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