The numbers game

If the 20/20 Big Bash couldn't match Victory hosting Brisbane Roar last week, how will Cricket Australia's dog and pony show handle this weekend's Melbourne derby?

Football, like all sports, is a numbers game.

Goals scored or conceded, assists, passes completed, share of possession and points won.

And in the battle for hearts and minds in a crowded sporting market place, the most telling number of all is bums on seats.

It's fair to say that in the arm wrestle for summer supremacy football is making great strides.

Last weekend the Hyundai A-League found itself in a face off with cricket's new dog and pony show, the 20/20 Big Bash.

Over at the MCG, Shane Warne and Ricky Ponting were the action attraction at the tippity-run derby that passes itself off for something resembling a game of cricket. Surely the crowd would be hanging from the rafters?

Meanwhile, just a short walk across the footbridge at AAMI park, Melbourne Victory were hosting defending champions the Brisbane Roar. The champs were on the ropes, struggling for form and self belief, and facing off against a manager who lead them to the summit twice, who now feels deeply wounded by the loose talk that accompanied his departure.

You can't be in two places at once. the crowds would have to vote with their feet.

In the end it was a no contest.

A little more than 11,000 people could be spotted dotted around the vast expanse of the MCG whilst more than 17,000 enjoyed a thrilling, full blooded contest between the Victory and the Roar.

If the 20/20 Big Bash was concocted by Cricket Australia to stem the bleeding of younger sports fans away from the sport then it is far from certain that it's a formula that works.

It's obvious that cricket authorities have belatedly recognized that the A-League was becoming the summer sporting narrative of choice for many young sports fans. The success of the competition with growing crowd numbers and TV viewing figures confirms it.

20/20 cricket has made a mistake that football has often flirted with. Whilst trying to sell 20/20 as a new suped-up model of itself, it's peddling nostalgia. Warne, Hodge, Ponting, Katich are all yesterday's men.

Whilst football now predominantly frowns on the gun-for-hire guest player who comes and goes and a blaze of publicity with often little to show for it, 20/20 cricket is a mercenaries paradise.

Have bat, will travel and will play where the price is right.

It has created a game where "the show" is more important than the contest.

Which works wonderfully for the Hyundai A League, because passion for the contest is the trademark of the competition now more than ever.

Victory's game against the Roar may have only produced two goals but it was an utterly compelling contest.

And in the end, all the heat and light, smoke and mirrors and pyrotechnics employed by the Big Bash can't mask the fact that inside its shinny bubble, it's empty.

Sports fans want to find meaning in their experience; they want it to matter - whether it's the thrill of a late winner, or the pain of being played off the park and copping four goals.

You can pretty much put a marker down that the moment Melbourne derby arrived, the A-League was a fully realised competition.

Those that were lucky enough to be there for that first derby on 8 October, 2010, where the new boys in red and white pulled off a shock 2-1 win over the Victory remember the energy and drama of the occasion.

The A-League was given a window on the enormous appeal and potential of derby games, the sort of contests that fuel the passion for the game across the world.

Similarly, last weekend's Sydney derby was a remarkable occasion for the exact same reason. Winning these games is what makes and breaks football clubs. They have a life of their own.

That will be reinforced again this week when the Melbourne derby is in full swing at AAMI Park at the same time the Melbourne Renegades are playing the Brisbane Heat down the road at Etihad Stadium.

People will vote with their feel again, just like they did last weekend.

Because there is only one of those games that matters as much to those that play it as those that watch it.