How much did Chris Gayle just cost the Big Bash League?
In the wash-up from the Chris Gayle debacle, one thing became clear: The Big Bash League (BBL) is now realising its huge potential, and that Cricket Australia (CA) has no intention of seeing it brought down by the kind of buffoonery that was on display last Monday night.
In pure marketing terms, Gayle’s comments were entirely ‘off brand’ and have certainly dulled the shine of an amazing season so far. Little wonder administrators and media commentators have been swift to condemn his actions so quickly. To now do so might prove up being extremely costly.
CA took a gamble in walking away from the traditional teams that have competed in state-based 50-over cricket and also attempting to manufacture cross-team rivalries in Melbourne and Sydney. As such the first season in 2011/12 was surrounded in standard Australian cynicism as traditional cricket fans watched cautiously from afar to see if the concept would work.
A mere five years later it’s the biggest show in town – certainly assisted by the absence of One Day Cricket and an unedifying season of Tests. The current edition for the annual tonk-fest has demonstrated the format to be a clear winner for organisers, players and spectators and there are a number of reasons for its success.
A winning formula
It’s on every night, is easy to digest in one sitting, and is action-packed while being family-friendly. The fifth season of the BBL has been a roaring success both on and off the field. Crowds in 2015/16 are up almost 50% over last year – including Saturday’s world-record T20 attendance of over 80,000 at the MCG – and there is no sign of slowing down.
With strong player interactions – through both microphones and body cameras – the BBL has also broken down the walls built by more esteemed and austere versions of the game. As a result, the cricket’s former global cash-cow, the 50-over format, now lies a smouldering pile of meaningless ash.
More than ever, CA is driven to ensure equality in the game as the popularity of women’s cricket continues to rise around the world. On Saturday afternoon almost half a million people tuned in to watch the Melbourne Rebel’s thrilling win against the Adelaide Strikers. To allow comments such as those by Gayle to damage further development of that audience will be a lot more costly than the West Indian’s $10,000.00 fine.
For 28 days from 18 December until late January, the BBL is a clear winner for Channel Ten (ASX: TEN). The beleaguered channel has been desperate for a successful sport since forgoing shared rights to the AFL, and the BBL has delivered in spades.
The cheeky and knowledgeable commentary panel provides banter that matches the pace of the action on field, and manages to keep the energy up even through matches where the result seems inevitable. Nightly TV audiences are averaging a touch under one million and the BBL is typically the most watched programme in its lucrative prime-time slot.
Alongside sport comes inevitable gambling. The biggest challenge for regulators the world over is to ensure as much of that revenue moves though legal channels in order to collect tax income. Sportsbet, one of Australia’s biggest betting agencies and part of global company Paddy Power (LSE: PAP.L), reported an 80% increase in betting on the BBL during the 2014/15 season. Last year’s revenue was approximately a stunning $2.2 billion. This year it is reportedly heading for over $3 billion and further growth is highly dependant on a continually expanding audience.
While that’s all well-and-good, the biggest problem is the nine-fold increase of ‘in-match’ betting. These bets are hugely popular across the sub-continent, and in the past have been closely linked to corruption in the game. While the players are duly compensated for their time in the BBL, CA will be careful to ensure the pressures of this booming betting market do not affect match outcomes.
After the success of this season it’s increasingly difficult to see the BBL heading backwards anytime soon. It’s a dream come true for all stakeholders and, if correctly managed, should continue to deliver. Following Chris Gayle’s embarrassment, many have wondered if international stars are even necessary. However, you can bet that Cricket Australia is dreaming of the rivers of gold generated by the Indian Premier League, and to that end the Big Bash League will become even more – not less – international over time.