06 Jun

Big Bash League (BBL) clubs are planning for fans to be able to attend games next summer in a development that could have implications for the India series and Cricket Australia's (CA) feud with players and states.

As the National Rugby League aims to welcome larger crowds next month and the Australian Football League left the door ajar for a full house at this year's grand final, cricket is planning on punters being able to sit in the stands next summer.

BBL club bosses are due to meet with venues in the coming weeks to discuss issues such as biosecurity measures, how many fans could be safely allowed into grounds and also working out what number would ensure a break-even result - with the figure to be dependent on the venue.

The planning for crowds to attend games is part of wide-ranging measures that will also take into consideration a worst-case scenario where stadiums will be closed due to full restrictions in the event of a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

The growing confidence among clubs is in contrast to the pessimism a few months ago when sport was shut down as part of measures to stop the spread of coronavirus. Competitive cricket returned on the weekend with Darwin hosting an eight-team T20 carnival (see cricketinvestor article 4 June).

Nick Cummins, the Melbourne Stars general manager said plans were being made to host fans.

"Yes, we are looking at a lot of different scenarios," he said. "We have to plan under the assumption that the Big Bash League is going to be the same as last year, but then we also have to look at a situation where there are stricter biosecurity measures.

"One of the guiding principles we use is if we had to play a BBL game tomorrow, what would that look like? As the COVID-19 situation evolves, we look at what that situation looks like."

The news raises hope that fans will also be allowed through the gates for the bumper Test series against India, which is due to start on December 3 and run through to early January. CA is yet to release the schedule for the BBL, but the T20 tournament traditionally starts in mid-December.

The possibility of fans at matches will increase scepticism among states and players over the Melbourne Cricket Ground’s grim forecast this week of a 48 per cent drop in cricket revenue for the upcoming season.

The scenario of a full tour by India with partial crowds at most matches was at the optimistic end of possibilities being considered by CA.

In the event of a season with "minimal on-field interruptions and economic impact", CA predicted a 25 to 30 per cent drop in revenue. This took into account an 80 per cent loss in income due to bans on mass gatherings remaining in place.

CA chief Kevin Roberts has said the game will lose Aus$50 million in revenue if crowds are not permitted, though critics have pointed out costs would also reduce by a similar amount if there was no need to spend on marketing for ticket sales.

The players have already rejected CA's estimates and are preparing to formally lodge a notice of dispute. Players and states are stunned CA has enacted drastic cost-cutting measures despite its high confidence in India's Aus$300 million tour going ahead as planned.

CA stood down 200 staff on 20 per cent pay in April while there have been about 150 jobs lost among the state associations, three of whom have signed up to a 25 per cent cut in grants from head office. Roberts has also flagged extensive redundancies at CA, which are due to be finalised in the next fortnight.

John Stephenson


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