Expansion still off the table

Ever since the 8-team Big Bash League was announced a couple of years ago the prospect of further expansion of the competition has never been too far away from the headlines. Despite the reality that the Big Bash wouldn’t expand after its inaugural year, towards the back half of last year’s installment – following better than expected crowds and ratings – expansion talk inevitably started to build. Year 2 has seen more expansion talk, although most of it seemed to take place before a ball had been bowled in BBL:02.

Last year I wrote about why expansion wasn’t needed or appropriate, but with several groups still mulling over the possibility of inclusion, its worth revisiting. I’ve split this piece up into two parts – the first cover why we don’t need expansion, and the second proposing a way that expansion could be tackled without changing the current format of the Big Bash League.

More teams won’t work (yet)

Geelong, Canberra and Newcastle were the main locations being thrown around, just as they had been in the months prior to the announcement that the additional 2 teams would just come in the form of an extra team from each of Melbourne and Sydney. As last year’s tournament concluded, officials (re)confirmed that, as most expected, there would be no expansion for BBL:02. Mark Waugh’s concern that additional teams would spread the, already stretched, pool of player talent was probably the most valid argument against any expansion – and after the first year performances of the Renegades and Thunder, and the Thunder’s continued woes in year 2, it’s proved a very justified argument.

Like I said, even with expansion seemingly off the table for the near future, it hasn’t stopped people talking about it. Geelong and Canberra both still believe they have strong cases for inclusion, and both have groups in place that are working at getting their proposals heard by the right people. Geelong is still annoyed that they were overlooked for one of the two Victorian franchises originally, and insist they’d be ready for ball one next year if given the chance. And now that Canberra¬† has suitable lighting at Manuka Oval, and will be hosting a One Day International in the coming months, their case is also definitely improving.

Newcastle are also talking up their chances, albeit by taking a slightly different approach. Their latest tactic being to highlight that the Thunder are struggling out in Western Sydney in terms of both match success and crowds and floating the idea that maybe a move north would be good for them. As someone who would really like a Newcastle-based team I’d just like to say that the relocation of a team – particularly the team that is currently the worst in the league (by some margin) – is the ABSOLUTE WRONG way to get a team.

The main thing holding Newcastle back from securing a team is really the lack of appropriate facilities, and improvements/upgrades to No. 1 Sportsground (or a new high-standard, multi-use oval ground) need to be at the very top of any plan to try and gain a team – especially considering the last domestic game, or any sort, held in Newcastle was a NSW v Victoria Shield game way back in 2009. For starters, Big Bash games are played at night, night games need appropriate lighting. Big Bash games need to attract spectators, spectators need appropriate seating.

Trying to convincing anyone (be it council/government or private) to pour money into a ground that might only see 4 BBL games a year (ignoring any local Cricket or AFL that would likely also be played on the same ground) would be a tough sell. If, however, you could lure the Sydney Swans north to play some pre-season games, or even a regular season game, and maybe pick-up a few top level Women’s cricket matches (be they domestic or international) then the sell might become easier. Even then actually getting a Big Bash team is a still going to be a stretch – but if Newcastle ever gets a team, I’ll be first in line.

More games isn’t the answer

The idea of simply expanding the competition in terms of matches has also been talked about, as it is they’ve already expanded it by an extra game this year to allow for an extra ‘derby’ game in Melbourne and Sydney. But expanding it to a full home/away competition would simply make it too long – some would argue that at its current length it already makes for a break in the Shield season that is too large.

With all that considered, and with crowds being down 40%+ on last year, you might find it odd that I’m still about to argue that the Big Bash needs to expand. Odd, except for the fact that I’m not talking about the same expansion that everyone else is talking about.

I’m talking about more teams AND more games, but not for the men. I’m suggesting that the Big Bash League expands to include the Women’s domestic T20 comp.

Part 2: Not the expansion you’d expect