Saturday, July 20, 2024

WBBL overhaul as CA launches major women’s strategy | cricket.com.au

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The Weber WBBL season will be condensed and a new state-based T20 competition launched this summer as Cricket Australia detailed an ambitious 10-year program for investment in women’s cricket.

The Women and Girls Action Plan announced today has set aspirational targets for grassroots participation and infrastructure, as well as growing commercial revenue and attendance at the elite level.

It will see the WBBL become a 40-game regular season – bringing it in line with the men’s KFC BBL – with about a fortnight shaved from previous tournaments, while there will be no change in clubs’ salary caps, keeping it at the forefront of attractive propositions for international calibre stars.

View Australian Cricket’s Women and Girls Action Plan here

The introduction of a state-based T20 competition, means there will be no overall reduction in women’s games, with the tournament to provide more top-flight playing opportunities for domestic cricketers.

The tournament, which still has some details to be finalised, is expected to run alongside the 50-over Women’s National Cricket League.

The extra match payments will see the average female domestic salary increase eight percent to $163,322 (for a player with a WBBL and state contract).

The WBBL had a 56-game regular season in each of the nine seasons since it was introduced in 2015-16.

Each team will now play 10 regular season matches rather than 14, with each club playing three others twice.

It’s understood there will be no change to the four-team, three-game WBBL finals format that has been in place since WBBL|07 in 2021.

Of the 43 matches under the new structure, 23 will be broadcast free-to-air on the Seven network and simulcast on Fox Cricket, including all finals. The other 20 matches will be shown on Fox Cricket with a number of games also streamed on cricket.com.au.

This summer’s tournament is expected to start in late October following the women’s T20 World Cup in Bangladesh.

The schedule is again set to feature more games in the main stadiums, with the action plan putting a focus on filling the major venues and growing audiences for women’s internationals and the WBBL, as well as creating more playing opportunities and higher player wages.

CA is targeting 600,000 fans attending women’s cricket in Australia each summer by 2034. The combined WBBL and women’s international attendance last summer was about 120,000.

Administrators will seek to grow the total revenue from the women’s game to $121 million by 2034, including initiatives such as a full women’s merchandise line and a dedicated women’s cricket media rights deal.

Currently, just five percent of revenue across Australian cricket comes from the women’s game, underscoring the huge potential for growth.

The plan calls for a four-fold increase in girls aged 5-12 participating in cricket to 100,000, with $500m to be invested in female-specific infrastructure around the country.

Off field, the plan targets a minimum of 40 per cent female representation in the Australian Cricket workforce, including executive, board membership and community cricket roles.

Ellyse Perry said the “public appetite for women’s sport is now indisputable” in welcoming the 10-year commitment.

“Australian cricket has been at the forefront of the growth in women’s sport providing some of the best opportunities for players with resourcing and remuneration and it’s reassuring to know this commitment will not only be sustained, but greatly enhanced over the next ten years,” Perry said.

“With viewing audiences increasing, the public appetite for women’s sport is now indisputable and we would love to see major stadiums filled with fans for our international and WBBL games and more girls inspired to play cricket.

“It is also extremely important that the increased interest in women’s sport is reflected in sponsorship and broadcast deals, and I hope this plan will continue to drive this growth so that women’s cricket continues to thrive.”

A host of Australian and overseas stars, including Meg Lanning, Ashleigh Gardner and Heather Knight, have led calls for the WBBL to be truncated in recent years, adamant that a shorter tournament would be more appealing to overseas players – who now also have the option of playing in a variety of T20 franchise leagues around the globe – and lighten the load of what’s an increasingly busy calendar for Australia’s top players, who are touring more than ever before.

In recent seasons both India and England players have been required by their home boards to either arrive late or depart the WBBL early – robbing teams of key stars for finals – while clashes with international tours restrict player availability.

But while CA-contracted players are busier than ever, and select other Australian players are increasingly gaining opportunities in overseas domestic competitions in New Zealand and England, the only state cricket currently played in Australia is the 50-over Women’s National Cricket League, which sees the six states and the ACT each play 12 games per season.

That means Australia’s domestic female cricketers play far fewer days of cricket each season than their male counterparts, who contest the Marsh Sheffield Shield alongside the Marsh One-Day Cup.

Ensuring those players did not lose playing opportunities through a shortened WBBL was essential.

While the men’s BBL started at 28 regular season games and gradually expanded to 56 by 2018-19 before being reduced back to 10 games a side last season, the WBBL started with a full 56-game regular season when it was launched in 2015-16.

Since WBBL|01 the women’s calendar has become increasingly busy, with two new teams added to the ICC Women’s Championship – a 10-side four-yearly round-robin competition that determines World Cup qualification – in the current cycle, alongside an ICC tournament every year, T20 cricket’s inclusion in the Commonwealth Games, and an increased number of additional bilateral tours.

The WBBL was the first tournament of its kind for women but has been followed by The Hundred in 2021 (its predecessor, the Kia Super League, started in 2016), and the much-hyped arrival of the Women’s Premier League in India last year.

There is also the annual FairBreak Invitational alongside burgeoning women’s editions of the Caribbean and Pakistan leagues, all vying for a place in the calendar and competing for the world’s best talent.

CA previously ran a state-based women’s T20 competition from 2009-10 through to 2014-15, with Victoria winning three of the six titles before it was replaced by the WBBL in 2015-16.

The busy international schedule also means CA-contracted players are unlikely to be available for much, if any, of the domestic season, which will allow many players the chance to take on more responsibility than they are typically afforded in a WBBL XI.

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