A Confederacy of Dunces (Pt 2): Big Bash League

 

Glamorous, jaw dropping, captivating, brilliant. No, it is not Erin McNaught strutting down a catwalk. It is T20 cricket – and it is about to rock Australia like never before.

BBL ‘20 Days to go’ promo

“KFC T20 Big Bash League is the most talked about event in the country. Fans love their teams and families and kids of all ages pack grounds around the country. Dressed in their team’s colours, they come every week to watch the best T20 players on earth…”

BBL Vision Statement

“Ultimately our position is that Twenty20 needs to complement not compromise international cricket.”

Mike McKenna, Cricket Australia

“Put simply, private owners will not have the same objectives as CA, so introducing them to the Australian cricket system risks compromising the achievement of CA’s goals.”

 Argus Review Executive Summary

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Life is full of choices.

Married or single? Children or not? Buy or rent?

Now, courtesy of the Big Bash League’s marketing gurus, comes “the biggest choice you’ll ever make”. Yes folks, Melbourne Stars or Perth Scorchers? Hobart Hurricanes anyone?

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The biggest choice Cricket Australia made for this summer was to dismantle the state-based Big Bash T20 competition, which had seen state teams drawing crowds of up to 40,000 for the first time since the Second World War. Instead, it has arranged this summer’s schedule around a new franchise-based competition involving eight entirely manufactured entities, sorry, teams.

The next choice CA made was to move the start of the Big Bash League forward from 2012/13 to this season. The abbreviated timeframe has doubtless contributed to the rocky road which followed.

By midyear it was apparent CA was unable to arrive at a business model that satisfied state associations and potential private investors. With time running out, the intended 51/49 equity split between CA and private owners was postponed. Unsure itself of how to balance private investment with control of events, CA has currently opted for the latter. CA is bearing the entire cost of launching and promoting the BBL in its initial stages. A substantial loss is anticipated for this season.

This loss will be accentuated by sponsorship which has proved as elusive as a desert oasis. There was initial talk (hope?) of Indian investment, but this was logically contingent in part on Indian players appearing in the BBL. As India is playing a test series which clashes with the BBL this was always impossible for test players. It became impossible for all when the BCCI, whatever its motivation, denied permission for any Indian players to participate. Needless to say, the Indian money never eventuated.

Local investment has been hardly easier to attract. KFC continued with the competition naming rights it had previously maintained for the first Big Bash. Apart from that, none of the franchises has announced the major sponsor they were hoping for. Various secondary sponsorships have been settled, some with the suspicion of fire-sale about them.

Working with reduced finances, budgets for the playing lists of franchises were similarly constrained, capped at around $1 million per team (!). A mooted IPL style player auction was cancelled. Presumably, the comparison of player prices was deemed too unfavourable to the smaller Australian model. In the meantime, the Memorandum of Understanding negotiations between CA and the Australian Cricketers Association has been put on hold, presumably until the whole mess has been sorted out.

What led CA down this expensive and largely speculative path?

When you hear the public rationales, it seems very relevant that Mike McKenna, James Sutherland and other key CA figures have significant AFL influence in their backgrounds, because much of the reasoning sounds like football reasoning.

According to Mike McKenna, who is running the BBL ‘project’ on behalf of CA, “Australian cricket is unusual in that it relies heavily on the international game to generate the revenue we use to invest in growing the game. Most sports are supported by their domestic competitions, with international revenue the cream on top. In cricket, it’s the opposite”. Quite. In cricket, that has always been the natural order of things. Franchises, memberships and the like are all football concepts, not cricket ones. The BBL will have to be the vehicle for substantial cultural change in cricket if it is to achieve many of its aims..

The other main argument put by CA is research they claim shows that the younger age group has lost interest in cricket, and that T20 is the preference of those still engaged. According to Mr McKenna, ”to reach kids, we need cricket that doesn’t look like the cricket they know.” Doesn’t that sound like a ringing endorsement for the very sport he is supposed to be promoting?

CA’s research may well be right. Cricket may have lost its hold on the younger generation. If so, that is a matter requiring the most serious examination. But how well thought out is the BBL as a response to this? All the pink hummer hype and skate-punk chic that’s been employed to sell the BBL seems pretty desperate even to my jaundiced, middle-aged eye. Can cricket ever convincingly sell itself as rock ‘n’ roll? Is rock ‘n’ roll even relevant to today’s youth? Would a computer game and a mobile phone app have better caught their interest? …Oh yes, we probably have those as well.

It would take an optimist to believe CA really knows how to be hip with the kids. It seems more likely to end up looking like your embarrassing divorced uncle; the one with a bad toupee and  paunch, who just bought a groovy new outfit and is trying to crack onto the younger chicks.

More probably CA is doing what it tends to specialise in, being last on the bandwagon. Everyone has already had a go at their own domestic T20 league, with decidedly mixed results.

The IPL has certainly tilted the balance of world cricket, but after only four seasons it is showing some cracks. Many commentators are already suggesting the wave has crested, that this coming season could make or break its future.  That may be prove mere speculation. The whole T20 scene may settle down to a workable equilibrium. Or it may go the way of so many other fast money deals.

Can we be sure that we won’t in a decade be accusing T20 of many of the same faults identified in the 50 over game in recent years? Public opinion has often proved fickle when it comes to the shorter versions of the game. Has CA already missed the bandwagon?

What of the one version of the game that has truly stood the test of time? To a man, CA representatives hold hand on heart and say the BBL must “complement not compromise” test cricket. Does anyone out there believe they’re serious?

The palpable air of resignation in Michael Clarke’s post-Hobart press conference said a lot. He spoke like a man looking at a dud hand. Of course it would help if Phil Hughes had a Shield game to try and rehabilitate his mind and technique. Of course it is less than ideal that any replacement required during the Indian series will not have a recent first class game under their belt. He didn’t even have to discuss the whole Ed Cowan fiasco.

Of course CA is compromising test cricket this summer in endeavouring to push BBL interests. Its own decisions gave it little choice. If it hasn’t bet the whole house on the BBL, there’s at least a couple of bedrooms up for grabs. Maybe even the carport.

Whether you like T20 or not, whether you intend to watch any of the games, you better hope CA recoups some of its investment in the BBL. If it doesn’t, all other levels of the game in this country will pay the consequences.

In all likelihood novelty factor and the tsunami of hype will draw crowds early. A veritable Dad’s Army has been coaxed out of retirement, so there will at least be a nostalgia factor. Whether that interest sustains, and whether it reaches that sought after new audience better than the previous Big Bash will be crucial. If CA is to negotiate better TV deals, or sell more franchises, this new model had better work. A poor man’s IPL constructed for financial purposes will please no one if it proves to be unfinancial.

Amidst so much speculation, one thing is certain. Aside from corruption, the most pressing issue for world cricket is to establish a workable balance between the three formats of the game. In pursuing the BBL, CA has done nothing but add to that muddle. Nor has it helped to ease inflationary pressures.

Tackling these issues really would have involved “the biggest choice you’ll ever make”.

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has been a Carlton member for more than 30 years.

Comments

  1. JB – very well constructed article. Some huge issues in here, and not just cricket ones.

    Why is CA establishing its church on the flimsy foundations of T20 cricket? Its a bit like the AFL deciding to play NAB Cup games during the footy season to “compliment” it.

    However, perhaps cricketing purists should see T20 for what it is – meaningless hit and giggle fun. I don’t subscribe to that argument. The affects of T20 are already very obvious in the test arena – lack of patience, lack of technique, lack of concern for the result, lack of application in the context of the game (Brad Haddin) etc etc.

    I find it totally perplexing. Then again I am over 40.

  2. John Butler says:

    Thanks Dips,

    This isn’t intended as a T20 bashing exercise (sorry for the pun). I eat fast food. I watch the occasional T20 game like many followers.

    But so much else is being pushed aside to accommodate the BBL. And to date its implementation seems dubious at best.

  3. JB – agree, Its not so much about T20 its more about what is being risked for T20

    When you watch T20 (I’ve never watched a game) do you get excited about what you are witnessing? Does the result mean anything to you? Do you feel like you’re watching history in the making? Do you care if Shane Hurley bowls out Matthew Hayden? Can you see Gideon Haigh writing up a history of T20 with all the care and application that he applies to the richness of test cricket? Am I just a grumpy old fart?

    And why is it T20? Why not T19 or T31 or T15? Did a focus group workshop it and decide that the extent of the modern human concentration can only last as long as an episode of Modern Family? What’s the point of it? Where will T20 be in 10 years? 20 years? By then it will probably be called iCricket and teams will sit on a couch and play out the game on a glass top table with computer generated graphics. Maybe T20 will be purchased by American baseball clubs and be called Bash Ball.

    Meanwhile test cricket will continue. Wounded maybe, but alive. And we’ll take notice of it.

  4. John Butler says:

    Dips, I think we’re in agreement on most points here.

    But we’re not T20’s target demographic (as you pointed out). If this format can attract new people to the game then there’s nothing wrong with that. The question is will that new group stick?

    When T20 came along I was fairly indifferent to the implications.

    But cricket administrators world wide seem struck by a kind of gold rush fever about it. They are the ones worrying me.

  5. I am having great pleasure in verbally hatef***ing the PR idiot who wrote the BBL ‘20 Days to go’ promo and the BBL Vision Statement…

  6. Geez Dips – what’s with all the questions. But as your life coach – here goes:
    1 – No.
    2 – Yes – The result means the game is over. Great excitement. The replay of Farmer Wants a Wife will be on soon.
    3 – Yes – The Titanic and the Hindenburg are history.
    4 – Yes – We’ll get a cutaway to the teeth, shades and strapless one in the stands. Middle aged crumpet.
    5 – Yes – He wrote a book on the James Hardie asbestos history. Toxic disasters are Gideon’s specialty.
    6 – Libel laws prevent a response.
    7 – Why 3 sessions in a day? 5 days in a Test (we only need 3 these days)? Red ball?
    8 – Why does the world go on turning?
    9 – Modern what?
    10 – I have recently received an inheritance from my aunt in Nigeria. Can you send your bank details.
    11 – See Argus report Volume XXXVVVIII.
    12 – With me. Eternal nothingness.
    See you at the Tabernacle on Sunday morning. Bring your own Torah this time.

  7. JB / Dips / Litza
    Whilst I am a 40+, Test-match loving traditionalist, I also believe there is a place for 20/20 cricket (insert pun here). I attended a number of the Vics’ 20/20 matches over the past couple of seasons, and enjoyed them for what they were (insert pun here). In all seriousness, I could not have cared a fig whether the Vics won or not, but enjoyed the spectacle.
    I am disappointed that CA deemed it necessary to throw out a model founded on state-based allegiences, which have stood the test of time since federation. The new structure, as JB rightly alludes to, was all predicated on securing Indian players and Indian dollars. And in the end, the BBL got neither! They have thrown out a successful concept, and for what? The BCCI muct be laughing behind CA’s back (insert pun here).
    There is nothing worse than advertisements and/or promotions which talk down to you, taking you for a fool. That the promoters of the BBL have done this is a gross understatement.
    Fixturing: I cannot understand why the BBL was not scheduled around (or after) the Tests rather than vice versa. I can understand M Clarke’s frustration and P Hughes’ confusion (and in fairness to Clarke, he has never taken the IPL $$).
    The costs will be emormous…although mostly for show, the Renegades have on their books a batting coach (D Jones), bowling coach (M Hughes), coach (S Helmot), and an assistant coach (L Mash?).
    Care factor of the players? (Insert pun here).

  8. Litza
    the BBL has a “vision statement”???????

  9. Tony Roberts says:

    Nothing against lights. Nothing against colours. Nothing against city-based teams. Nothing against sports that are resolved in 2-3 hours. Neutral on time limits (depends on the sport).

    All for sports that are properly codified contests between opponents, attack & defence, bat & ball etc. (e.g all football codes, baseball, tennis etc.). T20 (all limited overs cricket, in fact) is not a sport, but gimcrack entertainment: ‘reality’ TV in a sports stadium.

    We not gonna take you
    We forsake you
    Gonna rape you
    Let’s forget you better still.

    Ahhh…feel better now (can Medibank Private be a BBL sponsor?)

  10. PeterB – so you think I AM a grumpy old fart!

    FYI – apparently Modern Family is an American sitcom (which has been banned in my house along with a multitude of other televisual nonsense).

  11. Dips. Modern Family is a brilliant show. Use some of the time you’re saving by ignoring T20 and watch an episode. It’ll do you and your family good.

  12. John Butler says:

    Gentlemen,

    Leaving the TV criticism to one side, it seems if nothing else that we are confirming CA’s research as to our demographic’s opinion of T20. :)

  13. Well may we say God Save the Queen, because nothing will save T20.

  14. John Butler says:

    After much searching, found a crowd figure for last night’s opening game in Sydney (they’re not boasting about it very loudly).

    12,285.

    Just fair. They’ll be praying for a big turn out for Warnie tonight.

  15. John Butler says:

    23,000 and change last night after all that build up.

    Stand by for lot’s of talk about how good the TV ratings were.

    There would be a suspicion Warnie’s hand wasn’t that good – only 2 overs.

    Either that, or it was the Warner effect.

  16. Peter Flynn says:

    JB,

    I think bigger crowds will attend in Jan.

    It all looks like World Team Tennis to me.

  17. Flynny,
    I remember when the VFA got bigger crowds than that.
    Only 12,000 in Sydney on Friday night.
    Not the start they would have been hopng for.

  18. John Butler says:

    PJF, you may well be right.

    It will probably take some time to sort out who’s who and what’s what for fans. If they bother.

    But for all the coin they have dropped on this adventure they need to do significantly better than what they had.

    Funny you mention the VFA Smokie. I listened to a bit of radio last night. I thought Mark Ridgeway was Rex Hunt reborn for a while there.

  19. Phantom – Its the Hobart Hillbillies and the Perth Stinkers tonight. Are we having a Cadbury’s on the result? (I like to support the Tasmanian economy). As Big Kev used to say “I’m excited”. Saw Ricky in the nets on our news tonight. Now I understand his dismissal shots at Bellerive. He was rehearsing for the Hillbillies and T20.

  20. Peter,

    yes I will have a Freddo frog on the Perth Stinkers please. I can’t barrack for a Hobart side. They stink.

    Then again I am not in the slightest bit interested in this financially focussed barstardisation of cricket, so the bet is off.

    I thought the only gig tonight was at Loftus Road where QPR play the Red Devils.

  21. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Well after all the publicity about this new comp I sat down and was going to chill out and watch a bit of it only to discover that the matches are not on normal TV. What an idiot I am -assuming that because there was so much publicity that it would actually be on TV. I hadn’t seen any advertising about it being exclusively on Foxtel
    I said to my son – ‘This is as bad as the footy”. ‘He replied “That’s a big call coming from you mum.”

  22. John Butler says:

    Pamela, you touch on a relevant point.

    This exercise is largely about what CA hope to package and sell in a future TV rights deal.

    That’s unlikely to be free to air.

  23. It will turn round and bite CA on the posterior: just wait and see.

    Just to show what a sham the whole thing is, the Hobart chargers did not have one Hobart born person in their team last night.

    It was on ‘Auntie’ last night when I went to bed. As soon as the commentators (and they did sound quite common and Mr Hughes is gaining spud proportions) mentioned Hobart I turned it off.

    Only 60 days till the first game of footy: albeit the preseason kick and giggle, but bring it on.

  24. Didn’t the Big Botch league get off to a tear out west last night. Chasing a formidable 140, the Perth Pensioners went at 4 and a half an over until Western Power invoked the mercy rule and turned the lights off. Herschelle, King Kat, Mr Cricket, Collo, Uncle Marcus – yes son, they all were famous cricketers. Thirteen thousand enthralled souls last night. Think they’ll ask the crowd to bring candles next game to save on costs, and improve the spectacle. Cricket by Candlelight. “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.” The Stinkers and the Australian team are singing from the same songsheeet – “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”

  25. The irony of watching games which CA hopes to resurrect Australian cricket fortunes on, full of has beens where the young pups can’t get a gig is somewhat lost.

    The fact that I can watch it live in Abu Dhabi is also somewhat ironic given Pamela’s comments.

  26. As long as James Sutherland has ANYTHING to do with Australian Cricket it is doomed. The man is a complete fool and out of his depth. No doubt CA will eventually come to it’s senses and sack him but of course not before a hefty $4-5 Million dollar pay-out. I haven’t been to a non Test game in over 30 years and don’t intend to for another 30. Report and report says that CA should be an independent board/commisiion and every time the entrenched cronies resist. Sorry to say but Cricket is a sport going nowhere. Adminstered by morons, lavishly supported by a sycophantic media and (apart from Test cricket) loathed by anyone over the age of 25. If CA think that the clowns that turned up on Saturday night (the ones with the attention span of a Chimpanzee) are the future spectators that they have to chase then Cricket in this country is sicker than I thought and headed for the dustbin of history.

  27. Peter,
    My wife innocently asked me on Sunday night “Who are all these new
    teams….with old players?” She suggested that one of the things she
    enjoyed about the old Big Bash was that it was a great way of getting
    to know the young players who were being introduced into the state
    system.
    Not much chance of WA blooding a new young spinner while Brad Hogg
    is rolling his arm over (same with the Vics).

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