Australia news October 25, 2012

Twenty20's inconvenient stat

Amid the sea of quite triumphant-sounding figures trotted out at Cricket Australia's AGM for 2012, one statistic stood out a little inconveniently next to the narrative the game's custodians would like to build for their preferred balance of its three formats.

In accepting Test cricket as the primary measure for the performance of Australia's national team, pressing ODIs as the format of the 2015 World Cup to be shared by Australia and New Zealand, and spruiking Twenty20 as the avenue for new audiences via the Big Bash League, CA is hopeful it is covering as much ground as possible.

While Test matches and ODIs are their preferred avenues for international combat, CA is at constant pains to point out that T20 is best suited to club competitions, from the IPL and the BBL to the Champions League currently edging towards its conclusion in South Africa. It is an argument based on T20's ability to generate new audiences and also add value to domestic contests, which in the first-class and limited overs formats are watched by tiny audiences.

Yet the average free-to-air television audience figures for last summer's T20Is against India were so strong as to almost double those for Tests and ODIs. Played in Sydney and Melbourne before massed crowds, these matches drew an average 1.427 million viewers. By comparison, the average national audience for Tests was 858,000. For ODIs it was 897,000.

James Sutherland, the CA chief executive, is well aware of the data, and that it is a trend stretching back to the first T20I played in Australia in 2006. However he and others in CA's Jolimont headquarters remain adamant that they will not be increasing the number of T20Is at the expense of ODIs, nor making more room for T20 international series at the expense of room for club competitions.

"We like those numbers but we're not tempted to increase the number of T20 internationals we play," Sutherland told ESPNcricinfo. "We again see that in the big picture international cricket is our bread and butter, and the primary format in which we provide products to our fans. And we use the BBL in its shape and design as a way of bringing more extra valuable content to the market.

"We've been conscious over the last few years that the biggest viewing days of the Australian cricket summer have been those days that the Australian team has played T20Is. It probably says a bit about the Nine telecast of those matches but I think there's no doubt T20 captures a broader and more diverse audience to the game, whether it is on TV or at the game. We're absolutely thrilled about that, and we've unashamedly designed the BBL about attracting new people to the game, building a more diverse, more passionate fan base.

"Being a league format it means you can bring more matches. Instead of the circus coming to town once or twice a year with a Test match and a one-day game, through the BBL we've now broadened the amount of content that comes to venues and comes to fans through TV."

Partly buttressing CA's argument is the ICC's stipulations that no team may play more than 12 T20Is per year - relaxed to 15 in years of the World T20 being contested - and that no bilateral series be fought over more than three matches. Their preference for club competition over international battle is by no means isolated.

The influence of the looming World Cup on Sutherland's viewpoint also cannot be underestimated. In terms of attendances, ODI audiences have shrunk over the past decade, though overall crowd figures are stronger due to T20 of both domestic and international variants. Nonetheless, CA and World Cup organisers are charged with building a successful tournament in a format that they attempted to tamper with - remember split innings? - in an effort to reverse the aforementioned trend of crowds deserting its matches.

The split innings experiment was not followed by the rest of the world and soon made its way to the dustbin. A greater experiment is likely to follow in coming summers, as CA attempts to sell the BBL as a legitimate free-to-air television product in addition to its lucrative package of international fixtures. Rather than using the T20I viewing figures as a reason to increase the number of T20 contests between nations, Sutherland is hopeful that they may also point to the potential success of the BBL when taken out of the niche market of pay television.

"If you work on the basis of pay TV penetration being about one third of the community, then it follows that you can multiply the BBL television audiences by at least three times and that straight away puts those numbers right up there somewhere between our one day audiences," Sutherland said. "That's pretty exciting when you think about them being domestic cricket matches.

"They're pretty formidable numbers. It is to be proven, but I would've thought significantly more than AFL and NRL matches if that was to come to pass. That's one of the reasons why we're very interested in pursuing or going down a path to have the BBL on free-to-air. We believe the demands there and people just love the format."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Richard on October 26, 2012, 18:42 GMT

    As someone wise once said, "There are lies, damn lies, and there are statistics". I doubt they tell the full story of our real preferences.

  • Dummy4 on October 26, 2012, 1:46 GMT

    @Michael Perera...I wholeheartedly agree with you, and like you, I'm increasingly becoming an advocate of T20 as I'm absolutely astonished at the retrogressive attitude of some fans at the burgeoning success and potential to expand cricket through T20. Which other sport has fans that complain about about their sport enjoying crowds, TV ratings, popularity, revenue...etc? I can remember back to the late 70s/early 80s and the self-styled 'traditionalists' calling one-day cricket 'hit-and-giggle', 'pyjama cricket' and 'the death of cricket'...I even remember 'traditionalists' arguing that cricket should only ever be played under 'natural light' LOL. Perhaps we are seeing the backlash from the demographic (white, males, 30-50), that if cricket catered to their whims, would see the sport die a slow death. Sure cricket has a few hard decisions to make regarding balance in the future (scrapping ODI after the 2015 WC most probably), but true lovers of cricket, want to see it grow and thrive.

  • Andrew on October 26, 2012, 0:03 GMT

    @Matt Francis on (October 25 2012, 21:31 PM GMT) - I really hope you're wrong! IMO ODIs are the only legitimate way to crown a World Champion. T20 is not enough balance of strategy & skill compared to the other formats. I think there is room for all 3, but it will involve some culling over meaningless ODI bilaterals.

  • Andrew on October 25, 2012, 23:59 GMT

    @Gizza on - good point. I hope Cric Oz don't jump any further on the T20 band wagon as the Goose could be cooked in another year or two (maybe/hopefully?). @Michael Perera - that's fine, although I don't think the extremes that what @ jmcilhinney said need to be taken literally. The problem is with the mix. Since you said that crowds are "comatose" at non-T20 events (implied), that I would imagine you aren't really much of a fan of the longer formats - which is also fine. You are correct that T20s appeal to new demographics & that is a good thing. I think what "traditionalists" are annoyed/concerned about is the balance. Test cricket will probably never reach the US/China market in my lifetime, but in the meantime I do not like the impact that T20 has on the calendar & than hence the preparation & standard of Test cricket. I wouldn't want to see cricket die, but I would rather Oz v Eng in the Ashes Tests every year than see meaningless T20 oversaturate the FTP!

  • Harvey on October 25, 2012, 23:17 GMT

    Tests are great. My most memorable match was the second test between Aus and Ind early in the 2000s when India followed on and then Dravid and Laxman brought them back to win the test and then India won the next test and the series. Best series ever, i will never forget it. ODIs, T20s who remembers one from another?

  • Dummy4 on October 25, 2012, 21:31 GMT

    The ratings figures are misleading. T20 is over in a few hours, whereas a test match takes 30 hours or so. Only the most rabid, unemployed fan is able to watch every moment of a test match, so the average number of people watching is always going to be lower, regardless of how popular test matches are. The fact that ODI and Test ratings are similar suggests that of the three formats, the ODI is the one in the most trouble, which accords with the general feeling that in 5-10 years time we will have only Tests and T20.

  • Dummy4 on October 25, 2012, 15:21 GMT

    People would rather let cricket die out than simply have fun with Twenty20? How is the view with your heads so far into the sand? Look, I'll be the first to admit that Twenty20 isn't the be-all and end-all of cricket. Nobody is saying that, and neither should anybody. But it boggles my mind that people would rather see cricket die than see cricket evolve. It boggles my mind that people would rather viewership diminish and cricket survive as nothing more than a recreational lazy pastime played out in front of comatose crowds than bring in new audiences, cheering spectators, getting children (both male and female) interested in the sport, and even export the game into new markets. Sentiments like the ones I've seen expressed in this thread make me support Twenty20 even more, just to spite the purists who would rather be a dog in a manger than let something else share a slice of the pie.

  • Girik on October 25, 2012, 11:17 GMT

    Average attendances don't tell the full story. If an ice cream shop sold chocolate ice cream every day and only sold strawberry ice cream on Fridays, the sales of strawberry ice cream may well be much higher than chocolate on that day. But if you could buy both ice creams on any day of the week the sales figures will change drastically. Out of the 6 forms of cricket (3 international and 3 first-class) international Twenty20 is the least frequently played which is partially why it rates per game much better than the other international forms as well as club T20. There are other factors too but this has to be taken into account. Another being the fad effect. T20 innings have already changed from a 20 over smash to a predictable formula similar to 50 overs where the batting side score fast during the PowerPlay, slow down and conserve wickets during the middle overs and whack it at the end.

  • John on October 25, 2012, 9:28 GMT

    Hopefully that attitude remains and is shared around the world. Yes, T20 cricket and T20Is are a big drawcard and money-spinner, but if it is allowed to run rampant then it will be the death of proper cricket and all we'll have left is T20. It may be that, from a financial standpoint, Test and OD cricket couldn't survive without the money generated by T20, but if it's a choice between starving to death or being cannibalised, I'll take the former.

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