Cricket and football fans hate change for the sake of change, as we’ve witnessed this week.
Take a temperature check for the Australian Football League (AFL) and Cricket Australia (CA) and you will likely receive third degree burns, such has been the ferocity of feedback.
Both sports have both fiddled around the edges of their respective sports ahead of next season. Both sports have been hammered.
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In football, interchange rotations have been politely trimmed rather than slashed, the man on the mark must now play dead fish standing up and the player on the mark at kick-ins will be two large steps further back in 2021.
The adjustments will likely help ease congestion, but how much?
In cricket’s shortest and most marketable format, a super sub has been (re)introduced, there is an extra point on offer every match and a powerplay can now be split into a block of four overs and another set of two overs.
These changes will add interesting elements, but will they entice more people to watch?
When CA and the AFL went public this week, the public backlash was decisive from punters, current players and retired stars.
Cricket’s turn was Monday, football’s was Thursday.
Shane Watson penned a column, Mason Cox and Usman Khawaja sent tweets, while 2019 VFL best and fairest winner Tom Gribble accused the league of treating state-league players like “lab rats”.
It has to be asked: Why implement changes if the only people that want them are sitting around board tables at Jolimont and Docklands?
Simply, both codes believe there is something fundamentally flawed with the product they are promoting. There is no other explanation. Otherwise they’d leave it alone.
This week it has become apparent there has never been a greater chasm between the views of fans and the administrators that run the show. It’s a long way down from those ivory towers.
It’s jarring to read and hear so much criticism for sports which are played and watched by millions of Australians every year. It can’t be that bad, can it?
Let’s not forget cricket and football are not periphery pursuits. They are not table tennis and lacrosse. They are mainstream, hugely popular sports which generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually for the economy.
Driving around Melbourne on Wednesday afternoon, ovals were filled with boys and girls kicking Sherrins and bowling Kookaburras to each other in the November sun.
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Ask any of their parents and they would rightly tell you football is not what it was 25 years ago. They would also say the Big Bash has lost some of its lustre from the summer of 2015/16, when almost 90,000 fans packed into the MCG to watch the Stars take on the Renegades.
For a BBL semi-final nine months ago, barely 13,000 people filtered into the MCG … Thirteen thousand fans for a knockout match boasting Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis and Khawaja.
CA argued the end to school holidays and poor weather saw a poor turnout. The rebuttal is obvious: Don’t fixture games in February.
Unfortunately, footy is more congested than it ever was and T20 cricket doesn’t have the tidal wave of stars that descended on the competition in its formative years. Both are unfortunate realities which require attention.
Interestingly, to this point Cricket Australia and the AFL have rejected nuclear options. That is, change elements of their respective sports to ‘fix’ the issues they are facing in one fell swoop.
In football, the AFL has not yet introduced zones at stoppages at the elite level and has resisted 16-per side in the men’s game. Both of these would be nuclear.
Nor has CA, mind you. In this regard, the English Cricket Board (ECB) read the play with The Hundred: A radical format which elicited ample criticism initially but was eventually widely accepted.
Once global superstars signed on there was genuine excitement for the competition to get underway until the virus hit.
The BBL prides itself on innovation and unpredictability. But surely above these objectives should be entertainment and star power? Gimmicks are for board games.
Finding the very best players, paying them enough to come, and creating a tournament which is punchy has proved elusive in recent times. That’s what The Hundred has done. If you have the best cricketers in the world playing, it doesn’t matter how many balls there are in an over.
In fairness, the AFL and CA are dealing with a myriad of complexities and research data most fans would be unfamiliar with. But ultimately, aren’t supporters the bedrock of sport? Anger them at your peril.
And at the moment, fans of both codes are angry. Social media amplifies the resentment, but it’s unquestionably still there, festering in the hearts and minds of millions of Aussies.
By all means, if something is broken, fix it. Don’t be afraid to go nuclear. If not, leave it. At this rate, we will be back here in 12 months having this exact same conversation.
And that’s more tiresome than a bad game of football or a dud T20 match will ever be.