Big Bash League 2011-12 December 17, 2011

Blood, thunder and ratings on opening night


Brett Lee's bouncer to break the nose of Brendon McCullum gave the nascent Twenty20 Big Bash League a visceral image to stand comparison with the Andy Roberts bumper that shattered David Hookes' jaw in the first season of World Series Cricket.

Significantly, it was winced at by a record television audience for a domestic Twenty20 match in Australia, suggesting the true measure of the BBL's opening night went beyond the mediocre crowd of 12,285 that made it to the SCG to watch the Sydney Sixers blaze past the Brisbane Heat.

Foxtel recorded an average audience of 342,000 and a total of 858,000, surpassing the 316,000 average of the 2010 Big Bash final. Greater numbers were anticipated for Saturday night's match between Shane Warne's Melbourne Stars and the Sydney Thunder at the MCG.

Television is a critical element of the BBL package, as Cricket Australia hopes to generate enough groundswell for the competition to allow it to sell the next round of broadcast rights for the competition to one of the free-to-air commercial networks, so taking the tournament into homes beyond the reach of subscription TV.

Those in attendance were given a good idea of what can be expected from the BBL, as old heads like Stuart MacGill, Matthew Hayden, James Hopes and Brad Haddin complimented youthful teams. The colours worn were garish, causing one spectator to compare them to a "kids dress-ups party", but looked striking on television. Dancing girls, seemingly mandatory at a Twenty20 tournament worth its name, were on hand to keep those on the boundary entertained, while the re-introduction of full-strength beer to the outer was another significant decision.

Corporate hospitality was in full swing, as CA and the Sixers strove to offer plenty of attraction to men and women of influence from the corporate and media worlds. There was a distinct hint of IPL flavour to the Sixers' box in the Victor Trumper Stand, as music blared with the lights dimmed down and precious few of a raucous crowd turned to watch the cricket for long.

Next door CA's function was a more considered affair, featuring the BBL trophy itself and a glad-handing chief executive, James Sutherland. Taking some time to sit and watch the cricket itself, Sutherland was happy to see the tournament begin after a year of rushed organisation to launch it a summer ahead of the original schedule.

He answered the question of how the summer might unfold with the BBL going head-to-head with Test matches by saying that audiences would now have cricket to attend in each city across December and January, not just those hosting Test matches as has traditionally been the case.

"When this goes head-to-head with Test cricket, we go through the summer and play four Test matches like we are against India, the cricket circus is only in one place at one time," Sutherland said. "In a six-week period, it comes to Perth once, Adelaide once, Sydney and Melbourne once, and it doesn't come to Brisbane and Hobart because they've already had their share.

"So this is a little bit about giving something more to the fans in terms of live stuff, but it is also playing cricket at different times. People will look at it and say we're trying to do too much, but it is the best time of year, the cricket season, the time where people want to come out and go to matches. It isn't like the football season where every second week you've got a home game, in some ways that is what we're trying to give to people."

Many have contended that the BBL's emergence will hurt the performance of what has become a maddeningly inconsistent national team. But Sutherland maintained his view that the new competition was intended to draw a greater and more diverse following to the game, one that may eventually find as much joy in Test matches as those who are sure to fill the MCG on Boxing Day.

"People forget from time to time what we're all about and understand that international cricket is the premium product," Sutherland said. "We want that to be successful, we don't want to compromise that. But the future is also about making sure we've got young fans who are going to have an interest in cricket, and international cricket. This [the BBL] gives them a flavour of cricket that hopefully will introduce a whole new raft of fans to the game."

On night one of the competition, those fans saw McCullum sent reeling and blood spilled onto the pitch. It was not the sort of moment one can easily forget, and in its brutish way did far more for the BBL than any number of marketeer's schemes.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on December 19, 2011, 23:48 GMT

    @Peter Jones - I think Foxtel bought the rights to the Domestic cricket & therefor Channel 9 can't show anything domestically even if it wanted to. I don't believe that Foxtel supports cricket anymore than what Ch 9 does. Ch 1 Sport use to show the IPL until a contract dispute stopped that.

  • Christopher on December 19, 2011, 11:07 GMT

    @Luke Ashwood...I believe the entire arguement has been turned on its head. When players were less accessable,they had more of an aura and mystique about them. People were far more likely to go and watch them in person when they were less able to access every detail about them privately. It gave them that sense of connection that could only be accomplished in a live scenario. Foxtel is an example of why. In an age of extreme electronic media,digital replays at any time and live phone apps,there is not the will to go and sit for extended periods to watch the sport. There is far less of a sense of having to take action to get results when one can make the results come to them. I have an 11 year old who is rarely away from his IPod,laptop or tv screen. While he thinks the 6 hitting in T20 is cool,he has no proper interest,doesnt like Test cricket and has zero concentration. Its telling,that at juniour cricket,many parents forget to watch the game,so trained are they to expect replays.

  • Andrew on December 18, 2011, 23:49 GMT

    @Jake Formosa - I think the BBL is exactly want Cric oz want to project. I don't think it is meant to be anything other than a marketing tool to get "non-test" people to come to a game for 3 hrs, or to sit in front of the TV.

  • sabtain on December 18, 2011, 5:39 GMT

    Obviously different to IPL but the country where AFL is being bigger now, its a good time to introduce some thing like that to promote the cricket Advertisements are not much and they are not launching in properly, we dont know the times, and teams etc , as they are not advertised on banners etc but i hope this will give a boost to AUstralian cricket as we love Australia and cicket here, i made 47 not out

  • Randolph on December 18, 2011, 2:05 GMT

    Hoping the poor crowds mean the death of this format. Death to the Strikers long live the redbacks!

  • Dummy4 on December 18, 2011, 1:53 GMT

    I have heard the same argument against Foxtel rights for the A-League. The problem is that Foxtel support all forms of cricket in Australia and internationally. Who shows the Sheffield Shield, Ryobi Cup and international test series? Channel 9 use to show one domestic one dayer once a week before foxtel. Never showed any other games that didn't invovle Australia. Also CA want ratings to improve on Foxtel so they can sell it to free-to-air. Does this sound like free-to-air actually want to support cricket in Australia? Foxtel have cricket shows (free-to-air only do this during the breaks in Test cricket), Foxtel show highlights from all cricket games (including showing the IPL). Free-to-air ignore all this. SBS showed the test series in South Africa ... surely a commercial channel can afford to offer more. But DIDN'T!! You want to support cricket in Australia get Foxtel ... as they support cricket and give it more coverage than free-to-air ever has or will!!

  • Chris on December 17, 2011, 20:25 GMT

    Hold on a minute. The TV audience being 'big' is a plus for t20 now? And the small crowd there doesn't really matter? And.the 26k at game2 in Melbourne isn't an issue either, right?

    T20 is supposed to be the format that brings people back to cricket in droves in this country... The hypocrisy of Cricket Australia on this is becoming breathtaking.

    Could it be that Aussie sports fans, unlike CA, have twigged to the fact that 20 over cricket is a sideshow, and not a serious sporting proposition?

  • Dummy4 on December 17, 2011, 16:02 GMT

    i went to the game and the cricket was awesome to watch. However the crowd was extremely disappointing. The tv audience mentioned above wasn't great either, it was only great in comparison to other years. The reason for this was that the tournament was not publicised properly at all. Half my mates who are interested in cricket and living in Sydney were either not aware of this new tournament of didn't know that last night was the opening night. Firstly if the tournament is ever to become a nationally followed sport by like the AFL or the NRL it must be on free to air televison so that the greater public,not just the rich ones, can view it. Poor crowd, poor tv audience. Shame on cricket Australia - EPIC FAIL!

  • liaqat on December 17, 2011, 11:59 GMT

    big bash needs some more stars from pakistani and maybe a couple from india and srilanka, to light up the tournament,

  • Dummy4 on December 17, 2011, 11:40 GMT

    I think it would be much better if they had a better name for the tournament. The Big Bash League sounds just a little childish, it doesn't have tone of a prestige tournament like the Premier League.

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