Following a highly successful debut last year, the Women's Big Bash League is set to receive greater exposure in 2016-17. The tournament kicks off with a "carnival weekend" in Sydney on December 10 and 11 with six matches, of which four will be telecast on prime time free-to-air television in Australia.
Each WBBL team will play at least two matches that will be broadcast live. Overall, that number has increased from 10 to 12 this season, including the semi-finals and final. With an eye towards bringing in a larger audience, 14 of the 59 women's matches will be held simultaneously with the men's Big Bash League, which begins on December 20 with champions Sydney Thunder taking on Sydney Sixers.
Most significantly, the Ten Network will broadcast the WBBL match between the Melbourne Stars and Sydney Thunder live in prime time on their main channel. This timeslot is believed to be a first for women's sport in Australia. "We will for the first time broadcast the Melbourne Stars taking on the reigning premiers the Sydney Thunder in the Women's Big Bash League, live from 6.00pm," Ten chief executive Paul Anderson said. "That will be the first time a standalone women's sporting competition has been broadcast in prime time on a commercial free-to-air television network's primary channel."
Among the WBBL-BBL double-headers are the Melbourne derbies on January 1 and 7 and the second Sydney derby on Jaunary 14. The Sydney derby that kicks off the BBL will be a stand-alone event. Last season's Melbourne derby drew record crowds with over 90,000 people coming to the MCG for both BBL and WBBL matches.
Adelaide will host the New Year's eve matches, with the men's and women's Strikers taking on Sixers and Perth Scorchers respectively. Boxing Day features two women's matches - Strikers v Hobart Hurricanes and Brisbane Heat v Melbourne Stars - and one from the men's tournament - Hurricanes v Stars. Both leagues will have their semi-finals on January 24 and January 25 and their respective finals on January 28.
"We operate on a 'one club, two teams' mentality with the men's and women's Big Bash Leagues to give fans greater options with this integrated schedule," CA's executive general manager of operations Mike McKenna said. "The Big Bash League has become a family-favourite during the summer school holidays and the way the public embraced the Women's Big Bash League last year shows there is strong demand that this schedule is designed to grow."
The number of BBL matches remains the same at 35, with start and finish dates of December 20 and January 28 as opposed to last year's December 17 opener and January 24 final. Five matches will be played before Christmas, but there will not yet be any match on Christmas Eve or Christmas night, both ideas having been floated by CA last summer.
With television rights negotiations for the next round of cricket fixtures in Australia set to heat up following this tournament, Anderson spoke glowingly of the competition's effect on his network. "The BBL has become an integral part of summer in Australia," he said. "Cricket Australia has created and built an incredibly popular and successful competition, and we are thrilled to be able to bring it to all Australians.
"Network Ten has always been a leader in broadcasting women's sport and we are leading the way again this summer. We are proud to further cement our commitment to women's sport through a landmark deal that will see Network Ten broadcast 12 matches of the Women's Big Bash League - including four of the matches that launch the 2016-17 season from Saturday, 10 December, live and exclusive on Ten. Ten of the 12 matches will be seen on the main Ten channel."