KFC Big Bash League Lengthened

A new broadcast deal was announced by Cricket Australia last Friday, its value totalling AUD$1.182 billion over a six year period. With this deal came the news that the Big Bash league would be extended from 43 games to 59 games - the first time the league has been expanded since its inaugural season in 2013. There will also be two new venues involved in the league, Geelong and Canberra, with both these locations candidates for potential new teams in the future.

For cricket lovers and punters alike, the move seems like a positive one. The Big Bash is growing significantly in popularity and quality every year, and more games simply provides greater opportunity to enjoy it.

The Problems

Not everyone is happy though. With the prospect of an impending new broadcast deal, there was much discussion throughout the 2017/18 Big Bash season about whether or not the league should be extended. Obviously there are numerous economic benefits to the move, but many felt that the league had found an ideal medium of games. Enough to keep us satisfied, but not so much that certain stages of the season became tedious.

In the wake of this announcement, this view has become more prominent. Shane Warne has been one of the loudest voices in its support, voicing his displeasure at what he believes will ‘dilute a wonderful product’. According to Warne, ‘less is more should be the attitude’, and the move is simply an exercise in profit maximisation.

He is not the only one to show a strong lack of support for the move. Prior to the announcement of the new broadcast deal, with the prospect of a lengthened Big Bash League seeming increasingly likely, the Australia Cricketers’ Association (ACA) warned Cricket Australia against it. One of the major concerns put forward by the ACA was the need to balance all difference formats of cricket. With a typically busy 2018/19 summer, combined with an Ashes series and a ODI World Cup in 2019, a longer Big Bash schedule had the potential to compromise other formats, according to the Association.

The Answers

These concerns are not lost on the head of Cricket Australia, James Sutherland. According to him, the move will benefit the BBL without impacting on other forms of cricket. One factor he points to as proof of this is the crossing over of the International One Day schedule with the Big Bash earlier this year. Australia played Pakistan in games wedged between Big Bash finals, which, according to Sutherland, prevented the national T20 competition from ‘reaching a proper climax’. 

By lengthening the league, the semi-finals and finals will now take place in mid-February, after the conclusion of the International summer. A break can take place prior to the finals, and the league can ‘build to a climax’. As a result, it will receive greater attention, which has not only economic benefits, but also benefits for the players and fans. 

So, who’s right?

As usual, the answer is a little from Column A and a little from Column B. It would be unwise for Sutherland to assume people don’t realise that there is an economic basis to the decision, but this basis doesn’t necessarily need to be a bad thing. More money in the game means a greater ability to improve it, which is ultimately a win for everyone involved.

Furthermore, the ability to have more manoeuvrability in the schedule can also only be a good thing. It will distance the Big Bash, at least the tail end of it, from International cricket, giving it its own stage as the tournament reaches a climax. This isn’t only beneficial for the Big Bash, either; the International ODI schedule will also benefit from not having to compete with the finals of its T20 counterpart. This is much needed for what is fast becoming the least popular form of the game, and which, by sandwiching itself in between the more popular Big Bash finals early in 2018, acted more as an annoyance to many fans than anything.

Despite these benefits though, the idea that more games will dilute the product is certainly a valid one. With the Big Bash on every night throughout the summer, it has become a staple of the hottest months on the Australian calendar. Being on every night for six weeks though, it inevitably loses a little bit of its novelty throughout the year. Fortunately, with a relatively short schedule, this loss of novelty coincides with an increase in the importance of matches, as the regular season reaches its end and the finals kick off.

With the schedule increased to closer to eight weeks, there is the heightened possibility that supporters will lose a little bit of interest in the league through its middle stages. This is a common problem in many leagues around the world; take, for example, the NBA, which reaches a well-known lull around two months out from the Finals, prior to the serious jostling for position which takes place at the end of the season, but after the season has been running for many months.

The Big Bash season is nowhere near the length of the NBA one, so this down period will not be as long, but the concept is the same. People inevitably lose interest when faced with the same product night after night, and there will probably be many fans facing a little bit of Big Bash Fatigue towards the end of the regular season going forward.

Undoubtedly James Sutherland would be aware of this, and it does seem that there are plenty of pros to outweigh this con. A down period in the middle of the year may be worth it if it ultimately creates greater interest in the finals, and this is perhaps enough to justify the move. Combined with this, the increasing focus which will now exist around the summer of ODI’s in Australia can only be a good thing, as this form of the game needs all the help it can get. Change is always met with resistance, but the true test of whether it is justified will only come after its implementation.

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