Morphsuits, fireworks and the colour magenta aren’t generally things associated with cricket. For the past six weeks they have been. The T20 Big Bash league has wrapped up its inaugural season, at the same time giving its managers and the wider sport market a bit to think about. Here, we address some of the new elements the competition has brought to cricket, and sport in Australia, and have a look at some aspects of its future development.
The product itself:
T20 cricket is an entertainment format of the game; fast, flashy and filled with constant points of interest to enhance the core product. On the field, this means limited idle gaps, TV interviews with players and rules and conditions to encourage three free flowing hours of entertainment. Off field, the spectacle saw another form of transition. The introduction of fan-focused entertainment, music, lights, flaming explosions, mascots and fireworks to the cricket arena ensured the overall concept screamed fun, and to a certain extent it worked. Discussions Ive had with others suggests the at-ground activation in a cricket context will still take some getting used to. The concept didn’t go as far as employing cheerleaders (see IPL) but the novel concept of having a trophy studded with 300 LED lights says a lot about the movement away from crickets traditional haven.
While the ‘non-cricket’ entertainment was new, many other faces were not. A feature of the inaugral tournament were the veteran players used to add marketability to the league. The presence of such players in their twilight and/or making comebacks could certainly be classified as successful from a marketing perspective (Warne, Hayden among this group for whom large crowds followed), or in other cases from an on field perspective (Hogg went from retired player to international representative over the duration of the tournament). On field, whether the use of such players is an sustainable strategy remains to be seen. Gradual concentration of talent across playing lists should and will be a focus, but bearing in mind demand for players is high (given competition from the Indian, Sri Lankan, Bangladesh, English, South African and Caribbean T20 tournaments) and the calendar does not and will not in the short term free up test players, this may not a simple task.
Ticking off KPIs
As with any commercial or corporate sport product, immediate success will be based on key revenue measures – broadcast, matchday and commercial. TV and gate traffic has been strong – with at ground attendances of over 500,000 for the 28 non-finals games led by a lower pricing structure than in other summer sport or other cricket options. Pay TV viewership has been quoted in the media as being well above that of immediate competitors and likewise above the expectations of Cricket Australia. Popularity on Pay-TV has significantly enhanced its bargaining power for a free to air rights negotiation when the time comes and has positioned the competition well at the conclusion of its initial year. It’s important here to recognise the limited supply of the product – 31 games in total in comparison to other leagues  - and with inevitable expansion will come a longer season. Whether this impacts consumer demand (i.e will people attend 6-8 times over a season compared with 3-4) is an important consideration for the league as it progresses through its lifecycle.
Introducing subscription packages
The advent of the cricket membership or season ticket holder (STH) package is another transition for the sport of cricket in 2011/12. There are obvious benefits to developing such relationship customers, a particularly focus of football codes and more recently, even events such as the Australian Open . The ratio of STH to match attendees has been (as would be expected) relatively low for start-up sport products compared to mature products, and there is a cultural shift here that needs to be ushered in with such a new product in arguably a new market. However, at first glance, the design and value for money elements of club offerings appear commendable. The challenge exists to further develop fan and supporter bases as relationship customers, and to build and replicate models that work effectively for future start up teams, particularly those who may operate in regional areas.
A new approach to managing cricket
The development of new leagues and teams creates opportunities for new structures to come into play for sport organisations. In Australia, many traditional sport organisations are hindered to some degree by the inherent difficulties of managing across complex federal structures (essentially 8 or 9 state and national bodies that are aligned, but often have conflicting priorities). In fact, for years, the AFL has been one of the only large sports with an independant governance structure, and therefore has had a greater level of control and direction over its sport. This clearly is a more efficient system, and one since pursued by other sports (rugby league and tennis among them).
The challenges of Cricket’s own goverance model have been stated previously, and subject to external reviews. Under a new central league-led model, the BBL concept has given cricket a chance to transition a part of its business to a more functional form. This includes opportunities to centralise important areas of the business model, and to consider private and alternate ownership models under flatter organisational structures not hindered by existing political and operational barriers. The organisational design of team structures and governance do not appear uniform across the eight teams, but has given the opportunity to test and develop more lightweight, flexible approaches to running the sport – even if only one area of it. Such an experience may well have drive future important design decisions for the sport going forward.
Future valuation, expansion and privatisation
Finally, lets not forget the ideas of privatisation and franchise models tauted when the BBL was first launched in 2011. Figures around $20-$25m for new Australian teams were suggested in the media, still around 25-30% of the valuation afforded to IPL start-ups  . While uncertainly and hesitation at the time meant this was little more than passing interest, the discussion will rear again.
Cricket now appears to have a shot at developing a viable domestic competition, with international ties to Champions League competitions and International teams, meaning Cricket Australia and its members will, if growth continues, own substantial commercialisable assets outside of the Test team. Two points here though:
Alongside privatisation, expansion plans into regional areas presents a key topic for discussion, and one already noted in the media over the duration of the tournament. Success may have come quickly but the BBL will be mindful of the A-League false starts (North Queensland and Western Sydney as examples). However, the short 6-week season length and positive start in 2011/12 will have cities and regional areas among those tabling bids when the opportunity arises. Overall, such opportunities now present less risk and greater upside than they might have 6 weeks ago…
ALSO ON thePLAYBOOK.com.au: Big Bash League Pre-Season Scorecard.
 AFL and NRL average over 200 ‘minor round’ or non-finals/playoff games
 The ‘football (soccer) family’ and ‘cricket family’ database products run by NSOs have served as stepping stones to this concept in terms of moving beyond purely transactional customers.
 This piece provides a detailed overview of the issues and models considered at the time, also citing up to AUD$400m price tags for IPL expansion franchises sold in 2010.
Note: Adam Karg has previously been involved in research projects with organisations named in this report. All data and factual content here is based on publicly available material.