As the KFC Big Bash League prepares to unveil its first full ‘home and away’ playing schedule that will see the competition expanded to 59 matches this summer, the existing model for finals games is also being scrutinised in an attempt to build a more celebratory finish to each season.
Details of the extended format, which will see the number of games for BBL|08 almost doubled from the 31 staged in the franchise league’s maiden season of 2011-12, will be released in coming weeks and is expected to include further regional venues added to its already growing footprint.
However, the programming of 16 additional fixtures for 2018-19 means the BBL season will push further beyond its traditional summer school holidays ‘window’ and Cricket Australia Chief Executive Officer James Sutherland believes that affords an opportunity to revisit the current finals structure.
With Sutherland noting the prospect of a ‘Superbowl-style’ system whereby the BBL title decider is rotated between Australia’s major cities each summer, or even a derivation of England’s ‘finals day’ concept played across a weekend rather than a single day, are among proposals being considered.
He cited the wish to build a greater sense of occasion to the climax of the BBL campaign – which last season saw the three play-off matches squeezed into a space of just four days – as rationale to look at ways the longer schedule might benefit from a less hectic finals flurry.
Currently, the two top-ranked teams at the end of the regular season each host a BBL semi-final, with the decider then played at the home venue of the highest-ranked winner of those preliminary games.
While that is expected to be reflected in the upcoming schedule release, Sutherland claimed the fixturing of matches in early February when the school year had begun meant there was a need to consider how to best cater for fans as well as crown the season in appropriate fashion.
"We’re in a new establishment phase with the BBL going to a full home and away season, and it needs to fit in around the international cricket calendar," Sutherland told cricket.com.au.
"We’re very focused on ensuring that international cricket is primary, and that the schedule for Big Bash League matches work around that but I also feel that, because of the international schedule, the climax at the end of the BBL season can be lost a little bit.
"One of my hopes, with the slightly longer season pushing a couple of weeks into February, is that it gives us an opportunity to slow the competition down a little and build it to a finale with a round of finals in which everyone can look forward to the big games and the conclusion to the season.
"There are other leagues and competitions around the country that very successfully build their season to a climax and I’d like to think we can work towards that with the Big Bash League and the way it will fit into the calendar now.
"It will be slightly removed from the international season in Australia that will have concluded by then (the men’s team’s final Test against Sri Lanka at Canberra is scheduled to finish February 5), and Australian teams will most likely be engaged in matches overseas at the time that the BBL final is played.
"So it would be nice to think about how we can really bring the tournament to a climax, and there are lots of ideas around that."
CA’s Executive General Manager Events and Leagues, Anthony Everard, confirmed that among those ideas was the possibility of a longer lead-in time to each of the finals matches, which in previous iterations of the BBL have begun within a handful of days of the regular season ending.
That would enable a greater array of activities for fans to become involved in and provide the play-off matches with ‘clear air’ that has proved difficult to find, given the compacted nature of previous schedules that fitted essentially within school holidays.
"That does give us an opportunity to build a bit more anticipation in the lead-up to finals," Everard told cricket.com.au.
"One of things we are considering is, would the BBL finals be more effective if we were able to lock-in a venue in advance, which in turns gives us the certainty of being able to build it up as an event and support it with all sorts of fan-facing activities in the days leading up to the game.
"We can’t do that now because we basically have five or six venues on standby with a very short period of notice to mobilise before the match is played.
"So there are pros and cons, but the principle of building momentum and building to a climax remains and we’ll look to take a step in that direction this coming season."
A move towards securing a venue in advance, which was the case in 2014-15 when the decision to play the final at Canberra’s Manuka Oval was made six months in advance, would allow for the introduction of a ‘Superbowl-style’ system.
Whereby the right to host the championship decider would be shared among the major venues in each of the franchise host cities.
However, Everard noted that the US Superbowl was a huge success every year because of the scope of events that surround – and in some cases, overtake – the game itself and it was as-yet unclear if the BBL finals can build a similarly strong awareness having been played just seven times to date.
"We need to satisfy ourselves that we can deliver an experience, obviously not on the scale of the Superbowl, but using the same principles," Everard said.
"At the same time, we also need to believe the benefit of that model outweighs the potential downside of not all fans being able to get along to watch their home team play the biggest games of the BBL season in their own backyard.
"There’s quite a bit of work being done around both those models, and there’s pros and cons for each."
The notion of replicating the ‘finals day’ formula employed over the past decade by England’s T20 Blast competition – where both semi-finals and the trophy decided on a single day at Edgbaston – is unlikely to gather support within CA given much of T20 cricket’s appeal lies in its reduced playing time.
But Everard indicated that a carnival-style ‘finals weekend’ might be among the possibilities for coming seasons as means by which the BBL campaign can be built to a more fitting climax.
"The notion of a ‘finals weekend’ is one we might look at, but ‘finals day’ concept is not one that we’re a fan of,” he said.
"We have to be careful not to abandon the successful formula that we’ve developed, but at the same time can’t stand still because our competitors are fierce and fans want to see innovation year to year."
At the moment, that innovation is coming through expansion of the game that importantly includes the opening up of new markets as well.
"Last year we held games played in regional centres such as Alice Springs, and Geelong and some of those were among the best-supported around the country.
"With the new BBL schedule to be released soon there will be two new venues announced for the coming summer, and they’re really consistent with the overall strategy which is attracting new fans to cricket."