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THE COMBINATION OF A REGION renowned as much for its passion for cricket as its penchant for revelry, influenced Digicel to locate its Caribbean Premier League (CPL) in the Caribbean.
The Irish mobile phone company, long established in the region and its cricket, has a 50-year, US$50 million agreement with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) to own and organise the CPL.
Comprising six franchised teams along the lines of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the most internationally prominent of its kind, the Greatest Party in Sport was an obvious slogan.
It has been an unqualified success on the field through its three seasons, the third of which ended in frenzied celebrations at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port-of-Spain last weekend as the Trinidad Red Steel defeated the 2014 champions Barbados Tridents in the final.
There were similar scenes wherever the 32 matches were contested over the six weeks – Barbados, St Lucia, St Kitts, Jamaica, Guyana.
Such triumphs on the field were counterbalanced by stark economic and political realities off it.
Damien O’Donohue, the chief executive, acknowledged that as the West Indies is “a small economic region going through hard times”, it would “never be worth even a tiny fraction of the likes of the IPL”.
He spoke of other lucrative possibilities – some matches in Florida in CPL4 that would be a foot in the door of a sizeable, untapped market and increased investment from India to follow the move by the IPL’s Kolkatta Knight Riders of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan into the Red Steel and the earlier takeover of the overall sponsorship by the Hero motor company.
The point had been pressed by O’Donohue and chief operations officer Pete Russell that the tournament took US$25 million a season to run and was “in debt in some parts”. Investment from the relevant Governments and private sectors was “important” to offset it.
They complained to the media that Barbados was “a commercial disaster”. As the Government and private sector had “failed to come on board”, the CPL was prepared to pull out if they received a good offer from “people knocking on our doors”.
There was a strong and quick reaction. The views were reflected in an editorial in the Nation that said it was “surprised, even taken aback” by the comments.
“The reality is that, apart from certain concessions, most Caribbean countries cannot put the financing of the CPL ahead of the long list of national necessities already seeking a piece of the economic pie,” it wrote.
Yet statistics supplied by the CPL, through an independent report by SMG-Insight, the sports and sponsorship researchers, should have made a certain case for the Barbados and other Governments putting up US$1 million annually.
The CPL claimed that it showed it had pumped “a massive” US$166 million into the various economies in 2014.
Yet Antigua and Barbuda had the plug pulled from its Hawksbills franchise team after two years when the Government baulked at the CPL’s requirements, in spite of the stated return of US$13.8 million from three matches in 2014; it was moved to nearby St Kitts as the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots. Grenada put up US$500 000 to stage the opening matches in 2014; its Government didn’t bid again in spite of the US$13.3 CPL said it gained from the venture.
It appeared they saw the CPL figures as too good to be true.
The change of Governments in St Kitts and Nevis and Guyana just before the 2015 tournament complicated matters for the CPL.
The new Minister of Sports in St Kitts and Nevis, Shawn Richards, charged the previous administration with leaving no budgetary support to host the Patriot matches. Even so, the contract, costing $7.25 million, would be honoured in five instalments for 2015-19.
The clincher seemed the realisation of a probable fallout from a public enthralled by the prospect of having a representative CPL team rather than the overall benefits listed by the CPL.
A few weeks later, a new Government also came to office in Guyana.
Presented with an invoice of US$500 000 from the CPL for its input over the previous two years, finance minister Winston Jordan said it would not be paid until his office saw contracts and other official documents concerning the matter.
According to Minister of State Joseph Harmon, the usual exemptions and concessions for staging international cricket in Guyana would be granted. But he reportedly told O’Donohue: “This time round, things will be done differently.”
The moment had come for damage limitation.
After the CPL committee met with Government, Russell said what differences there were had been sorted out; he was confident CPL would be “a major factor in Guyana . . . for years ahead”. Time will tell.
Even after the Red Steel had collected their trophy and champions’ cheque following the final and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar pledged further support for the CPL, head of the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board (TTCB) Azim Bassarath pressed for official funding of a US$5 million development plan, involving all aspects of the game.
“If there are no cricketers who we develop and cultivate day in and day out, they would be no finished product to sell to the CPL,” Bassarath argued.
It was a reasonable point.
Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean.