Australian Twenty20 cricket’s domestic Big Bash League experienced its best season in terms of viewing figures, across both television and digital, with a total audience of 44.82 million tuning in during the 2020-21 campaign. 

This figure, released by Cricket Australia today, comes as part of a wider upturn in broadcast audiences for both domestic and national team Australian cricket over the summer.

The BBL’s total audience during the 61-match 2020-21 campaign, which concluded earlier this month, was the highest in its 10-season history, marking a 5.9 per cent increase year-on-year, with an average audience per match of 735,000 across all platforms. 

That makes the eight-team BBL, won this year by the Sydney Sixers, the most-watched league in the country on a game by game basis, according to CA. 

The T20 tournament is shown domestically by free-to-air network Seven and Foxtel, the pay-TV broadcaster. 

In terms of digital BBL coverage, an average of 60,000 views out of the 735,000 came from the Kayo, Foxtel Now and Foxtel Go streaming platforms – a year-on-year increase of 109 per cent. 

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Elsewhere, the dramatic national teams' test series between Australia and India in December and January was the highest-rated non-Ashes series since 2014-15, with an average audience per test of 1.14 million via linear broadcast, up 4.1 per cent year-on-year. 

India won the series 2-1, winning the last test in Brisbane in the final hour of play to secure victory.

Of the 31 sessions of test cricket played over the summer, 28 had an average viewing figure across both broadcast and digital of over 1 million.

Australian home international cricket is also shown domestically by Seven and Foxtel, under a six-year rights contract worth A$1.18 billion ($863 million), with that pair having replaced the free-to-air Nine Network in 2018. 

Meanwhile, the one-day-international series against India was watched by an average audience across the three games of just under 360,000 – up an impressive 214 per cent on the previous year’s home ODIs. 

In terms of women’s cricket, the Women’s Big Bash League also generated a substantial audience across 2020-21, with average viewing figures of over 200,000 per match. This made the WBBL the fourth most-watched domestic league in Australia, behind only the BBL, Australian rules football’s AFL and rugby league’s NRL. 

Nick Hockley, the interim chief executive of CA, said: “Despite the many challenges, cricket fans in Australia and around the world watched, listened, streamed, clicked, read and attended cricket matches in astonishing numbers – and we are grateful to every one of them.

“We look forward to welcoming everyone back for a huge men’s and women’s Ashes summer next season which, we all hope, will be played in front of full crowds.”

Meanwhile, CA is reportedly assessing whether private equity investment – including private ownership of BBL teams – is a necessary next step to ensure the financial stability of the sport in the country. 

ESPNCricinfo has reported that administrators are looking at several options, which include allowing private equity investment in a special-purpose vehicle to sell all the governing body’s commercial and broadcast rights, or farming out the commercial rights of the BBL.

CA is currently in full control of its rights sales, and ESPNCricinfo has said that this remains an equally-possible third course of action. 

Private equity involvement in the BBL was first mooted in 2011, as the league was being set up, but nothing came of it and the conversation has not been revisited since, although earlier this month the Australian Cricketers Association said it was time to look at that option. 

While other countries, such as India, have welcomed private investment into their domestic cricket structures, Australia and England have generally resisted that idea up to now.

However, that attitude may be changing – last year, a report by capital advisory firm Oakwell Sports suggested that the start-up costs for The Hundred, the new short-form league set to launch in the UK in July, would be reduced significantly if stakes in the eight teams were sold to private investors.