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WBBL reaches new heights

WBBL Final - Scorchers v Strikers
WBBL Final - Scorchers v Strikers
ANALYST

Australia's Women's Big Bash League (WBBL) final night broke all viewership records last Saturday, paving the way for the evolution of women's cricket in the country.

The Perth Scorchers' victory over the Adelaide Strikers recorded the highest attendance in a standalone WBBL match. A crowd of 15,511 at Perth Stadium smashed the previous record of 5,650.

More than half a million people tuned in on TV and streaming platforms, with the combined audience of 535,000 surpassing the previous record of 506,000.

The moment the Perth Scorchers clinched their first-ever WBBL title! #WBBL07 | @CommBank https://t.co/4pJPeozsZM

Across the season, this was the most watched edition of the WBBL ever. The competition was headlined by a 15 per cent increase on the previous season's cumulative average audience, as well as higher average audiences per game.

Every match of the season was broadcast on TV or streaming services for the first time in the league's history. Up to 25 matches were shown on Channel 7 (free-to-air) with all matches also shown on Kayo and Fox Cricket, as well as the cricket.com.au and the Cricket Australia (CA) Live App.

Speaking to cricket.com.au, Big Bash League general manager Alistair Dobson said he is hopeful that this may be the league's next step to achieving more primetime television slots.

"When you've got a big stadium and good promotion and two great teams, then people turn up in big numbers. Our ambition would be to maintain our (broadcast) footprint and the next evolution of that is not only to have the big weekends that the WBBL is known for, but also starting to build that blockbuster footprint," he said.

The league was considered a resounding success even as it overcame the challenges posed by the pandemic. Most notably, the restrictions meant that Australia's two largest cities - Sydney and Melbourne - were devoid of WBBL matches this year.

WBBL claimed to be the No.1 women's league

Dobson also reinforced that the "WBBL is the No.1 cricket league for women" and wants to "maintain that position going forward."

It was the WBBL's seventh installment, after it was introduced alongside the existing men's BBL in 2015/16. Previously, women's matches were played as a pre-cursor to the men's matches, which was hoped to fast track its appeal.

WBBL The Challenger - Renegades v Strikers
WBBL The Challenger - Renegades v Strikers

From the outset, CA's governance positioned both the men's league and the women's league equally, before building on the the existing brands in the men's league. The BBL's format was already familiar to the cricketing public, as were the teams, their logos and colors.

Working off that interest enabled CA to move this year's edition of the WBBL to a standalone window between October and November. This period is otherwise a typical lull in the Australian sporting calendar following the conclusion of all football competition finals.

Increasing the WBBL's visibility rendered it the fourth-highest rated sports league in Australia (per-game basis). This means its matches in the future will be valued accordingly and will likely result in greater financial gain for CA in regards to broadcast deals.

"I'm not sure if it's sunk in yet!" ๐Ÿ’ฌ Soph & Kappie reflect on last night's #WBBL07 final victory! ๐Ÿ† #MADETOUGH #WBBL07Champions https://t.co/RSx4b0XVkS

Governing bodies are also progressively moving forward with player payment structures too. Apart from being respectful, investing in women's players' wages would be a fruitful expedition in improving the league's product.

With a full-time salary comes full-time training and higher-quality cricket, which also improves the commercial product for the new broadcast deals Dobson is eyeing.

Before this WBBL season, CA increased the average retainer for players by 14 per cent, from $21,149 to $24,179. That was alongside an increase of 22 per cent in the Women's National Cricket League. This does not include match fees.

WBBL - Strikers v Stars
WBBL - Strikers v Stars

Australian women's player Meg Lanning said the ongoing success of women's cricket has not happened by accident.

"Cricket has shown that when you properly invest in female sport, the results follow and everyone benefits โ€” the game, the fans and the players," she said.

Women's cricket is high on the agenda at the International Cricket Council too, and was the catalyst for CA canceling their one-off men's Test match against Afghanistan. The England Cricket Board also upped the ante by including women in the advent of 'The Hundred', which took place earlier this year.

It leaves the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) with a gaping hole in its operations, with many hoping that an IPL-styled league for women in India is on the horizon.


Edited by Shourjo Chatterjee

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