Crowds for the start of the international season are down some 35,000 on Cricket Australia's projections, the chief executive Kevin Roberts has revealed, though the governing body remains committed to pushing fixtures further out at either end of the traditional summer and school holidays window to get the public better used to watching the game before December.
Twenty20 turnouts of 16,268 for Adelaide Oval, 11,986 for the Gabba, 28,568 for the MCG, 19,176 for the SCG and 8,848 at Manuka Oval in Canberra have been decidedly underwhelming but a part of CA's longer term ambition to re-claim a wider portion of the warmer months for their own after some years of creep by football codes, especially the AFL, in terms of scheduling and media-cycle dominance. A similar move has been made next year with the scheduling of an ODI series against New Zealand in March.
Roberts said that while the attendance figures were comfortably below what CA had projected, sales for the Boxing Day Test - New Zealand's first since 1987 - are looking healthier than expected, meaning the chances are that by the end of summer totals will be near to where management had expected them.
"We're disappointed with where those crowds are at," Roberts told SEN Radio. "It's not surprising that the grounds weren't full, given our experience of this time of year, and we need to use next year's men's side of the T20 World Cup, in October-November, as a reminder that October-November is cricket season, and make sure we've got the best possible model going forward to fill the right grounds at that time of year.
"It's a better quality experience for fans at the match and a better quality experience for people watching the matches at home or on their phones when grounds are full. That's certainly something we're committed to and looking to use next year's men's T20 event as a springboard towards that. We're not completely surprised by it, [but] we are a little disappointed.
"We're about 35,000 people below where we wanted to be in aggregate across all those matches combined, but the good news is that our projections for the Boxing Day Test against New Zealand we think will see us make up that gap. Like with any season there's swings and roundabouts, and at this point in time we reckon the ledger will be pretty much square versus our expectations by the time we get to December 30th, the end of the Boxing Day Test."
This season, 2019-20, is the second year of a new broadcast deal that places all T20I and ODI matches behind the Foxtel paywall, meaning that advertising and promotion of those broadcasts are also seen by significantly smaller audiences relative to the large free-to-air footprint offered by Seven, which broadcasts Test matches, the WBBL and the BBL.
Roberts said that CA would look into how early-season matches could be more effectively promoted in future seasons, though the T20 World Cup next year will bring a momentum of its own, as demonstrated when 93,013 people crammed into the MCG for the 2015 ODI World Cup final in late March.
"I think enough effort went into it absolutely. We need to continue challenging ourselves as to the extent to which that's the right effort," Roberts said. "Certainly don't question the commitment or the effort anyone put into it, but we do need to get increasingly creative as we go forward in terms of how we can attract more fans to matches.
"There's certainly nothing that resembles a crisis in any of this, we're not overly concerned about it, but it's absolutely something that as an organisation that wants to continue learning and growing, then there are insights we can learn from as we seek to improve in future seasons, no doubt."