to be prepared for a televised match (more cost) to be played in front of no crowd to a TV audience of 10,000? The answer is no-one. It’s too big a risk for those who are forking out the dough.
      Contrary to the authors opinion, the standard is still not good enough; chasing a total of less than 100 in a final isn’t an exciting game of cricket. Having boundary ropes half way to the fence is hardly a “big bash” is it. Rather than the usual excuses and blaming of others have a look at the game itself. It’s been proven time and again that people will go to games that are of a genuine elite standard, not just because of the sex of the players.

      • Columnist

        February 5th 2018 @ 12:21pm
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | February 5th 2018 @ 12:21pm | ! Report

        I ate pies, I actually don’t think the double header is the problem – the problem is that two teams were playing in the final beyond far removed from their local fan base.

        I would have loved to have seen the Sixers play, but the game was in Perth. Additionally, because its a double header and you need to buy a ticket to the men’s game to attend the women’s, it means many tickets were snapped up by fans of the Hurricanes and Strikers rather than the Scorchers and Sixers.

        I don’t think I’m making assumptions. My estimate of 5k – 8k is in line with what we saw for Opening Weekend and the Women’s Ashes.

        As for the standard – you’re wrong. We had a couple of blow outs in the semi’s, but instead of suggesting its poor quality, perhaps take a look at Sarah Aley’s incredible bowling in the semi (where at one stage she was 4-1) or Sarah Coyte who took 3-17. Ellyse Villani and Nicole Bolton have had one of the strongest opening partnerships this summer and it was strangled by pressure from the Sixers in the field.

        It’s funny, when Australia bowled NZ out for 117 on the weekend, all I heard about was the bowling of Andrew Tye and Billy Stanlake. No one was questioning the quality of T20 cricket at an international level.

        • Roar Guru

          February 5th 2018 @ 2:27pm
          JamesH said | February 5th 2018 @ 2:27pm | ! Report

          *Adelaide

          Take IAP seriously at your own peril, Mary. You’ll find his comments under any article about women’s sport, telling us all how dull and lacking in skill it is. Can’t see the forest for the trees (or just doesn’t want to). It’s a little sad TBH.

          • Columnist

            February 5th 2018 @ 2:33pm
            Mary Konstantopoulos said | February 5th 2018 @ 2:33pm | ! Report

            Thanks for the correction JamesH! 🙂 So used to the Scorchers being dominant that I lost myself for a bit.

      • February 6th 2018 @ 8:32am
        tyrone said | February 6th 2018 @ 8:32am | ! Report

        “the standard is still not good enough; chasing a total of less than 100 in a final isn’t an exciting game of cricket.”

        So the international game was a great standard the other night? NZ only got 117, not much better than the score set in the women’s final.

    • Roar Guru

      February 5th 2018 @ 9:21am
      mds1970 said | February 5th 2018 @ 9:21am | ! Report

      It was a disappointing way for the WBBL season to finish. There was a good crowd for the BBL final, but few of them bothered coming early for a game where the local team wasn’t playing, and few of them really cared.
      If that game had been played at North Sydney Oval, it would have had a much better backdrop. And the Sixers, who had been the dominant team all season, should have had the home ground advantage.

      I agree – the time has come for stand-alone finals. If the same team team had been the highest qualifier for a final in both the BBL and WBBL, by all means play a double-header. But otherwise, let the women play on their ground then the men on theirs.

    • February 5th 2018 @ 9:36am
      jeff dustby said | February 5th 2018 @ 9:36am | ! Report

      Mary, love your enthusiasm but you severely over rate the enthusiasm for Womens cricket

      • Columnist

        February 5th 2018 @ 9:38am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | February 5th 2018 @ 9:38am | ! Report

        I’m not sure how that’s the case, Jeff.

        I’m not suggesting that 20,000 people would have gotten there, but I’m confident that had the final been played at North Sydney Oval there would have been at least 5-8k there. Isn’t this better than probably the 2k that were there yesterday?

        P.S. Glad you love my enthusiasm! 🙂

    • Roar Guru

      February 5th 2018 @ 9:38am
      Wayne said | February 5th 2018 @ 9:38am | ! Report

      The massive gap between Womens’ game ending and the Mens’ beginning is a hard sell if its a hot day. Finding shade is a premium, and powering through it for ~9 hours versus watching from home.

      Would be totally fine with Women getting a stand alone final. Even if they get 10 randoms and a dog, its 10 randoms that made the specific effort to be there.

      • Columnist

        February 5th 2018 @ 9:40am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | February 5th 2018 @ 9:40am | ! Report

        I agree with that Wayne.

        I went to the SCG for the double header between the Sixers v Hurricanes. The WBBL game finished early which meant there was almost a 2 and a half hour gap between games and it was ridiculous. I think this year on the day of the final there only an hour gap which was much improved.

        But I still agree with you – let’s have a stand alone final.

        • February 5th 2018 @ 10:50pm
          Alex said | February 5th 2018 @ 10:50pm | ! Report

          This is the easy fix for me. I went to the same game and had time to walk my 3yr old home and make it back for the mens. The BBL should start 15min after the WBBL. If a super over delays it, that’s great

    • February 5th 2018 @ 11:00am
      Darren said | February 5th 2018 @ 11:00am | ! Report

      Totally agree Mary. Finals have to be standalone and top team gets home final (even worse in the semi as it was Adelaide’s home ground).
      These double headers are not double headers anyway as the gap between games makes it longer than a Test day – the antipathy of T20.
      A few double headers throughout the season would be ok to promote women’s cricket to a broader audience but the gap between games should only be 45-60 mins. Some people may at least come early for some of the 1st game.
      In the main though standalone games at grounds that accommodate 10-15k would be a much better atmosphere for players and spectators.
      And well done to Sydney they are a great team.

      • February 5th 2018 @ 11:55am
        JoM said | February 5th 2018 @ 11:55am | ! Report

        Same with the Thunder in their semi. It isn’t right that the teams that finished 3rd and 4th get to have home ground advantage in a semi when they haven’t earned it and the teams that came 1st and 2nd have to travel to play a game that nobody bothers to attend. If they had been held at Homebush and North Sydney they would have had decent crowds.

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