How the West was Lost – Why did the WACA Really Lose its Crown ?

Due to the squeeze created by the 2015 World Cup, Australian fans face an unusually sparse fare of Test cricket in 2014/15 with just four Tests against the visiting Indians finding their way onto the crowded cricketing schedule.

The unfortunate upshot was that one of the nation’s traditional Test venues would miss out on the honour and financial benefit of hosting a match for the first time since the WACA’s debut in the 1970/71 season.

After considering submissions from the QLD, WA and SA state cricket associations, CA announced on Wednesday that the WACA would be the unlucky venue to miss out, a decision likely to cost the association between $3m and $5m according to its chief executive Christina Matthews.

It is also a decision likely to cost CA’s broadcast partner Channel Nine anywhere between $4.8m and $7.5m in lost prime-time advertising revenue[i], but true to their earlier boast, the needs of the broadcaster proved not to have sway over CA scheduling decisions.

CA’s decision is rooted in a desire to safeguard the best interests and health of the game along with some very sound commercial reasons, however they are not necessarily the ones that you might think.

In most quarters the decision has been presented as a simple financial one involving issues of attendances and ground capacity, but the facts suggest that the primary reasons lie elsewhere.

As a starting point let’s examine attendance and capacity data, excluding Ashes Tests, since the 2007/08 season as captured in the table below:

Adelaide Oval

Gabba

WACA

Total attendance[ii]

373,489

218,440

189,202[iii]

Days used[iv]

23

18

14

Attendance p/day

16,239

12,135

13,514

Capacity

36,000

42,000

22,000

% of capacity

45.11%

28.89%

61.43%

What this data clearly shows is that, outside of the Ashes, none of the venues comes close to filling its capacity. History suggests that this would still be the case against the Indians in 2014/15 and as such I don’t believe that capacity carries real significance in the decision-making process.

Surprisingly the table also shows that the Gabba is the worst attended of the venues over this period, despite Australia’s enviable 25 year unbeaten Test record at the venue. Even last year versus South Africa in a battle for the number one ranking, the average daily attendances were 15,393 at the WACA; 14,661 at Adelaide; and 12,522 at the Gabba.[v]

Given the strength of its attendances and South Australian state government’s $535m investment in its redevelopment, it should be fairly obvious that the Adelaide Oval ranked highest of the venues under consideration and that the decision became a shoot out between the Gabba and the WACA.

If the decision was really just all about attendances and capacity, Perth might have emerged as a narrow victor, but there were also other factors at work.

Peter Lalor was one of the few journalists or commentators to suggest at the time the World Cup draw was announced that the WACA would be the venue to miss out, and today in The Australian newspaper, he revealed that QLD Cricket has experienced significant financial problems and had recently been forced to renegotiate terms to repay a rental debt it owed to the Gabba stadium.

Losing a Test is a significant financial hit to any state association due to the loss of gate receipts, but for QLD Cricket it would be even more calamitous for two reasons. The first is that unlike the WACA, they lease the Gabba and would likely have to pay compensation for failing to provide an expected fixture, and more importantly, they could not be compensated by additional ODI and T20I matches as the Gabba falls within the security lockdown zone created due to Brisbane’s hosting of the G20 summit.

This is the real driving force behind CA’s decision and on balance, taking all factors into account, they have made a call that is in the overall best interests of the game in a difficult set of circumstances, and they should be congratulated for it – albeit that their explanation requires further elaboration.

At the same time there is an intriguing subtext behind all of this.

As cricket in Australia becomes increasingly corporatised the present drama could provide a glimpse into a future where CA adopt a similar approach to the ECB’s and have pre-qualified venues apply based on a range of criteria for the right to host international matches.

In an era where drop-in pitches have allowed greater diversity in use for traditional cricket venues, they also enable other venues, such as Stadium Australia in Sydney and Patterson’s Stadium in Perth, the opportunity to leverage their superior facilities or capacity to wrest games away from traditional venues.

In particular this is a concern for the WACA, especially with regards to capacity and media facilities, and perhaps it will provide a much-needed catalyst towards commencing work on a long-discussed and mooted redevelopment of the ground.

However, there is also a message for the good people of Brisbane. You have a great ground with great facilities that provides an excellent starting point for the summer of cricket but these natural advantages might mean little if you don’t start getting to the Tests in greater numbers outside Ashes years.

I may be wrong but I sense at least some of you can foresee the possibility of such a future – in any event don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Until next time….that is stumps.

 

 

 


[i] Based on prime time rate of $25,000 per 30 sec slot as per Channel Nine rate card. Calculations based on 38 slots per last session (conservative) and 12 min p/hour advertising component (aggressive). All analysis based on a session of 2.5 hours duration.

[ii] Attendance figures sourced from state annual reports, Cricinfo and Aus Stadiums. Last day figures excluded where minimal play.

[iii] Figures do not include day 4 of Aus vs SA in 2012 and no attendance figures for Aus vs Ind 2008 as no figures available through any sources

[iv] Exclude days rained out (Aus vs SA at Gabba in 2012), and last days where minimal play involved

[v] Refer to previous notes for exclusions and limitations

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5 thoughts on “How the West was Lost – Why did the WACA Really Lose its Crown ?

  1. Interesting stuff. I know this is a late response, but why are crowds so low for Tests in Australia? Is it just that grounds like the Gabba are so big that even 12k (which would seem like a good turnout at 80% of English County grounds) seems like a low attendance? Prices always struck me as being quite low compared to other pastimes when I was there last winter (your summer).

    • Some of it has to do with the fact that I excluded Ashes Tests which are generally full & some perhaps due to the quality of opponents as Sydney & Melbourne usually get the best matches, although moving forward RSA matches won’t feature there given their focus on their own home summer.

      To be honest I wanted to point out that capacity & media facilities are things the WACA must address while Brisbane just needs to support the games – no excuses for them although my friends in Perth point out their games are too close to Christmas.

      In defence of Brisbane school is usually still on which dampens the crowd for days 1 and 2 which doesn’t occur at the other grounds, but then again Melbourne & Sydney compete with Christmas/New Year which takes away some audience potential – personally I haven’t been to the Sydney Test in years as I’m away on holidays.

      The last point worth noting is that Adelaide Oval & The Gabba have seen significantly increased capacity added to cater for AFL matches played there so perhaps overstates the natural cricket potential crowd.

      Thanks for reading the piece and taking the time to comment – really appreciate it.

  2. Pingback: Memorable Moments of 2013 | Stumped4aduck

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