I don’t remember World Series Cricket but I do know just how much it changed the face of Australian and world cricket. It created heroes, household names, and through television connected a whole new generation of cricket lovers with the new age cricketer. All through some visionaries, using a new format to leap frog an old concept into a new era.
Now, I maybe a lover of a good yarn, and ‘may’ at times give a story a little extra colour but believe me when I say I think the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) has the building blocks of being as big an influence on the the future of women’s cricket as World Series Cricket did for the men’s game. That’s saying a lot seeing as we have had some major contributions already. We invented overarm bowling and had the first ever World Cup, however, neither of these significant events changed the standing of the women’s game. The WBBL I think will be talked about as the starting point of what will become a fully professional sport somewhere down the track.
It’s been a month since the conclusion of the inaugural season and I think I can now write some thoughts on it without saying “pinching myself”, “beyond expectations” and “game changer”. That along with “shut the front door” which I’m sure my mum will understand but still ask me to explain to cause me some slight discomfort. But please do keep these phrases in mind as they are all, for so many reasons, phrases that perfectly fit the following musings.
I, like so many others were as nervous as all get up and had major doubts about the WBBL being rushed through and creating more headaches than wins. Yes, we were riding the wave of a monster year for women’s sport which had produced a sweeping wave of support for our athletes and teams that we had never felt before.
A quick reminder – Diamonds win the World Cup at home, Matilda’s reach quarter finals of the World Cup and upset Brazil, Southern Stars win back the Ashes on English soil, Michelle Payne becomes first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup, we had the first all female Bathurst driving team, the AFL exhibition match smashes viewership numbers (avg 300K +) and the list goes on.
My concerns for the WBBL were many. Additional teams in Melbourne and Sydney, a lack of player talent depth, added workload to BBL franchises and state cricket associations, the impact on club cricket and are we reacting too quickly to the hype around women sport to kick start things? Six months on and all those phrases I said I was not going to mention have been used ad nauseam by me and a hundred others.
The most common question I get asked is “what was your WBBL highlight?” And as a former player who has played with and against the current players, still coaches some of the girls, has club teammates involved and loves watching I thought I’d naturally gravitate to playing moments.
Molly Strano’s 5/14 v The Melbourne Stars, the pint sized South African, Shabnim Ismail, bowling at 120km/hr +, Corrine Hall’s Blinder or the competition surprise packet Hobart Hurricanes silencing the doubters time and time again.
All were awesome to watch and to get excited about however my highlights were all off field. And each of the follow three topics will impact the game significantly on a much greater scale as they will change the perception, the culture and the respect for the women’s game.
Not in batting order ….
Hats off Cricket Australia and Network Ten for the leap of faith, the feet first approach and the commitment to producing a top class broadcast. It was always a team approach but what would a team be without good leadership and Dave Barham, head of Ten Sport, certainly lead from the front from day dot.
“One of the reasons it’s working is we’re putting full resources into it. There is no difference between the quality and the amount of cameras we’re using in the women’s and men’s game.
“It’s probably the only women’s sport in this country with 30 cameras on it. It’s the highest quality coverage we can do.”
Dave Barham, Head of Network Ten Sport
State of play from Network Ten was “let’s not get carried away!” Let’s make sure that everything we do in terms of the production is equivalent to the men’s broadcast, that we prepare and evaluate to ensure continual improvement and that most of all we all have a load of fun doing it.
As newbies to Ten, Lisa Sthalekar and myself weren’t quite sure what to expect. Our first production day was as exciting as it was exceptionally awkward and embarrassing. To start with we were in a room discussing the season ahead with Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting, Mark Waugh and Damien Fleming – let’s face it, it was like being a kid in a lolly shop. That was quickly replaced by pure cringe worthy, I feel like an idiot moment…make that moments as we were told over and over again to walk toward the camera in a certain way, look down the barrel of the camera, be bigger and bolder, remember lines and of course all while being as natural as possible.
Our regular WBBL team was rounded out by Andy Maher who was lead for the WBBL games and kept Lisa and I on task. Jacob Walker was our line producer and his tireless work behind the scenes gave the games polish and energy. And special mentions to the expert stand in commentators for when Lisa was off playing with the Sydney 6’ers – Peter Siddle, Belinda Clark, Melinda Farrell and Mitchell “No 6ers Bias Here” Starc.
Let’s just start with this little gem. TV viewers for WBBL were equivalent to what the BBL achieved in their first year! Yes, BBL was on FoxSports in comparison to free to air but not a bad little stat to start with.
It’s no secret that Ten were hoping for an average viewership of 20,000 on Channel One HD for the first broadcast game which was the Brisbane Heat v the Adelaide Strikers on Saturday 19th December at the GABBA. So when the numbers came in, the national viewership average was 165,000 peaking at 425,000 which ranked it #33 across all TV shows that day. We thumped The Morning Show Weekend, Bondi Vet (OK yes it was a repeat) and SBS World News. We were hot on the heels of Pepper Pig and Lord of the Rings Two Towers and our big brother BBL smashed the #1 slot with 853,000.
And over the season;
• The 2015-16 Women’s Big Bash League averaged 144,000 total viewers, including 53,000 25 to 54s.
• Audience peaked at 400,000 on January 2nd.
• Men over 40 accounted for almost half of the audience (49%).
• The Games on ONE were #1 in their time slot in total people, 25 to 54s and under 55s among the commercial multi channels.
• The Games on TEN were #1 in their time slot in 25 to 54s and under 55s and #2 in total people.
• Across the season, the Women’s Big Bash League reached over 3 million viewers (18% of the population).
• The Women’s Big Bash viewers are up +182% on the A-League’s viewers on SBS (144,000 vs. 51,000).
• Matador Cup: 96,000 (Gem), A-League: 78,000 (SBS2) and 62,000 (Fox Sports)
NBL: 42,000 (Gem) and 14,000 (Fox Sports).
• Flow on affect to the T20 Internationals on Nine Network was evident with average viewers up to 265,127.
And let’s not forget the fans who rocked up to watch as well who set records nearly every weekend! I should have known it was going to be a big season when I rocked up to the first round at the Junction Oval in Melbourne and got turned back by security from the car park I’ve shared with some parents and a few locals who hadn’t made it home from a big night out on Fitzroy St the night before. Free coffee, face painting, jumping castles all added to a festival feel for the 1500 attending over the day.
That quickly turned into 14,611 and the league record set at Etihad Stadium for the Melbourne Renegades v Sydney Thunder game on January 9th. The double header with a BBL round had fans showing up knowing there would be a two and half hour gap between games which only says to me what would crowd numbers be with a just a 45min gap?
Finally, and maybe my favourite highlight, were the conversations the WBBL has started. Some are just light hearted, easy going reflections others more in depth and complex and some were, well discussions that ended with people agreeing to disagree. And that’s not a bad thing either as at the bare minimum it hopefully means people are willing to get their heads around broader issues than just the sport itself.
Other sports are not wanting to be left behind and the conversations at board and operational levels will have mentioned how cricket’s strategic goals around women in sport and making the game Australia’s favourite sport is making big inroads into new audiences.
The AFL is now working towards a national competition for 2017, the ANZ Championships are looking at revamping their competition by increasing Australian based teams and decreasing NZ teams to retain bigger viewers numbers on TV and at games. Globally the English Cricket Board are about to launch their own Super League T20 series this year to ensure they can stay in touch with the Southern Stars internationally.
For whatever reason I have always felt that, of all the sport, there seems to be the biggest comparison between men’s and women’s cricket than any other. I think in a lot of ways this is because people hadn’t ‘seen’ the women’s game as much as say tennis, swimming, athletics etc. Now having seen it more I’m hearing a new found appreciation for the way in which the players go about things. Shabnim Ismail at 50kg max and 5’ nothing bowling at 120km/hr makes you wonder and talk about how fast she would bowl if she had a Mitchell Johnson frame.
And the best conversation of all will happen years down the track when the boys the parents I see bringing to WBBL, relive memories of going to WBBL games as kids and how they grew up never questioning females playing the game and therefore probably never question playing any sport or doing anything else that in the past had been considered a male domain.
So instead of the the watermelon uniform that the West Indies wore in the first year of World Series Cricket, and let’s face it they were the only team that could pull that off, it was the magenta of the Sydney 6’ers.
Unlike WSC the WBBL had no divided loyalties to national boards or court cases or players being not selected for tours. But then the marketing of the game in WSC did create a classic hit in Come on Aussie Come On. So could cricket fan and comedian Bobby Macumber have a potential hit on her hands.
Either way year one of WBBL was a massive hit, with more to come!