An expanded Big Bash League will stretch into mid-February next summer as Cricket Australia seeks to make the finals of the tournament a more significant climax for broadcasters in the looming round of television rights negotiations.
James Sutherland, the CA chief executive, said that the governing body had indicated a desire to make a bigger deal of the BBL’s pointy end in early talks with the networks likely to be bidding for the tournament, including the current rights holders Ten, Channels Nine and Seven and also the pay television operator Fox Sports.
The BBL is set to grow into a full home-and-away league in 2018-19, meaning the addition of another 14 games to this summer’s schedule, though Sutherland said this would mainly mean an increase in the number of double-headers and shorter breaks between games. What will be different is the movement of the semis and final to the middle of February, meaning the BBL will not have to compete for resources and airtime with the limited-overs portion of the international summer.
In 2016-17, for example, Australia played Pakistan in an ODI in Sydney on January 22, the two BBL semi-finals were played on January 24 and 25, another ODI took place on January 26 and then the BBL final was held in Perth on January 28. Sutherland said that CA wanted to push the finals further into February to give them more attention and value, with the national team commonly travelling to an overseas tour by that time of the year.
“One of my observations would be that I don’t feel the BBL has reached a proper climax in the past,” Sutherland told ESPNcricinfo. “It’s sort of been hidden in behind [international] one-day cricket and T20 cricket that’s been played at that time, end of January. I think by pushing it out a bit into the middle of February you can reach a climax.
“Maybe have a bit of a break between the last round, the semi-finals and the finals, and just build to a climax, have a bit of discussion about who’s playing. At the moment you’ve got an international match being played then it seems like next day is the BBL final. It’s about getting the balance right and starting a cycle with a clear view of what’s happening.
“We’ve seen clearly that the BBL and international cricket can co-exist and do at this time of year, particularly through the peak summer period, and then in February as we go into touring in other parts of the world I think the climax of the BBL season can come through the first couple of weeks of February. Ultimately we’ll play more games, it may well mean we play more double-headers, we certainly don’t want to be, by having more rounds, extending the season by a month, that’s not the intention. It’s about finding that balance.”
Having not held rights to any cricket played in Australia since the 2012-13 season, Fox Sports is widely expected to factor into any future deals as a way of helping broaden the increasingly weighty asking price of cricket rights. Any deal with either CA or free-to-air networks may involve simulcasting international matches, or gaining the rights to exclusively broadcast a portion of the greater number of BBL games likely to be available.
“I don’t feel the BBL has reached a proper climax in the past. It’s been hidden in behind [international] one-day cricket and T20 cricket”
“They’ve always been heavily involved in cricket, but they’ve invested in overseas cricket more so than domestic cricket,” Sutherland said. “They started the BBL the first two years, they’ve supported our domestic one day competition and did a very good job when they were partners there. The question mark now is how much do they want, what do they want and what are they interested in.
“While we understand they may be interested, it is then a matter of how that fits with everything else. Clearly the observation I’d make right now is that cricket’s blessed to have all of our valuable content on free-to-air television and two partners in Nine and Ten who do it in their own special way and both attract huge audiences and are extremely professional and care a lot about their production of cricket. We’re in a really good position, hopefully the product is still sought after by them and others as well.”
Another question for CA is how its expanding digital project sits in the next round of deals. Nine’s current agreement with the governing body included an A$40 million component to pay for its digital arm, and Sutherland said he was open to CA setting up its own production house for broadcasts after the fashion of the BCCI and also Tennis Australia’s management of the Australian Open. He also floated the possibility of more direct-to-consumer streaming packages coming into the picture.
“One option there is where we become a production house and produce it all, BCCI does some of that for international cricket but not the IPL. Tennis do their own production for the Australian Open. We could become the production and then sell the feed to the different broadcasters,” Sutherland said. “That’s one option but you can then take it to the next level where you actually do the production and then you sell the option over the top direct to customer. Is it foreseeable? The first step is more foreseeable than the second one, the second one depends on how the market plays out.
“But if you think about the way the world’s changing, the Netflixes and the Googles, Facebook and what they’re doing, it’s probably a more likely scenario that they come in and take a greater interest and investment in sport, and offer the over-the-top service by the game. Instead of buying a movie you buy a game, or have a subscription where you can login to a channel, MLB TV style. That’s a really good example, we unashamedly monitor very closely what MLB has done and continues to do in terms of diversifying its offering to fans, creating different layers and levels.”