Newcastle is at the back of the queue to gain a slice of the exploding Twenty20 Big Bash League (BBL) because it lacks a venue suitable to host cricket’s glamour format.
A Newcastle consortium put in one of 12 bids for this season’s revamped T20 league, but was rejected for the eight-team competition along with groups from Geelong, Canberra and the Gold Coast.
The game’s governing body, Cricket Australia (CA), had always planned to expand the competition and is now certain to do so after booming crowds and TV ratings.
The crowd average this season is almost 19,000 and Fox Sports ratings for BBL have nearly doubled from an average of 165,000 to 288,000 viewers.
The four regional centres that originally bid for inclusion are in line to join the league, but CA’s BBL project manager Mike McKenna said Newcastle trailed its rivals.
Mr McKenna, who ruled out an expansion of the league next season, said the Newcastle bid’s chosen venue, Ausgrid Stadium, was too narrow.
‘‘There are probably three [expansion] venues that are definitely going to be in that position [to host games] – Geelong, Canberra and the Gold Coast,’’ Mr McKenna said.
‘‘Newcastle is a great population centre and very attractive from a market point of view, but it has a few drawbacks in terms of the venue.’’
He said No.1 Sportsground, the traditional home of Newcastle cricket, could be an alternative if it was developed.
‘‘The NSW government has recently been looking at what’s required to make sure facilities are up to sports’ needs for the future and that might be an opportunity for upgraded facilities,’’ he said.
‘‘There’s lots of things that can happen in a couple of years with venues if there’s a will.’’
However, he left the door ajar for games at Ausgrid Stadium, where the consortium planned to use drop-in pitches.
‘‘You never say never,’’ he said.
‘‘Certainly in the current dimensions and the current facilities, no, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be changed to meet the required standards.
‘‘If there was an absolute will and we thought that was the best decision, we’d certainly be happy to work with interested parties to make sure that was clear.’’
No.1 Sportsground is set to receive a $1.4million redevelopment, but Newcastle District Cricket Association chairman Paul Marjoribanks said the ground would need substantially more funds to meet BBL criteria.
‘‘There’s a lot of money needed to be spent on No.1, unless they lower the bar,’’ Mr Marjoribanks said.
‘‘I’ve been told it would take many millions just to get lights to TV quality.
‘‘In the next couple of years, Ausgrid is our only option and we need to get them up here and see where it fell short in size and what we can do.’’
Hunter Venues Authority, which runs Ausgrid Stadium, backed the original bid and remained open to hosting BBL matches.
‘‘We always welcome business,’’ Hunter Venues marketing and communications manager Anja Johansen said.
‘‘However we haven’t re-started the discussion as of yet.’’
Prominent Newcastle cricketer and lawyer Robert Faraday-Bensley, who led the original BBL bid, said Ausgrid Stadium was only ‘‘about a metre either side’’ short in width of meeting the minimum criteria and hoped for some flexibility from CA.