‘I think they’re hostile at the best of times.’
More than a million fans – 1,030,495 – entered the gates to the Twenty20 Big Bash League fixtures during the most recent and just fifth season of the domestic tournament.
With a crowd average of 28,279 over 32 games this past summer, the BBL has found itself with the ninth highest attendance of a sporting fixture in the world.
What has made the BBL the most talked about sport of the summer? Why are the fans now flooding through the gates? Where was all the support five years ago?
In 2011, when the “Twenty20 Big Bash” re-branded and became the BBL, Australian domestic cricket fans were left unsure and confused about the whole concept.
In South Australia, the West End Redbacks had become the blue Adelaide Strikers, a colour most associate with rival Victorians, who had seen their DEC Bushrangers become not one, but two new teams, the red Melbourne Renegades and green Melbourne Stars igniting a new Melbourne rivalry.
The poor advertising and explanation of the new league led to disinterest, and left thousands of fans unsure what to expect. A high percentage of those fans stayed unaware and confused about the new BBL throughout the first two seasons, as they were unable to watch a game unless they had Fox Sports (PayTV).
Throughout BBL01 and BBL02, an average crowd of 15,973 watched on as executives, shareholders and players of the new system sensed the BBL struggling.
However in 2013, Network Ten acquired the rights from Fox Sports and signed a five year deal worth $20 million per year. At the time, Network 10 and Cricket Australia were expecting a TV audience of 600,000 per game, but on opening night, the BBL’s TV audience eclipsed 600,000 and has never looked like heading in the other direction.
The average audience this year in BBL05 was one million viewers per game, and for the first time in BBL history, two million plus viewers in Australia tuned in for a single game (Stars versus Thunder, Big Final, MCG. 24th January, 2016).
It’s hard to underestimate just how important Network Ten’s coverage has been to the BBL. By making the switch from PayTV, with Cricket Australia only able to reach a small national market, to Free-To-Air TV, where they were able to be viewed by anyone in Australia with a television, Network Ten has helped promote the BBL to millions of fans across Australia.
Network Ten has changed the way cricket is broadcast and it has expanded and advertised the BBL in a way which appeals to people who never regarded themselves as cricket fans.
Ten years ago, if I told you international stars such as Kevin Pietersen and Chris Gayle would be talking to commentators while they take guard to face a 150km/h thunderbolt from Shaun Tait, you wouldn’t believe me for a second.
Not only do Network Ten broadcast the BBL, they also broadcast the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) and have reached peak audiences of 439,000 viewers. Cricket Australia seeks to advertise the game of cricket to the female population of Australia, and Network Ten deserves credit for the growth of the game with female viewers, as 38 per cent of the audience are women.
A huge factor in the BBL’s appeal to female audiences has been former Network Ten journalist and commentator, Mel McLaughlin.
Now working with Channel Seven, McLaughlin’s “Don’t blush baby” interview with Chris Gayle sparked controversy and ignited women worldwide to take a stand.
Her role with the Network was nothing but professional and she has displayed that the women can do it just as well as the men.
By making the BBL available on anyone’s television throughout the summer evenings, the BBL has seen a huge increase in crowds, memberships, merchandise, and it is no longer seen as a joke of a league.
However, I won’t sit here and praise everything Network Ten has done for the BBL. There have been some can’t-miss faults that the network has displayed over the past three years of the five year deal.
BBL05 was the first time Network Ten displayed all games live to everyone in Australia. BBL05 was also the year they switched to an infomercial about a chair, instead of Jake Lehmann’s last ball heroics at the Adelaide Oval.
Apart from the mishaps Network Ten have conceded over the past few years, it is no question they struck gold when they claimed the rights to the BBL for $20 million per year. It is also no question that the BBL also struck gold when they made the change from PayTV to Free-To-Air.
By reaching one million plus Australians every summer night, Network Ten has helped grow and advertise the BBL (along with their TV series such as ‘I’m A Celebrity’, mind you) and Cricket Australia should focus on what the Free-To-Air market has done for the sport, and continue to broadcast on Free-To-Air television.
With record attendances, membership highs and millions tuned in across nine countries (Australia, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Pakistan, South Africa, India, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom and even the United States), the BBL has proven itself to be a powerhouse sporting league, instead of the colourful, pyrotechnic joke it once was, and Network Ten deserves a large amount of credit for the league’s blossoming.