When the Big Bash League was launched in Australia back in 2011 many people in the sporting world saw it as another example of the form’s ‘hit and giggle’ approach to the game. The nature of T20 cricket has always brought about detractors that haven’t taken it seriously, pointing towards the lack of customary gameplay involved. The litany of reverse sweeps and slog shots, massive economy rates from bowlers and the extremely fast pace of scoring made traditionalists disregard the legitimacy of the game. This occurred at both domestic and international level. However, over the course of four years, the Big Bash League has increased the prestige and interest in T20 cricket in Australia, which has been a positive result for the sport as a whole.
The success of the BBL can be attributed to a number of factors but the move to free-to-air television in 2013 was a major change that has seen the popularity of the league grow dramatically. The first two instalments of the BBL were broadcast on Fox Sports before Channel Ten put in an astounding $100 million bid to secure the rights until the 2017/18 season. The 2013 league drew modest ratings on Ten but an increased focus by the network on the BBL in 2014/15 has seen ratings and crowd numbers grow.
Crowds across the country have risen to a projected average of 22,889 in 2014/15; this is an increase of 18 per cent on last year. The dramatic expansion from the original T20 state league has seen a crowd jump of approximately 4,000 fans per game and pinpoints the success of the overhaul. The shift in priority focus on the league by Channel Ten has also brought about ratings that any station would be happy with, averaging over 900,000 viewers for each game.
The increase in production values and promotional focus by the commercial network has been highlighted by their revamp in the commentary box, introducing international stars like Andrew Flintoff. ‘Freddy’s’ charisma and unique insight of the sport has brought some style and entertainment to what is usually quite tame commentary.
Another positive effect of the BBL’s success in recent times is the opportunity for national exposure it provides to some lesser known domestic players. The unpredictability of the form means that players can go from zero to hero in a matter of overs, producing standout performances with bat and ball. Along with the Matador Cup, the BBL has increased the representative chances of players like Gurinder Sandhu, Jason Behrendorff, Jordan Silk and Adam Zampa.
T20 cricket has come a long way from the sideshow persona it originally assumed and is now a serious and entertaining production. TV ratings and crowd numbers have grown and the popularity of the league has seen Channel Ten and domestic cricket reap the rewards. ‘Hit and giggle’ has been replaced by one of the premier T20 competitions in the world and this can only be a positive for the sport in Australia.