The fans roar as the fireworks explode – with music blasting a Mexican wave engulfs the stadium. Cricket Australia’s Big Bash League (BBL) has succeeded in attracting families to their sport, which is something that the A-League could look to replicate.
The A-League could learn from both the failures and successes of the Big Bash League to rejuvenate football in Australia, with a BBL style concept to attract consumers and fans to the A-League in a unique manner.
However, an approach into a BBL style experiment would have to be taken carefully as there is a fine line between creating a product that is viewed as a serious competition and creating a product that is looked down upon such as AFLX.
The BBL’s peak was on January 2, in 2016 when 80,883 fans packed into the MCG to watch a match between the Melbourne Stars and the Melbourne Renegades.
While the Big Bash has been in a supposed decline in popularity since, the league has still been able to produce some large attendances.
54,478 people attended a Melbourne Derby on January 4 earlier this year – the third highest crowd for a BBL game in the league’s history.
Meanwhile the A-League’s highest crowd before COVID-19 interrupted the 2019/20 season was 33,523 people at October’s draw between Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City.
Cricket Australia’s success with the BBL came from creating an experience geared towards families and children – with pump up music, fireworks and flamethrowers that were suited to T20 cricket with its high scoring, exciting and shorter format.
Former Liverpool star Craig Johnston has suggested an idea of what an A-League version of the BBL would look like.
“Four quarters, 15 minutes each, rotating substitutes, sin bins, all the things you’re not allowed to do in soccer,” he told The Daily Football Show in 2019.
“So effectively in midfield, you could take a touch, get past a player and you could shoot for goal. Then the goalkeeper’s either saving that shot or it’s a goal.”
“We’re utilising the same players but we’re taking out their midfield and we’re giving the players and the consumers four times more of what they want in the quarter of the time.”
Johnston believes that a Big Bash style format should be adapted by Australian football with A-League teams.
“The big idea is the Big Bash of soccer, but then the kids copy it at their training grounds,” he said.
“It is professional six-a-side with A-League teams. The A-League teams split in half, red versus blue, they play against each other.”
“The Big Bash and the One Day series is the best thing that ever happened to cricket in terms of engaging young minds and future minds.”
If the A-League was to try BBL style product it would need to make sure the best players are available – a weakness of the Big Bash has been that some of the biggest names in Australian cricket do not play regularly in the competition as the league clashes with international fixtures.
An A-League Big Bash competition would also be taken more seriously if the best players were playing regularly.
Perhaps the naming rights sponsor of the competition could provide a cash prize to the winning club, to entice clubs to field their best players.
One lesson that the A-League could learn from the Big Bash is that it has been made too long, something that even stars of the competition like Glen Maxwell have admitted.
“I think the length of the tournament when it was 10 games, I think we all really enjoyed that. I think it was the perfect amount,” Maxwell told SEN in early 2020.
“I just think 14 games is just a little bit much. It just makes for a very long tournament and probably goes for a touch too long.
“With school starting again it makes it a bit more difficult to keep the interest levels going until the end (of the season).”
The Big Bash was at its best when there was a limited number of games played predominantly in the school holidays.
If each A-League team played each other once in a new competition it could have an 11 game season plus a short finals series.
Ideally the A-League Big Bash concept would need to have as many games broadcast on free-to-air as possible – in order to easily accessible to fans.
There seems to be a lack of momentum coming into the 2020/21 A-League season, which is just under a week away. An Australian football version of the BBL could potentially be played as a lead in tournament to the A-League season, bringing attention and hype to the beginning of the competition.