When Network Ten moved the WBBL|01 Melbourne Derby between the Stars and the Renegades from One, to Ten’s main channel, it reached a peak television audience of 439,000. A further 12,901 spectators watched from the MCG stands.
Ten threw away the rest of its plans and moved the last three WBBL round matches and semi-finals to its main channel. It out-rated a variety of men's sports even when it screened on One.
Other dominos soon fell ensuring coverage of the T20 game beyond WBBL. Channel Nine broadcast the Southern Stars T20 series against India, and Foxsports will broadcast women's T20 World Cup games.
“[It's one] of those watershed moments where things have started to click for women’s sport, pivotal moments in the professionalisation of sport for women,” Australian All-rounder Ellyse Perry told the Daily Telegraph.
It didn't happen overnight
Of course, the WBBL's success was far from instant, former Australian Cricket captain Belinda Clark told Zela.
"The success and the support of the WBBL has not happened overnight. It has been a journey [over] the last four or five years, a concerted effort to significantly change the way cricket is viewed both internally and externally, and that takes a lot of work," she said.
"The approach went from looking purely at playing, to a broader sense of engaging with women and girls, about making opportunities in whatever avenue they choose. Playing, being a fan, a consumer, a watcher or at the board table or on staff," Clark said.
Clark may also not have expected the added bonus of the WBBL's success. It also engaged with boys.
It was a team effort
Clark said exposing women’s cricket to the Australian public was a team effort by players, administrators, the Cricket Australia board and the state and territory associations.
“No one person or group made it (WBBL) work, there was a whole range of people that brought this to life,” Clark said, who is now in a leadership position at Cricket Australia as Senior Manager of Team Performance.
"We aligned the national competition and those who played for their state associations to the BBL. The rules around the competition are different, we had overseas players come in, and it’s really the first time women’s domestic cricket has been broadcast on the television and this was the mechanism to do that.
"The support of Ten behind it, the support of Rebel in sponsoring it, there were a whole range of things that went behind allowing us to promote the competition and ensure people knew it was on," Clark said.
She said the International Cricket Council (ICC) has also made decisions over the last few years to assist in growing the women's game globally. For example, scheduling the women's T20 World Cup every two years.
“[The ICC] recognised T20 is an avenue we can get greater global reach. And the way the schedule is now structured has also opened up the calendar. Now there’s a requirement to qualify for the 50 Over World Cup which requires you to play the other seven nations in the top eight, which we haven’t done before either,” Clark said.
“So there have been some bold decisions globally to try and capitalise on the interest that’s happening around the world."
The result? The right mix
It may sound like a Field of Dreams cliché but it's still true. If you bring a viable product to the public, the public will respond.
"I think being in a position where we could take something that was familiar to the Australian public in the BBL,take that in a different context with the WBBL, that gave us a good platform to work from," said Clark.
"Then providing a decent product with a strong field of women’s teams is probably the reason why it caught on.
"Many organisations and the rest of the Australian cricketers were behind it and I think we’re now seeing that translate into a change of opinion at community level, which is really important.
"People know there’s a women's domestic cricket competition and it’s called the WBBL and it was on their television screens this year, and that was different for them,” Clark said.
What next for women's cricket?
Extended coverage of the women's game originating from WBBL's success translates into one thing. The potential for more money to trickle down to players via TV rights and sponsorship. The ultimate scenario then is for women's players to become full-time athletes, which Clark suggests is not far away.
“We’ve got a couple of [women’s] players earning three figures which would be as professional as a lot of sports would get to.
"There are a number of our cricketers that have to work, they choose to study or they choose to work in a part-time capacity.
But where we’ve come from, I mean, we’ve come light years from even five years ago about what we’re paying players and it’s set to grow in the not too distant future,” Clark said.
“I think the aim would be that our players become 10 and 11 month a year cricketers both for Australia and for domestic teams [globally]. There’s plenty of time in the calendar year to be playing international cricket and then supplementing it with these domestic competitions,” Clark said.
In light of WBBL's success, the T20 could also explode in other nations, particularly those 10 competing in the upcoming T20 World Cup.
“The WBBL will absolutely be of interest to England, they’re about to start a domestic T20 competition called The Women’s Super League, and I would not be surprised if other countries, such as India, start to follow suit, which would be a really great opportunity for the global game of it can work domestically like this in every country," Clark said.