The first thing that hit me as I stepped onto the Sydney tarmac was the heat.
I had been warned about it by the gentleman sitting next to me on the plane. Our conversation began with me asking him if he had heard about the Women’s Big Bash League starting on Saturday (December 10), or even its more inveterate brother, the Big Bash League. As it turned out, he was a Frenchman who spent a lot of time in the Kingdom of Cambodia, and wasn’t overly fond of most things English, including cricket. I pocketed his warnings about the heat, and postponed my little survey.
I took it up again with a gentleman sitting across me on the train, who had not only heard of the BBL, but also knew that the WBBL, in its second edition, was starting about ten days earlier, and how much of a crowd there was likely to be. “I’ve seen ads about it on TV,” he added.
That came as a surprise – but on second thought, it shouldn’t have.
Last year, ground attendance at the games often exceeded that at women’s international games. The alignment of the WBBL teams with the existing BBL franchise structure must claim some credit for this, as women’s cricket has found a new fan base, outside of its coterie of loyal followers.
WBBL 2 fact sheet
Eight teams: Adelaide Strikers, Brisbane Heat, Hobart Hurricanes, Melbourne Renegades, Melbourne Stars, Perth Scorchers, Sydney Sixers, Sydney Thunder
59 matches: December 10-January 28
24 overseas players
All matches live streamed
Channel Ten reacted swiftly to the overwhelming ratings for the first game broadcast on their digital channel, and promoted three games to their main channel. “The early ratings were great, so we identified the Melbourne derby as a big game, with Meg Lanning (the Australia captain) playing. We decided to throw it over to the main channel,” David Barham, Ten’s head of cricket, had said last year. It was a move that paid off, as 4.39 lakh viewers tuned in.
This time, Ten have gone a step further. They will broadcast Saturday’s clash between Sydney Thunder, the defending champions, and Lanning’s Melbourne Stars in the evening primetime slot, a first for a standalone women’s sports event. Let that sink in for a moment. A women’s cricket match, of a tournament that is only in its second year, has beaten established sports like netball and basketball to the proverbial podium.
Besides, three more games from the ‘Opening Weekend Carnival’ will be broadcast, as part of a deal that will see 12 games on television – up from the ten last year – including the semifinals and the January 28 final.
So that explained the ads on TV, which may be a first for a domestic tournament.
Not only that, this year, every ball will be on film. Cricket Australia will live stream every match for free on their website and the WBBL Facebook page. Fans everywhere are already in anticipation.
On social media, the WBBL has been persistently flooding cricket feeds. Brisbane Heat’s Holly Ferling took me into virtual reality land through their new VR interactive experience. The BBL and WBBL mobile games were complete with the digital versions of Lanning and Travis Head, crude mannerisms and all.
In all, this could represent a breakthrough moment for the promotion of women’s sport. With most digital media platforms looking to video content as their growth area in the future, we have a glimpse of what the next few years of cricket broadcasting will look like.
But across the Harbour Bridge and into the Central Business District, the lack of advertisement was conspicuous, even at the King Street Wharf, venue of the media launch for the tournament. While I was expecting a few flags and banners to guide me to the right boat, I ended up following a couple of Brisbane Heat players, as they searched for the ferry themselves. The event itself, at Goat Island in Sydney’s harbour, was well attended by media houses as the eight teams and the best female players got ready for the tournament.
WBBL 2 will have each team play the others twice, with the top four making it to the semifinals. For the sake of a smooth travel schedule, teams will play each other twice in two days, covering both ‘home’ and ‘away’ games in the same city. The opening weekend will have all eight teams in action, across six matches.
The next few weeks promise to be the most high profile, well documented, best followed and most watched domestic women’s cricket competition ever. There will be plenty of rewards for braving the Australian summer in the coming weeks. And we haven’t even talked about the cricket yet.