OzTAM figures show there was a small decline of six per cent in BBL audiences nationally, down from 988,000 to 931,000, but CA says there has been 4 per cent growth in year-on-year ratings once TV and streaming numbers are combined.
Seven, however, has missed out, with national numbers down to 748,000, 14 per cent lower than the 865,000 in its first season covering the league in 2018-19 and 10 per cent down on last season. This has upset the cash-strapped network, which believes it has lost viewers to Fox.
There was a national audience of nearly 950,000 for Friday night’s “eliminator” final between Adelaide and Brisbane, up 26 per cent on the corresponding game in 2020 between Hobart and Sydney Thunder. There was also a considerable spike in free-to-air figures, which climbed 32 per cent for a game not featuring a club from the two biggest markets in Sydney and Melbourne.
Seven believes CA’s move to flip the international men’s season by starting with the white-ball matches, broadcast exclusively by Fox, instead of the Tests robbed it of the chance to attract fans to its BBL telecast. Instead, this opportunity was afforded to the subscription television provider.
Cricket insiders are not surprised a network that has aggressively talked down the product for several months has suffered in the ratings.
Ratings numbers are also well short of the figures seen during the 2015-16 season when the tournament was a 32-game campaign.
Former TV executive David Barham, a driver of the competition’s success when broadcast by Ten, last year urged CA to be “brave” in revitalising the BBL after tabling a review into the league.
CA has since introduced a mid-innings bonus point, in-game substitutions and changes to fielding restrictions, initiatives designed to add strategic elements to the game and create closer contests.
“They all played a really important role in creating such an amazing season that came down to the very last game,” Dobson said. “All the feedback we’ve had is it’s one of the best seasons in a long, long time.”
Barham also publicly advocated for a less is more approach, but Dobson says there are no moves to reduce the 56-match home and away competition to increase TV audiences per game.
“Certainly we’re committed to playing a full 56-game season for the foreseeable future,” Dobson said. “It’s the agreement we’ve got. This year people have continued to tune in.
“It’s not something that we’re contemplating changing in the short term.
“It’s been one of the best seasons we’ve had. Overall, we’re really excited about the number of people tuning in and playing games in front of crowds. It talks to the strength of the competition.
“I think it’s still one of the best sports leagues going around. In terms of the way the game continues to evolve and the entertainment that it provides every night, I still think it’s hard to beat. I think fans are still tuning in wherever they can and are able to watch the Big Bash every night.”
Seven’s anger with CA over fixturing was laid bare in an affidavit written by Lewis Martin, Seven’s head of sport and the boss of its Melbourne operation, and lodged in the Federal Court.
Though it is in dispute over the value of TV rights, Seven trumpeted the ratings success of the Test series, saying the matches had reached 10.8 million Australians.
Seven has been critical of nearly every aspect of the BBL, from the quality of players, the lack of atmosphere from reduced crowds and the use of hubs as a result of border closures.
CA, with its meticulous biosecurity protocols, has defied rapidly changing circumstances created by coronavirus outbreaks in several states to make good on its promise to deliver a full international men’s and women’s schedule and the BBL, which has three finals left to play.
Andrew Wu writes on cricket and AFL for The Sydney Morning Herald