TONY COZIER: Is it the last of CPL?
THE CARIBBEAN PREMIER LEAGUE (CPL) exits Barbados this morning and St Lucia tomorrow, heading north to St Kitts for its next round of feting and T20 cricket.
It leaves Barbados after four matches with the ominous notice from its bosses that, after three years, it could well be the end of play at Kensington Oval.
Chief executive Damien O’Donohue and chief operations officer Pete Russell charged in an interview in the WEEKEND NATION that Barbados’ Government and private sector had “failed to come on board” and that if they received a good offer from “people knocking on our doors” they were prepared to pull out of Barbados.
In that case, the Tridents, the 2014 champions, would morph into the title of whichever franchise would take their place, just as the Antigua Hawksbills were disbanded and transformed this season into the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots. The St Vincent and the Grenadines Vikings and the Grenada Spice could be next, providing their governments and private sectors “come on board”.
The issue is obviously money and how much of it Barbados is willing to invest in a tournament the CPL injected US$166 million overall into the economies of the participating territories (Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago) last year.
It went into the rental and preparation of grounds, fees for players and officials, hotel accommodation for teams, air travel, internal transportation and a hundred and one incidentals. The US$28.7 million pumped into Barbados’ economy was top of the list, just ahead of St Kitts-Nevis, the venue for the finals, with US$25.1 million.
The report, prepared for CPL by the international sports market analysts, SMG-Insight/YouGov, estimated 217 176 spectators paid US$47.4 million to follow the tournament in 2014, with “thousands of new jobs created in tourism and travel across the region”.
Exposure through global TV coverage was up to 65 million from 36 million in the first year, according to the report; a further increase is expected in the current season.
Such staggering statistics were enough to influence those that have it to buy into the CPL. The government of St Kitts-Nevis, with support from its wealthy foreign citizens, has a five-year contract worth US$7.25 million; other governments have reportedly come up with undisclosed sums.
Following the template of the flagship Indian Premier League (IPL), Indian involvement is increasing. Hero, the nation’s giant motor company, has taken over from Limacol, the “freshness of a breeze in a bottle” out of Guyana, as title sponsors; Shah Rukh Khan, the Bollywood superstar, has bought into the Trinidad and Tobago Red Steel.
A few issues preclude Barbados following suit.
The Government doesn’t have the capital. It’s as simple as that. It is passing through difficult economic times. It is under public pressure for cutting jobs and taxing heavily to reduce its substantial deficit.
To hand over even US$1 million to keep four, privately run cricket matches at Kensington for a week every year, however popular, rather than boost waning standards in Barbados, would be generally regarded as reckless.
The experience of the 2007 International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup is always at the back of its mind.
“The net effect of the Cricket World Cup could well be negative in light of its heavy fiscal costs and the already heavy debt burden in the region,” the International Monetary Fund (IMF) accurately predicted.
Bidding territories then had to satisfy a long list of expensive qualifying criteria, among them the construction of new stadiums at Kensington, Antigua and Guyana. Barbados earned the final but the anticipated returns never materialised; Kensington remains a drain on the treasury. It’s a case of once bitten, twice shy.
The tourism and business sectors, normally the most obvious sources for investment, find themselves caught up in the overall financial bind.
There is no question that the CPL has revolutionised the game. Sold in 2013 by the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) under licence to Digicel, the giant Irish mobile phone company with considerable interests in the Caribbean, it has fired the public’s imagination in a once flourishing, but now waning, game. Nowhere has its appeal has been more profound than at Kensington.
For all its matches, the stands have been filled to capacity with joyous fans celebrating the success of the Tridents, a team in the national colours of blue and gold that includes five Trinidadians, a couple of Sri Lankans, a South African and a Pakistani. It is captained by a Trinidadian so accepted as an honorary Bajan a placard at Thursday night’s match proclaimed: “Citizenship for Pollard”. It was a sporting example to the CARICOM politicians who assemble here shortly for their heads of government pow-wow.
If last night’s match against the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots was its last in Barbados it will be truly missed by the thousands of its converts. But there would be obvious reasons for it.
Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and commentator in the Caribbean.