Popcorn sport: why so salty?
IT IS my favourite new saying and one I'm not sure if I picked up somewhere along the way or coined myself but "popcorn sports” are the best thing to happen to Australian sport since, well, ever.
By popcorn sports I mean the shortened formats of our traditional headliners - think the Big Bash to cricket, Auckland Nines to rugby league and, more recently, Nitro Athletics to track and field - sports you can enjoy start to finish in the same time it takes to watch a movie at the cinemas and work through your salty, buttery snack.
We are seeing these types of events flourish in today's "I need instant gratification” climate, with rule sets tailored for athletic feats and high-energy competition in lieu of the slow and steady, tactical battles of traditional formats.
The best example of this change is cricket's Big Bash and the evolution of Twenty20 cricket from a one-off gimmick to the face of cricket's renaissance.
Negative Nancys label the BBL as a money spinner, standing in opposition to Test cricket - the sport's "true” format. Instead it will likely be considered its saviour.
The BBL was created with the intention of attracting a new generation of fans Cricket Australia feared may be lost to our national sport if something did not change. Despite Australia's dominance on the international stage, crowd numbers fell as our football codes continued to flourish.
Eight years on and cricket has never been in a stronger position. Despite the somewhat middling performances of our national side recently, public interest remains high for the upcoming Test in India. Record numbers are expected for the 2017-18 Ashes and the value of hosting the Big Bash on television is believed to have tripled inside just five years.
Money spinner? Yes. But that money has already led to unprecedented investment in women's, indigenous and disability cricket. The Women's Big Bash League has done more for women's cricket in two years than anything in the previous 20, and the prime-time slots allow for whole families to enjoy a sport that traditionally has struggled to put bums on seats, because of the very nature of its long matches.
Will the next Matthew Hayden grow up idolising Chris Lynn's batting highlight reel or Matt Renshaw's run-an-over style? I do not know. But Cricket Australia's brains trust has already hit a six with the BBL - I would not sleep on them overcoming more boundaries in the future.
Nitro Athletics did what no other Australian athletics meet has been able to accomplish - it brought Usain Bolt and his associated super stardom Down Under. It also drastically increased interest in track and field - a sport that, since Cathy Freeman's success at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, has undoubtedly seen a decline in public interest.
The NRL had less of a requirement to drum up public interest with its product already well established. But just as the Rugby Sevens format helped bring rugby union back from the brink, the Auckland Nines has given the sport a presence in the summer sport market it did not have before.
In the end, sport is a business and businesses that do not adapt with the times rarely survive long enough to remedy their mistakes. For sport fans like you and I, it just means more sport at more accessible times.
Save my seat, I'll grab the popcorn.