27 Jul

Cricket Australia (CA) is facing a dilemma after a challenge for the naming-rights sponsorship of its T20 summer flagship, the Big Bash League (BBL).

KFC has spent tens of millions over the past decade for the prime-time television ‘real estate’ provided by the BBL, but rival fast-food giant McDonald’s has made it clear it wants in on the action with a sizably greater offer.

Loyalty appears to be a strong consideration for CA, however, as Sydney Morning Herald sources believe the governing body is expected to sign a new three-year contract with its long-term BBL partner.

That has raised eyebrows among CA stakeholders including from within the state associations, who are facing having their distributions from head office cut. Some believe the game should be taking every dollar it can get as it slashes costs in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

In an uncertain landscape, though, a new naming-rights deal will provide a degree of long-time certainty, at least around the 20-overs-a-side carnival, which along with international matches is the priority this summer for CA and its interim chief executive Nick Hockley.

Industry experts estimate the Big Bash is worth between A$70m (£38.86m) and A$80m (£44.42m) a year in local broadcast rights fees as part of CA’s A$1.18 billion (£655m) six-year television contract with Foxtel and Seven West Media.

The challenge for CA, though, is to reinvigorate the competition and win back a declining audience, with television ratings and crowds down as the league struggles to regain the lustre of five years ago.

The length of the eight-team tournament and number of matches has been a consistent bugbear for critics. This summer it will take in 61 games, including finals, starting on December 3 and running more than two months until February 6.

The absence of leading Australian Test players such as David Warner and Pat Cummins in recent times has also dented the BBL's appeal. It’s unlikely the multi-format internationals will feature this season because of a Test series against India and then two one-day series in January.

CA is considering a range of innovations for the competition, including the introduction of an overseas player, a mid-innings bonus point, mid-game substitutions and free hits from wides, as well as examining the rain rules.

The use of hubs to stage the BBL is a possibility as organisers continue scenario-planning to combat the threat of COVID-19 to its calendar.

John Stephenson



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