Marketing the Big Bash League & Hyundai A-League

Over the Christmas / New Year break, our family travelled back home to Melbourne to spend the festive season with our respective families. Having moved to Perth in August 2015, we haven’t had many opportunities to catch up with family since then, so we enjoyed our time back home for the week.

Whilst in Melbourne, we arranged to attend a couple of sporting events, including Perth Glory’s match against Melbourne Victory on Sunday 27 December at AAMI Park as a priority. At that match, Glory salvaged a point in a hard fought and controversial contest with the end result 1-1. A healthy crowd of 22,554 were in attendance, as is always the case at Melbourne Victory.    Perth Glory’s marquee player, Diego Castro, recruited from Getafe in the La Liga in Spain was on display and who has hit some great form in recent weeks.  The skill level displayed by Diego on the night was a delight to watch and every aspiring young footballer could benefit from watching this professional play football the way he does.  He was clearly the best player on the ground against Victory.  This is the quality fans can enjoy at A-League matches and also at that game, there was plenty of other quality on the pitch.  There is always excitement around players such as Besart Berisha and his duel with our defender Michael Thwaite on the night was outstanding.  Who could forget the controversial penalty decision for Besart and the reaction from our goalkeeper Ante Covic after the incident and also in the post-match interview.

Melbourne Victory’s Besart Berisha on the left and Perth Glory’s marquee Diego Castro on the right
Ante Covic after the game with Fox Sports presenter Michael Zappone speaking about the controversial penalty decision. Pure passion and emotion and whilst his comments were controversial, this is what the fans want to see at home. It was great television.

That Wednesday, 30 December, we attended the Big Bash League game at Etihad Stadium between Melbourne Renegades and coincidentally the Perth Scorchers. It was opportune for me to return to a stadium where I spent seven years of my professional life and have so many fond memories. We saw our new home-town BBL team, the Perth Scorchers win and we were happy. The game itself didn’t really capture our imagination and whilst it was great to be there on a nice balmy Melbourne evening at a world-class stadium with the roof open, to us, the game wasn’t that exciting.   There was a fan sitting near by whom for some reason kept on yelling to his mates really loudly, “This is way better than soccer lads, at least we won’t see a 0-0 draw here”. I am not sure as to why he felt compelled to repeatedly tell his mates this, obviously the cricket wasn’t exciting enough. Ironically, I was in my seats thinking similar thoughts of the Big Bash League and how uninteresting it was, in fact, I enjoyed chatting with former colleagues in the Medallion Club more than watching the game.  I suppose it comes down to personal preference as I haven’t been a massive cricket fans since the Chappell days. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the evening experiencing the atmosphere and the jovial crowd.    There’s a lot going on off the pitch engaging the crowd which keeps it entertaining.

Leading up to this BBL match, I was impressed and intrigued with the remarkable free to air television numbers that the Big Bash League was attracting on Network Ten, over 1.26 million national average to be exact.  In comparison, the Hyundai A-League’s national average at present is 76,000 on SBS2 and 62,000 on Fox Sports, so when on the night of the BBL match we attended they announced a crowd of 28,000, I was not surprised at all. There’s a lot of hype around the Big Bash League despite their participation base compared to our soaring numbers.  Even stadium management were pleasantly surprised with the attendance that had projected around 20,000 to attend in planning.  It’s been well reported that event the Women’s Big Bash League is drawing a national average audience of  372,000.  To me this is a strong indicator that if the A-League was on a free to air network, we would do very well.    The numbers above are very hard to compare as they are not really apple with apple comparisons i.e. Free to Air television (BBL and WBBL) vs Fox Sports and the hidden SBS2 channels (A-League).  Only 30% of households have access to Foxtel and 4 of our 5 games each week are televised on this platform only with the 5th one on the hidden SBS2 Channel, so there is not much to take from this statistic other than to see the opportunity we have if the A-League had a free to air broadcast partner.

Where the difference lies between the two competitions is the marketing and PR.  The marketing of the Big Bash has been brilliant and it goes beyond just the great coverage Network Ten has been able to provide on the free to air network along with the promos across the network. In my short time in Melbourne over Christmas and New Year, the Big Bash League  saturated the market with tactical marketing messages. It was almost impossible to not know that the the BBL was on in Melbourne.  Personally I learned about the BBL via, emails, several radio stations we tuned into, television, outdoor advertising, plenty of editorial and advertisements in the press, radio and TV, targeted campaigns via Ticketmaster, Ticketek, social media, video content and it goes on and on and on. If you were in Melbourne over festive season and you didn’t know the BBL was in town that week, one game at Etihad Stadium and one at the MCG, a period where people are looking for something to do, you probably had your head under a rock.  This marketing is costing millions, funds that are readily available to Cricket through their broadcast and commercial deals and they are prepared to invest heavily in their BBL product.

It is clearly evident that the BBL marketing is integrated with a good mix of above the line and below the line tactics and a world class digital strategy which drives the large attendances.  The marketing is over-arching across the competition with localised components, a top down and bottom up approach.  Conversely, I did not notice much of a tactical marketing presence for the A-League at the same time and maybe it was drowned out by the noise around the BBL. Network Ten pushed the games very had on the network.  We clearly have some work to do in this space and as a collective we recognise and are addressing this as a priority.  What football has that cricket hasn’t is a large participation base from which we can draw upon.  It is here that I believe we can make a massive difference.  Linking the grassroots to A-League Clubs and driving them to our matches is a key.

On the following Saturday night, 2 January, after watching Perth Glory unfortunately go down to Brisbane Roar on Fox Sports, we made our way to AAMI Park to watch Melbourne City Vs Sydney FC, a match I predicted would be a great spectacle. We weren’t disappointed, as we witnessed a fantastic game of end to end football with four goals scored ending in a 2-2 draw. The crowd was bigger than the normal Melbourne City crowds, however, at the same time, the twitter newsfeed was also telling me that a huge crowd was rolling up to the Big Bash League derby between Melbourne Stars and Melbourne Renegades across the bridge at the MCG. When the final attendances were announced at the respective venues on that evening, there were over 80,883 at the MCG for the Big Bash League and 10,140 at AAMI Park for the Hyundai A-League. In the earlier A-League match we watched on Fox Sports from Suncorp Stadium attracted 17,696 fans.

80,883 attending the Big Bash League is astounding! Across the Nullarbor Plain in Perth, the Scorchers also attracted 20,444 at the WACA.   Two (2) games of BBL attracting 101,327.  Across our five matches in the corresponding week, the A-League attracted around 70,000 fans to our matches.  Granted the BBL is a much shorter competition and we run over a 27 week period, but clearly we have to review what we are currently doing and how we can better market the A-League.  A-League is currently averaging 11,904 fans attending each game (9% down on last season) whereas BBL is averaging around 30,000 fans at their games at present on the back of last year’s 22,776.

The MCG Scoreboard proudly announcing the crowd figure at the Melbourne Stars Vs Melbourne Renegades Big Bash League fixture on Saturday 2 January, 2016

This got me thinking on the way home. What are Cricket Australia doing right and what are we as football not doing right? It has been top of mind since the other night and I cannot fathom how this could happen. Afterall, the Hyundai A-League is in its 11th season and the Big Bash League is in its 5th season, our participation base is soaring and cricket’s is not so and subjectively, I think our “organic” product is better than theirs.

To me it all comes down to marketing and PR.

Too often we hear, if only we football was on free to air television??? This may be true to a certain extent and we will definitely improve our broadcast numbers significantly on free to air television, however, we cannot look at the broadcast situation in isolation as the the solution to everything as I believe the big difference comes down to the way the Big Bash League is marketed compared to the Hyundai A-League.  The price of tickets is another learning from the BBL.

Cricket Australia has a powerful marketing division at head office and abundant in resources.  Perhaps an investment in our marketing capability is something we need to also review.  Of course it comes down to money and it is a cart and horse issue.  A better and more lucrative broadcast deal (as per the BBL’s with Ten) would provide much needed additional funds and resources to market the league more widely and aggressively.

The product on display at AAMI Park that we attended between Melbourne City and Sydney FC, was outstanding. The match was a fast, end-to-end, hard fought contest with plenty of skill and vigour on display and with four great goals scored. Earlier on Fox Sports, we watched another great game between Brisbane Roar and Perth Glory with three goals scored. My two sons and I were pretty satisfied with the two matches we had watched having seen seven goals and some great football, despite our disappointment at Glory’s loss who had shown some great endeavour and were unlucky not to secure at lease a point from our visit to Suncorp. Both these games deserved much bigger attendances, particularly the match at AAMI Park.

In Perth, our crowds have ranged between 7,000 – 9,000 this year and we have a lot of work to do in this regard.  We have had some challenges around scheduling given our unique circumstances in this market with heat, however, we now have Saturday night kick-offs at 6:40pm and are looking to building upon these attendances in the coming weeks.  Our results over the last 5 weeks should hopefully help the cause where we have won 2, drawn 2 and lost 1.  This Saturday night for our match against Adelaide United at nib Stadium, all kids come free with a paying adult and hope to see as many people take up this opportunity for what should be a fantastic game between two clubs coming into the game with strong recent form.

We have a busy few weeks coming up as the January transfer window opens on Tuesday 5 Jan as we try to bolster our team with some new players, so watch this space.

Peter Filopoulos