Spectators enjoy the atmosphere during the Big Bash League match between the Adelaide Strikers and the Sydney Sixers on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images
Cricket Australia says attendance and TV ratings in the first half of the Big Bash League justify why it deferred its start date and switched to free-to-air telecasts.
Average attendances for the first 16 matches have risen 37 per cent to 19,649, compared with last season's average of 14,366.
The growth has been achieved despite top-ranked Melbourne Stars hosting just one match at the MCG, and most match finish times being pushed back 45 minutes to about 11pm to suit new TV broadcaster Channel Ten.
Network Ten's Big Bash commentary team: (from left) Mark Howard, Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting, Mel McLaughlin, Mark Waugh, Damien Fleming and Andy Maher. Photo: Supplied
Ten, which snared the rights from Fox Sports in a five-year, $100million deal, has attracted more than a million viewers nationally in a quarter of its matches.
Average ratings for the first innings of night matches have been 878,000, while second innings have attracted 973,000 viewers.
BBL boss Mike McKenna, CA's executive general manager of operations, said pushing most of the tournament into January, by moving the start date from December 7 to December 20, was ''definitely the way to go'', even with the later start times.
''The more programming we've got in the holiday period, once work and school is out of the way, the better,'' he said.
''We thought it [later starts] might impact to an extent, but certainly we didn't think it would be that damaging. It's holiday time, we don't have the pressure of kids having to be home in bed and up for school the next day.''
McKenna hailed last Saturday's record Etihad Stadium cricket crowd of 42,837 for the second Melbourne derby between the Stars and Renegades.
Just over a year ago, the Renegades attracted consecutive crowds of less than 8000 people.
McKenna said the TV ratings on Ten had been ''double what we budgeted and probably 25 per cent more than what we'd hoped for in a really perfect world''.
''It's definitely paying off for both us and Channel Ten,'' he said.
''They put a lot on the line in order to get the rights off Fox Sports for the Big Bash … and we also had a lot at stake.''
Channel Ten's decision to show the matches on its primary digital channel have been justified by the ratings.
Despite Ten being outbid by Channel Nine for the national-team TV rights, it has heavily promoted the Ashes series as part of its BBL coverage, a strategy Ten head of sport David Barham strongly defended.
''To me it's all cricket … how could you not talk about it?'' he said. ''I always took the view that a viewer at home would want to hear what Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist think about what's going on in the Test, so we made sure we got that.''
McKenna said CA was confident interest in the BBL would not wane during the second half of the tournament when it will be held concurrently with the Australia-England limited overs series, albeit never with matches on the same night.
''The pattern in the past has been attendances and TV audiences have tapered off a little bit … then picked up again,'' he said.
■ Channel Ten will not bow to criticism of its celebrity catcher segments during BBL matches.
Feedback about Ten's first season broadcasting the BBL has been positive. The exception has been the ongoing promotion where a celebrity is placed on a platform outside the boundary during matches, with a lure of a hefty cash prize - for a home viewer - if they are able to catch a six.
Barham said he held the philosophy that ''you've got to try things'' during broadcasts, and was adamant the promotion would be retained for the rest of the tournament.
''Everyone will love it if someone catches it,'' he said. ''It's $1 million the night of the final. Show me another competition in any sporting event around the world where there's an opportunity for someone at home to win $1 million.''