Love it or hate it, the Big Bash League (BBL) has given Australian cricket a makeover and attracted new audiences in record numbers. Women and children in particular are surging through the turnstiles at stadiums across the country. So, what’s changed in the Australian psyche? Why are we adopting new teams, donning their fluorescent team colours and watching BBL in unprecedented numbers?
Deakin University Sports Management lecturer, Dr Henry Wear believes a combination of factors have contributed to Australia’s growing passion for this cricket spectacle – not the least our ever-shortening attention spans. The T20 format is the ‘new’ one-day match – firmly cementing its place over the past six years in the Australian summer sporting calendar.
‘Cricket purists may scoff, but today’s consumers are a time-poor, technology-savvy audience who demand constant stimulation and – thanks to the reach of social media – influence the direction of the sports they love,’ Dr Wear says. And if ticket sales and television ratings are anything to go by, they love BBL. Here’s why…
A touch of Bollywood
‘Before the launch of BBL in 2011, the T20 match format had already gained popularity around the world, especially in India through the Indian Premier League (IPL),’ Dr Wear says. ‘By creating a fast-paced format and adding a touch of Bollywood glamour, you suddenly had a more engaging, entertaining game that appealed to a much wider audience. Cricket Australia no doubt saw the opportunity to apply a similar approach here.’
Pre-2010, Australia’s interest in cricket was at a serious low. Today, cricket is the nation’s current number one participation sport and almost one quarter of all players are female. According to Dr Wear, it’s no coincidence that our reignited love for the game has come since the launch of the BBL.
BBL has attracted a whole new audience and delivered unprecedented attendance figures. At the end of its fifth year in 2016, Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland said the BBL had raced into the record books with ‘an average audience of more than 1 million Australians tuning in to watch the tournament on Network TEN and a record breaking 1,030,495 people attending matches.
The surge in popularity can be attributed to BBL’s wider audience appeal, says Dr Wear. ‘Where cricket was once seen as the older gentleman’s domain, BBL has opened the sport up to a whole new generation – a younger generation.’
‘It suits them perfectly, it’s a shorter format with plenty of other entertainment – fireworks, cheerleaders, mascots, big screens, prizes, international cricket stars, commentary directly from the players – the whole package appeals to young people who are used to constant stimulation.
Kids are exposed to, and at times demand, instant gratification. The BBL delivers this almost every night of the summer – a time of the year when, traditionally, there have been few sporting options.’
Cricket’s a man’s sport, right? Wrong…
Aside from capturing the imagination and interest of young Australians, BBL has also attracted a huge female audience. The introduction of the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) is certainly one reason for the growth in female fans says Dr Wear, but the other is its accessibility as a family outing – the organisation of which is often mum’s domain.
‘Traditionally, test cricket has been a game you leave on the TV all day at home, sitting down every now and again to check the score and watch the highlights,’ Dr Wear says. ‘BBL’s shorter time span means mums are happy to take their children to the event and share the ‘’collective experience’’ of entertainment.
It’s more social and it’s affordable – making it a much more accessible variation of cricket – similar to other sports such as netball, basketball, rugby, AFL where there is a strong social element.’
According to Dr Wear, Australian’s passion for BBL is not just a reflection on the successful reformatting of one of Australia’s most beloved sports, it’s a strong nod to the power of the consumer.
‘Consumers love new products, and this extends to sport. BBL fits the current consumer requirement of consuming more, but in shorter periods. There are more fours, more sixes, more wickets – all crammed into a shorter timeframe. They don’t have to pay attention for as long,’ Dr Wear says.
‘Consumers can still enjoy cricket in its traditional formats, but BBL gives them more choice. And greater choice makes people feel empowered, happier. Cricket Australia are providing a positive consumer experience.’
‘We live in an era now, thanks to the power of social media and technology, where consumers feel a much greater ownership of their brands. They play a role in influencing their direction. The BBL is great example of this.’
Looking to the future, Dr Wear believes other sports would be wise to take note of the BBL’s success story.
‘I don’t believe creating new consumer products or tailoring formats to today’s consumer needs will necessarily detract from the core product – in this case Test cricket – as each format serves its own purpose. All it’s providing is more consumer options and that, in my opinion, is a clear win.’
Originally published on this.