September 12, 2018
Sports

Big Bash is calling the shots — on and off the field

More matches. More clubs. More coverage. More shiny and flashy things.

The engraver has barely finished etching the names Adelaide Strikers and Sydney Sixers into the BBL and WBBL trophies and already there's talk over what the future holds for both leagues.

But in the hi-octane environment that is the Big Bash, the game's governing body is set to take a 'hasten slowly' approach before contemplating further change.

"I think the secret in the sauce for BBL and WBBL has always been our focus on 'fans first'," said Cricket Australia's (CA) Head of the Big Bash, Kim McConnie.

"As long as we keep delivering to their expectations, I don't think we can ever plateau."

External Link: Big Bash League tweet: What a moment it was for the @StrikersBBL! Watch how the players and fans celebrated a maiden BBL title

One thing CA doesn't want to plateau is its imminent rights deal as it aims to break the one-billion-dollar mark, over an expected five-year term, for its domestic content.

A critical part of that next agreement will be an even bigger Big Bash as it starts to call the shots on and off the field.

This season, BBL07 saw 43 broadcast matches (up from 35 from the previous year) played nationwide, including three regional venues — Geelong, Alice Springs and Launceston.

The women played more: 59 matches — a true home and away series — and this is something now being considered for the men.

Schedule and team expansion all in the balance

This would mean having to expand the season in what is already a congested schedule.

"We're still working through that," McConnie said.

"There's still a lot of discussion if we'll expand and what that would look like."

Expansion is the hot topic.

With broadcast discussions already underway, CA will have to balance the wants of its fans against the needs of another significant stakeholder — broadcast partners.

Money talks, and broadcast dollars make up between 70 and 80 per cent of CA's revenue.

But, for now, CA's focus is expanding — or evolving — the women's brand.

"WBBL is our biggest form of expansion," said McConnie. "That is a lot of where our energy and focus is to make sure we get that right."

This season's WBBL03 saw just 12 of the 59 matches televised, with most of those — including the finals — played as double-headers with the BBL.

"Elite [women's] cricket is more and more standing on its own," she said.

"Look at the finals — there were definitely a lot of pros and cons with having it as part of the BBL finals. So it does feel like it is more and more deserving of its own window."

WBBL a key element in next rights deal

Sydney Sixers' Ashleigh Gardner and Ellyse Perry raise their bats celebrating a WBBL title win.

The TEN network paid $100 million for a five-year deal that ended this season. It, alongside the likes of the Nine Network, is expected to bid for the next Big Bash rights, albeit for a much higher price.

Unlike the last deal, where the women's competition came into being midway through the rights cycle, this time the women's league looms as a crucial bargaining chip for CA in the next contract.

"We want to make sure people everywhere have the chance to watch WBBL, live," added McConnie.

External Link: Women's Big Bash League tweet: The @SixersWBBL sing it loud and proud after today's big #WBBLFinal win

"It's not all about TV and broadcast. More and more people are live streaming as well, so I think it's a combination."

Enter telecommunication companies, established social media platforms and pay TV.

If they show an interest in the WBBL, they would almost certainly want a piece of the men's game too.

As it stands, every men's match is live on free-to-air TV. It's highly unlikely CA would step away from this model and provide exclusively live content to a platform which would see its supporters having to pay for it.

This would not be a 'fans first' objective.

In a format that has re-shaped the way people think about cricket, securing a long-term broadcast deal for the Big Bash is the smart play.

After all, no one knows if it'll continue to capture the imaginations of sports fans and families as it does now.

And no-one knows if and when a new format might emerge. Especially one with more shiny and flashy things.

Original Article

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