The IPL has developed into a global T20 juggernaut, with the most cash, the biggest broadcasting deals and the best players. It is inescapably the premier short-form competition in the world.
Alongside India, England and Australia make up cricket’s ‘Big Three’, and the latter two nations are now at very different stages of development of their own domestic tournaments.
After a blistering start in Australia, the Big Bash has been in danger of tailing off in recent seasons. Criticism of a bloated schedule and a stale product have been borne out by falling attendance figures.
The rain-affected final this year attracted just over 10,000 spectators, while the only fixture to pull a crowd in excess of 30,000 in the four weeks prior was Melbourne Stars vs Melbourne Renegades at the Marvel Stadium, which attracted 30,388. Given the size of Australian stadia and the buzz in the BBL’s early years, those numbers are cause for concern.
Where the Big Bash goes from here is intriguing. The organisers decided to forego bigger broadcast money in the competition’s early years, preferring to focus on securing a greater reach through free-to-air exposure and banking on sponsorship and advertising making up the shortfall as the Big Bash grew year-on-year. It seemed a sound plan at the time, but the BBL is at risk of becoming an expensive punt.
We don’t know whether this is a blip and the Big Bash will bounce back, but it serves as a cautionary tale in the year that the Hundred is set to launch, another competition with huge investment and an element of risk behind it.
Scrutiny will intensify because the existing T20 Blast in England and Wales performed strongly last year: Average attendances for 2019 T20 Blast group matches rose 15% and were up 47% over the past five years. Middlesex’s home derby against Surrey at Lord’s on 8th August was watched by 27,772 people, the highest attendance for a domestic T20 match in England. Meanwhile, Surrey and Sussex both sold out six of their seven home matches in the competition.
The advantage that the Hundred has is that it is a new and fresh competition. From a commercial standpoint, this creates an opportunity to engage with new sponsors and find endorsement with younger audiences that domestic cricket has not necessarily been able to crack.
The Hundred is supposed to be shorter, sexier and more consumer-friendly, and to create a commercially viable model in the longer-term that is exactly the spirit that it needs to capture and maintain.
The counties also find themselves in an uncertain position. Their strength derives from the scepticism that the wider cricketing community holds for The Hundred. Fans of sport can be staunchly loyal, and if counties can use this as a way to connect more strongly with their core audiences and keep the traditionalists onside, there is no reason the T20 Blast could not have a successful long-term future too.