Shane Watson has been a star of T20 franchise leagues around the world.
Shane Watson has been a star of T20 franchise leagues around the world.

Less is more appealing for bloated Big Bash: Watto

WHILE Cricket Australia is still considering cuts to this season's WBBL, former Test star and veteran T20 specialist Shane Watson believes it is the men's season that needs to be trimmed, saying the tournament's quality, crowds and fans are suffering since it was extended.

Plans to scale back the WBBL were last week revealed as cricket braces itself for an economic storm should the pandemic hit the summer.

The game is cutting costs on expectations there are no crowds, no international cricket and not enough money for key partners, including sponsors and broad­casters, to meet obligations if there is.

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Watson, who is still in demand in overseas tournaments, sent a clear message last year when he stood down from the local competition.

The season had expanded from 43 to 59 regular games the previous season with only a minor lift in the salary cap and the veteran star believed it was not worth trading time with his young family in the summer.

The 38-year-old is using his free time in the pandemic to start a website called T20 Stars that features blogs on several subjects, podcasts with former players such as Matthew Hayden and Wasim Akram and coaching material.

Watson is passionate about the BBL and writes how he gained new perspective by watching last season with his son at home.

He says the excitement for his family turned to disappointment as the season's finals clashed with the start of school and tension rose at home over staying up on school nights.

Shane Watson has been a star of T20 franchise leagues around the world.
Shane Watson has been a star of T20 franchise leagues around the world.

Watson noted too the drop-off in attendances. While gross ticket sales were relatively similar because of the increased number of games, average audiences were 18,519, off a peak of 30,114 in 2016-17.

"The BBL a few years ago was the envy of all cricket boards around the world," Watson writes on the blog. "I was so fortunate to play the Big Bash League when so many of the games were very close to sellouts. One game that really stands in my mind was a semi-final against the Adelaide Strikers at the Adelaide Oval in 2016. The … Adelaide Oval was a sellout. The atmosphere was pumping.

"At this time, I kept thinking back to when I first started playing domestic cricket and during a one-day game, with all of the Australian players back, there were a couple of thousand at the ground, maximum. And here at the Adelaide Oval, it was around 45,000 for a domestic game of cricket."

The same final this season attracted only 16,000 fans and Watson writes it was "super sad" to see the decline.

Watson now acts as president of the Australian Cricketers’ Association. Picture: Dylan Robinson
Watson now acts as president of the Australian Cricketers’ Association. Picture: Dylan Robinson

"For me the writing was on the wall as soon as the new media rights deal was done and the tournament got extended out to seven home and away games with the ­finals on top," Watson said.

"It has first of all meant that the fans run out of puff. Families only have a certain amount of money and time to come out to the games, so when it was five home games, I am sure they were much more open to coming along."

The allrounder is at odds with some recommendations in the Barham report commissioned by Cricket Australia that suggests the game should remember it is an entertainment product.

Watson argues on-field interviews with players undermine the integrity of the tournament.

He presents a four-point plan to save the BBL before "it's too late", suggesting the length of the season be reduced, franchises be allowed four international players instead of two, all games be held at the main venues and on-field interviews be banned.

Watson, who was supposed to be at the IPL last month, has begun a "Trailblazers Pension Fund" in conjunction with the Australian Cricketers Association that aims to support former players who never had the opportunity to earn what modern players do. He has promised 10 per cent of the gross revenue from his new business to the fund.



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