SYDNEY • Unprecedented interest in the Big Bash League (BBL), Australia's domestic Twenty20 cricket competition, has put it into the top 10 of the most-watched sports leagues in the world.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the big crowds that have thronged the fifth edition of the 35-match tournament, which runs from Dec 17 to Jan 24, make it the ninth most-watched league globally.
Before Sunday's two games, an average of 28,279 people attended BBL matches this season, more than Italy's top-flight football league Serie A, Japan's professional baseball league and Australia's domestic football leagues - the AFL, NRL, A-League and Super Rugby.
Based on figures for the 2015-16 season, Spain's top football league, La Liga, is just ahead of the BBL, with an average attendance of 28,498.
The NFL tops the list, with 68,278, and the German Bundesliga is some way behind in second (43,331). The English Premier League sits in fourth place with average crowds of 36,464.
A record 80,883 people turned up at the Melbourne Cricket Ground last weekend to watch the derby between the Stars and the Renegades, and another large, 40,000-plus crowd is expected at the Sydney Cricket Ground for the Sixers' clash with the Thunder this weekend, which is likely to push the average even higher.
The impressive figures should be taken in context though. Before Sunday, just 24 games in total had been played, compared to the 19 played so far by each of the 20 Serie A teams.
The BBL's total attendance figure before Sunday was nearly 700,000; the NFL drew a total of 17 million during its regular season in 2015.
Nevertheless, the figures are encouraging for the BBL's manager, Anthony Everard. "That's flattering, given that the competition is only five years old, to be in the company of some of those really established sports leagues," he told Fairfax Media.
"Having said that, it's obviously not really our focus. Our focus is on our own backyard and making sure we continue to appeal to kids and families. That is as satisfying to us as perhaps some of those big numbers on a global scale."