Next summer's Big Bash League will be subject to a host of in-game tinkering that does not allow for a wider debate over the tournament's overall value to broadcasters, and stops short of the macro changes desired by its independent reviewer, the respected television executive Dave Barham.
At a time of major upheaval in the game, as Cricket Australia, its state association owners, and the Australian Cricketers Association haggle over cricket's cost-base and general finances in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, the 10th edition of the BBL will not depart from the 56-game regular season and five-game finals series that formed the basis of the league's major increase in rights value to be worth about half the A$1.18 billion total in 2018.
Instead, the BBL's managers, including the tournament head Alistair Dobson and CA's executive in charge of events, Anthony Everard, are to propose a raft of tweaks to playing conditions to the joint CA-ACA and umpires playing conditions committee that is due to meet in July.
These changes are expected to include:
- Bonus points available to teams for their progress at the 10-over point of an innings
- Substitutions also allowed within that same period
- Powerplay split between the first four overs of the innings and two overs floating elsewhere
- Free-hits for the bowling of wides
- The addition of extra breaks for advertisements and player strategy after every five overs.
- A draft for overseas players is also expected to be up for consideration
While Barham has publicly raised the question of the tournament's size in addition to his findings in a confidential discussion report tabled to CA earlier this year, the governing body is understood to be extremely hesitant about opening up any form of content-level discussion with its broadcasters Fox Sports and Seven, due to the likelihood of any reduction in content meaning a discount in the fees owed. This has certainly been the case for the AFL and NRL, which have had to put on shorter seasons due to the impact of Covid-19 and paid for it in terms of rights fees.
CA's earlier announcement of a full schedule of international cricket for the summer was geared at the same outcome, to calm any fears among domestic and overseas broadcasters about the possibility of reduced amounts of matches - none more vitally than the 10 fixtures to be played between Australia and India in Tests, ODIs and T20Is.
At the same time, the inclusion of white-ball fixtures against New Zealand in the back half of January appear to crowd the period in which Barham and others have hoped the BBL will conclude in, free of competition from international matches so as to ensure the likes of David Warner, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins join their other Australian counterparts in taking up deals with local clubs. Declining standards of overseas players has been an issue, as the Bangladesh Premier League has been successful in attracting players to earn more money for fewer games.
"I hope they're brave," Barham told SEN Radio this week. "I hope they actually make some serious change and be brave and be bold because I wouldn't want the Big Bash continue on the path it's on. It'll always be an interesting deal, and I think sports have really got to look at quality over quantity and I always look at the NFL. They've got 16 rounds, it's been 16 rounds for a long time and it's so easy for sporting administrators to think we need more money, let's play more, let's do more.
"It's not necessarily the best answer; the NFL rights have been going through the roof and they haven't changed the number of rounds ever as far as I can tell. It depends on your ratings. The AFL's now gone to that format and that's what it is and has been established, but cricket went from 35 games to 61 in two years. So 35 games to 61 is a massive increase that is way out of proportion.
"That's really tested everybody, and it was a school holidays sport that was doing a million people a night on Channel Ten, that's a massive audience, averaging more than what AFL and NRL did on a per-game basis. So you go from a million people a night, and I think they've dropped 40% in ratings by expanding. You've got to look and think carefully before you think that the answer is just putting on more games."
There has been considerable debate between CA, broadcasters and the ACA about the shape of the BBL and its size. While the extra games attracted a greater fee, production costs to cover 61 games, a significant number of them in regional centres, have added to the balance sheet headaches for broadcasters while they have also seen audiences thinning out as a result of the increase in number of matches to watch.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig