The Indian Premier League was possibly the biggest disruption that the world of cricket ever saw but after the initial shock that it wrecked on established practices, it became the league in which all the players wanted to participate. The riches on offer even forced some cricket boards to reschedule their seasons and the IPL's status as the world's pre-eminent league was firmly established.
It still remains the biggest show in town as far as T20 leagues are concerned and the recent $2.55 billion deal that it inked with Star Sports for the television rights has made it one of the world's most lucrative leagues, across all sports.
So, can any other league really challenge the IPL and its hegemony? Many countries now have their own T20 leagues but none of them has been a runaway success like the IPL. However, there is a slight exception and that is Australia's Big Bash League. It has become immensely popular over the past few years and while it is unlikely that it can challenge the IPL in terms of finances, it could challenge it on the popularity scale.
Here are 5 reasons why it could do that.
If a T20 league is to become popular then it needs to be played at a time when a large number of people from all over the world can actually tune in to watch the games. While it is impossible to have the games at a time that would be suitable for everyone, it helps if the game is staged at a time when a majority of cricket fans can watch it. The matches start in the afternoon in Asia, while in Europe the games start in the morning and so fans do not find it difficult to tune in from these regions.
For instance, the Caribbean Premier League might actually be a good product since the Caribbean is the breeding ground of some of the finest T20 cricketers in the world, however, the timing is a major problem. Fans from most cricket playing nations can't watch it and the subcontinent is fast asleep when the matches take place. So, the BBL's match timings could be a huge factor in the years to come if it is to challenge the IPL.
#4 The brevity of the tournament
Currently, there are eight teams in the IPL with the possibility of two more teams being added in the near future. The tournament runs for around six weeks and there are 60 games in total. After the first few weeks, audience interest may reduce a bit and then pick up again in the final rounds.
On the other hand, the BBL is also played by eight teams and it goes on for around six weeks as well, but the number of games is only 43. There are gaps in between and games are not played every day, which makes it possible for viewers to maintain an interest in the tournament. The rest days ensure that people do not have an overkill of T20 cricket.
This is one thing that the BBL has been able to accomplish with smart scheduling and could be one of the reasons why it becomes the primary challenger to the IPL's dominance.
#3 Popular with locals
The English Premier League's global popularity is intimately linked with the visuals of full stadiums and loud crowds. In fact, the producers turn up the crowd volume in order to give the television audience a better viewing experience. In that regard, the BBL is in a league of its own and is among the most popular leagues in the world as far as attendance figures are concerned. A ground filled to capacity, enjoying a game, is a big draw for a league which wants to attract new fans.
As of 2016-17, the BBL is the 7th most well-attended league in the world across all sports, with a total attendance of more than a million. Although it is true that the IPL is still ahead of it in these terms and comes in at 2 million, no other T20 league in the world is anywhere close to the attendance figures that the BBL has generated.
The fact that the duration of the IPL is longer has to be taken into consideration and if one looks at the average attendance then the bridge is not too far. The IPL has an average attendance of 32,000 while the BBL clocks 30,144.
#2 Presence of stars
While it is true that the BBL is not as lucrative as the IPL due to the absence of so many Indian stars, the former has still done well and has been able to attract the best players from other nations. The stars from all over the world, if available, are part of the teams. In addition to that, Pakistani players, who are no longer part of the IPL, feature in the BBL and that is definitely one edge that the league has over its Indian rivals.
Considering the fact that the BBL might eventually be a direct competitor to the IPL in the near future, it is unlikely that Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma will ever be part of a BBL team. That said, the league has grown by leaps and bounds over the years and the abundant supply of young Australian cricketers has given the league a flavor of its own.
With the success of the Women's World Cup in England last year, the interest in women's cricket has risen significantly all across the world. The BBL saw the wave coming in advance and in 2015-16, established the Women's BBL League. The teams are the same as those that take part in the men's BBL and in the years to come, it could prove to be a masterstroke. The IPL meanwhile has not even considered developing anything along these lines.
In addition to that, there have been plenty of other innovations that have made the BBL a runaway success in Australia, despite the fact that it coincides with the Australian international season.
The games are broadcast on free to air channel Network Ten and the production is top notch. The commentary panel is far better than the ones in the IPL and the on-field entertainment, fireworks and musical events surrounding the games have made it an extravaganza of sorts. If there is any league that can ever hope to get anywhere near the IPL, then it is the BBL.