Big Bash League 2015-16 January 21, 2016

How the BBL meticulously masterminded its success

The Big Bash League has established its niche in Australia's summer through careful planning and aggressive marketing
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A bumper crowd of 46,389 people came to Adelaide Oval on New Year's Eve © Getty Images

"Are you coming to the Big Bash tonight?" asked the kid, who could have been no older than seven, of the family friend being picked up at Adelaide Airport on the morning of New Year's Eve. "You have to come, it's New Year's. It's traditional."

In many ways, he was right. It did feel, on New Year's Eve in Adelaide, like you did have to be at the Big Bash: 46,389 people - a strikingly diverse bunch - were at Adelaide Oval, and what a spectacle they were party to. "What did we do on New Year's Eve before the Big Bash?" one Adelaidian joked the following day.

How can anything pertaining to the BBL possibly be traditional? Sure, sporting traditions exist all over the place - football is traditionally played on Boxing Day across the UK and Australian Rules is traditionally played on Anzac Day and the Queen's Birthday public holidays, for example. But the BBL? You likely own a pair of shoes or a household appliance with a more storied history. Tradition is carved over time, and passed from generation to generation, not created in an instant.

Except, in the BBL, tradition has been created both quickly and with success. Many things have stood out about the fifth edition, but more notable than the bumper TV ratings, the youthful, next-gen make-up of the competition's devotees, and the dramatic, dynamic cricket, has been the sheer volume of people flooding through the gates.

New Year in Adelaide felt like a "moment", but two days later 80,883 turned up at the MCG for the Melbourne derby. Every game has had some sort of record: small, seemingly insignificant ones, such as Etihad Stadium attracting its highest derby and non-derby crowds, or significant ones, like the whoppers at the MCG and Adelaide Oval, or Hobart's first (and second, and third) BBL sellouts, and the Sydney derby coming close to 40,000. Almost every game has attracted a bigger crowd than last season, and the group-stage average attendance sat at 28,248, almost 5000 up on last year's average.

In the BBL, tradition has been created both quickly and with success. More notable than the bumper TV ratings, the youthful, next-gen make-up of the competition's devotees, and the dramatic, dynamic cricket, has been the sheer volume of people flooding through the gates

Listen to a golfer's post-round press interaction and you'll hear a regular refrain: "I've just got to control the controllables," they'll say. The same goes for Cricket Australia's dealings with the BBL; the only thing that cannot be scripted is what happens on the field. Everything else is planned meticulously. There is no better example of this than the fixture list, and the rewards are reaped in those extraordinary crowds.

"We work hard to optimise the schedule for our 32 pool games," says Anthony Everard, the competition's boss. It's a pretty unique competition in this country; for the football codes that run through winter - it doesn't really matter which Saturday afternoon you play on in May, July or August, it's still a Saturday afternoon. "But we play in a really concentrated period and within that, what we identified early is that there's a huge difference between a Saturday afternoon the week before Christmas and the same time slot the week after.

"Our focus is very much on families, and the weeks leading into Christmas are very busy times. It's the end of the school year, and people have loads on, with Christmas shopping and the like. What we have to try to do is make the BBL as accessible as possible, and a big part of that is making the schedule predictable, so families know year on year when the fixtures are going to take place and can plan their other activities around that time."

Thus, a series of flagship games, and dates, were identified, and "icon fixtures" born. The two Sydney derbies were placed on the opening night and the last Saturday of the pool stages, and the two Melbourne derbies on the first two Saturdays of January. Perth Scorchers, due to their favourable time zone in relation to the Boxing Day Test, expressed interest in playing that evening; Adelaide Strikers did the same with New Year's Eve.

All part of the BBL entertainment package: Andrew Flintoff gets involved with the fans at the Spotless Stadium in Sydney © Cricket Australia/Getty Images

There is more to come; Sydney Sixers are looking at playing on Christmas Eve 2016 (with accompanying carol service, which saw 3000 on the SCG outfield on December 20 this season), and Sydney Thunder are even considering Christmas Day. Hobart Hurricanes got a (since surpassed) record crowd on New Year's Day this year, and are looking at the possibilities of locking that in, although they are slightly put off by the financial hit of playing on a public holiday, when they have to pay all event staff double time.

Of the timings of the Melbourne derbies, Everard explains, "you have Christmas behind you, the most family time you have all year, but people are still on holiday. It makes sense to have our biggest match up in the market where we have the biggest capacity, at the MCG." There's a knock-on effect that feeds into the rivalry; Etihad Stadium had its own record crowd a week later, too. "Families now know that the first two Saturdays after New Year, there's going to be a Melbourne derby."

New Year's Eve cricket was introduced in 2013, when - following much deliberation - Everard invited expressions of interest from teams. "It was a date we had not traditionally played cricket in Australia," he says. "There are so many other entertainment options that night. Sydney could never work, there are one million people at the harbour. Melbourne's proximity to the Boxing Day Test made it tricky." Enter Adelaide.

Bronwyn Klei, Strikers' general manager, says she could "hear a pin drop," when she told her staff the team were in the market for a New Year's game. "I thought it was great!" she says, "but I'm married with two kids and have nothing to do on NYE! The rest were like, 'What? We have to work?'"

CA backed Adelaide's case for the fixture. There were hurdles; the town's Lord Mayor does his own fireworks very close by - some Sydney Sixers players confided this was a frustration and distraction during this year's game - and there were fears the two events would cannibalise one another.

New Year's Eve cricket was introduced in 2013. "There are so many other entertainment options that night," Everard says. "Sydney could never work, there are one million people at the harbour. Melbourne's proximity to the Boxing Day Test made it tricky." Enter Adelaide

There were far more positives, though. Adelaide Oval is bang in the centre of town and has a famously sociable crowd. The game starts early enough - 6.40 local time - to kick off a night out, with a brief concert afterwards, or provide its entire entertainment for young families. Klei admits she has been "totally blown away" by the event's success and growth and believes "it is already an Adelaide institution", while Everard says "that it has shown us that if you get the formula right, it doesn't take long for something to become an institution."

Everard believes the same is possible in the Christmas period, although he is wary of overkill. "Whether or not there's an opportunity for the BBL to become part of the Christmas tradition and actually enhance that experience, that would be the aspiration," he says. "We certainly wouldn't want to interfere with those traditions that already exist."

The BBL's traditions do not end at the fixtures. There is a desire for in-stadium experience to be consistent, and Everard cites Melbourne Renegades' use of the "Crusty Demons" motorbike troupe and Brisbane Heat's "Rocket Man", who flies around the Gabba on a jetpack, as successful innovations.

The attempts to create in-city rivalries - which saw the BBL look at Manchester and Los Angeles as examples of two-team towns - also appear to be working, as the teams attempt to brand themselves distinctly and appeal to different parts of their city's make-up. The numbers suggest it is working, with merchandise flying off the shelves (at the MCG on January 2, A$160,000 worth was sold) and impressive crowds, but anecdotally Thunder and Sixers home games feel distinct from each other, as does the experience at the MCG or Etihad Stadium.

As the league matures, Everard's plans seem to be slipping into place. This season's total attendees will top 1,000,000 during Friday's semi-final at the MCG, while Adelaide Oval's semi-final sold out in an hour. Every fixture feels like it has broken some record or another and, amazingly given its brief history, the BBL seems to be cementing its place as an institution in Australia's sporting calendar. None of this has happened by accident.

Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • py0alb on January 24, 2016, 0:01 GMT

    The crux of the matter is, that the BBL wasn't really doing much until it switched from a pay tv channel to free to air tv. At that point, it took off.

    Lessons to be learnt for the ECB and anyone who argues that getting the widest possible tv exposure isn't the key issue.

  • AndreafromItaly on January 23, 2016, 21:05 GMT

    Kudos to BBL and to all Countries that are organizing a domestic T20 championship. T20 is the formula that will make cricket popular beyond 10 test nations and let it aim at worldwide audience. T20 may have chance to be less criticized by"purists" if they ban oversized bats and if taking wickets is not a simple "by-product" but something material. I would propose that, instead of a super over, to declare the winner the team which has taken more wickets when result is level after 20 overs. Similarly, number of wickets taken should be the discriminant to decide which of two teams, with same points, may access to playoff.

  • captainnick on January 23, 2016, 18:23 GMT

    Australia knows how to launch and run a successful sports league better than anyone else- A necessity given that it's an insanely competitive market.

    Contrast to England- We actually "invented" T/20, it was hyped for a while, still gets semi decent crowds, but hasn't really reached its potential. Not least because the timing and number of games kept being changed.

    I lost interest when the counties said they were considering a second T20 tournament per summer, it didn't actually happen, but it made clear they were just trying to milk it and had no idea how to build a brand.

    The ECB should try and recruit some of these Aussies who have made BBL a success.

  • nzcricket174 on January 23, 2016, 13:06 GMT

    Every Perth Scorchers game gets sold out. Its the hottest ticket in town you have to get in early if you wanna go.

  • crkt4evr on January 23, 2016, 3:18 GMT

    dreaming for the day when such professionals and professionalism in INDIA! i know its way toooo far

  • Peter_The_Average on January 22, 2016, 18:04 GMT

    Don't forget The BBL is also doing its other main job brilliantly, smothering The A League (domestic soccer) . Six years ago "boring old cricket" was supposedly on its last legs and soccer was poised take over as Australia's summer sport. Now that is a joke, The A League has been dumped to a secondary TV channel, is struggling to find a new TV broadcaster and it is getting pounded in crowd numbers and TV audience. Brilliant job from CA.

  • Iddo555 on January 22, 2016, 17:49 GMT

    @Edwind

    England and Australia are two very different places, 90% of the Australian population live in a city. The same is not true of England.

    You also have a lot of problems with county teams feeling like they will miss out because you have 18 counties compared to Australia's 6 states.

    If England had 8 teams that means 10 counties who miss out on attendance money.

    I'm sure the ECB would love to have something like the BBL in England but making it work and keeping everyone happy is not easy.

  • IndianBarcafan on January 22, 2016, 15:21 GMT

    Oh please don't let make it (Comments Section) Test v/s T20 debate this article is not about that but rather talks about a burgeoning club/franchise based culture in Cricket, what the format is irrelevant,even as an Indian fan i was thrilled to see the excellent crowd numbers and high TV Ratings BBL managed. For all those fans who constantly slate big three i ask you can your respective countries/boards conduct local competitions like IPL and BBL with such high crowd numbers on a regular basis plus such huge TV ratings .If you can't then it's time to look within first and only then question outside powers .

  •   Venkatesh Venkatesh on January 22, 2016, 15:01 GMT

    Well organised and played to entertain people around the world with stiff competition only very few foreign players involved and lot of emphasis on home talent and believe me no match played beyond more than two hundred minutes and people wanted this of cricket and not baseball cricket. Once more many thanks to organisers for arranging match in most orderly manner and except one ugly un wanted incident which people do not want repeat ion of the same in coming years

  • EdwinD on January 22, 2016, 13:45 GMT

    You can bet the ECB will cotton on to this...........in about 20 years time.

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