Family-friendly weekend festivals of cricket at boutique venues will be the hallmark of next summer’s first standalone season of the Rebel WBBL.
The Women’s Big Bash will be played in its own window next summer starting in October, continuing a shift away from the men's BBL which started with the league’s first standalone finals series this season, culminating in Sunday’s final between Sydney Sixers and Brisbane Heat at Drummoyne Oval.
BBL head Kim McConnie revealed to cricket.com.au the current plan for the WBBL|05 fixture would see matches played across Friday evenings, Saturdays and Sundays, to provide a family-friendly schedule given the league will be played ahead of school holidays.
“We’ve seen a bit of it this season, we’re focusing on these boutique venues so that’s what standalone is going to be built on,” McConnie said.
“We really want to create a family atmosphere. The WBBL is the most accessible form of cricket and the venues will really reflect that, it’s about providing something for family afternoons out.
“So the focus is creating a main home around those boutique venues and consistency in the schedule (with games on) Saturday, Sunday afternoons so both at grounds and on TV you’re having that consistency of viewing.”
McConnie confirmed North Sydney Oval and Melbourne’s Junction Oval are set to remain key venues, with the weekend ‘festivals of cricket’ likely to take place in each of the capitals while also taking in regional centres.
This season, the Heat took one weekend of matches to Mackay, where more than 8213 people attended across two days at Harrup Park, while a further 4,673 attended a one-off game between Brisbane and the Sydney Thunder in Cairns.
“We’re very much trying to build on the same venues as this season, North Sydney and Junction will be two major pillars for us,” McConnie said.
“We really see North Sydney as being the home of women’s cricket and the home of the Sixers, Junction is another important venue for us.
“And what we’re actually seeing is a huge response in regional areas as well, including Mackay and Cairns, Lilac Hill and Ballarat.
“Some of these regional venues get such a great response from WBBL … so we also want to take WBBL regional and really help drive female participation.
“If people can see in Cairns these amazing cricketers, then hopefully that inspires them to want to pick up a bat and want to play themselves as young girls.”
Three ‘Big Weekends’ of WBBL were played through December last year at Junction Oval, North Sydney Oval, Blundstone Arena and Adelaide’s Karen Rolton Oval, with food trucks and children’s entertainment adding to the action on the field.
Next summer could see the festivities stretch across seven weekends before finals, with at least two locations hosting matches each weekend.
McConnie said WBBL|05 would also be a chance for the league to help build momentum for the T20 World Cup, to be played across Australia in February and March 2020.
The women’s ICC tournament will be held separately from the men’s – to be played in October 2020 – with matches played in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Perth.
“We’re looking at WBBL as the preview window, the launchpad for the T20 World Cup,” she said. “You’ll be seeing players play as teammates in WBBL and then country verse country.
“So we’re really focusing on building the WBBL in T20 World Cup venues and putting much more of a focus on profiling players, we really want to start introducing and familiarising Australians with some of these players they’ll be seeing in the World T20, not just Australian players but all players.”
One issue WBBL clubs have faced is losing their overseas players to international duties towards the business end of the season. This season, India’s players were forced to depart before the semi-finals, while New Zealand and England players would have been unavailable for the final had their teams progressed that far.
A set window in the international calendar for the WBBL has been mooted, but McConnie said it was more likely Cricket Australia and the International Cricket Council would continue to work with other cricket boards to try and ensure there were fewer clashes.
Unlike the men’s ICC Future Tours Programme, which is highly structured, the women’s FTP provides six-month windows where teams must play each bilateral round of the ICC Women’s One-Day Championship, while boards also have the ability to arrange extra tours as desired.
A survey conducted by the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations last year found 90 per cent of the 124 female players surveyed worldwide were in favour of clear windows for international and domestic cricket, with one player anonymously commenting: “Our board always organises a tour during the Women’s Big Bash so I am forced to choose .... I play for my country and therefore I am losing more money by not playing in Australia than I make in a whole year with my national contract”.
McConnie noted the influence of the players would be crucial in ensuring fewer clashes in the future.
“We are working through that and we’re spending a lot of time talking to (the ICC and other boards),” McConnie said.
“The great thing is the WBBL has huge pull power from overseas players, it’s a competition they want to play in, so now we’re working through what is the right length of the season and what is the right window to enable (their availability).
“It will be within October and November, but (it’s a question of) where within that to set ourselves up for success.
“I don’t think it’s a realistic possibility (there’ll be no other international cricket), but what we see is the intent is there because there is a huge pull factor from players wanting to play in the WBBL with the quality of the competition, the contracting and even what they can earn.”
This season of the WBBL has seen run rates roar by almost one run to 7.40, and the average first-innings total has jumped almost 20 runs from WBBL|03, up to 147.11.
Six centuries were scored this season, where only four were scored across the three seasons prior.
McConnie said there was no doubt in her mind the league was one of the world’s best women’s sporting competitions.
“If you look at all the records we’ve just had, it’s been phenomenal the quality of cricket we’ve had,” she said.
“More centuries scored, and Ellyse Perry and the records she’s broken.
“There’s more fours and sixes, we’ve shifted light years ahead of there we were a couple of years ago with the WBBL. The season’s been phenomenal.”