TONY COZIER: Contrasting results of CPL, PCL
IT has become increasingly clear that the Caribbean’s two new, high-profile franchise tournaments, the West Indies Cricket Board’s first-class Professional Cricket League (PCL) and the privately financed and organised T20 Caribbean Premier League (CPL), cannot comfortably coexist.
Conde Riley, head of the PCL Barbados Tridents franchise, maintained last week that, at a time of global recession, the economies of the mini-states of West Indies cricket simply could not properly sustain both.
He attributed the PCL’s general failure to attract sponsors principally to competition from the strongly financed, marketed, promoted and staged CPL.
The WICB has set a deadline of four years for the six franchises to become self-sufficient. Until then, it disburses US$45 000 to each to cover fees for players and coaches, general preparation of teams and the like.
WICB president Dave Cameron has warned that franchises must run their operations more efficiently or face the prospect of losing the monthly grant.
“The board has taken a decision that if franchises do not comply with the standard, there could be penalties, and the only penalties we could exact is the withholding of funds,” he said.
If that is the case – and the Tridents are not alone in the predicament – the CPL would be unlikely to survive in its planned form.
Other factors contribute to Riley’s analysis.
Prospective investors in the Caribbean’s main sport have been turned off by the diminishing public interest, created by the glaring weaknesses in administration and playing standards.
The premier first-class tournament has not had a title sponsor since Carib Beer withdrew in 2008. They haven’t been replaced since; the PCL itself and its teams are yet to find financial backers.
The CPL signed its 50-year agreement with the WICB in 2012, a year before the director of cricket Richard Pybus’ proposal launched the PCL. It was a significant head start.
Its immediate, aggressive marketing and promotional packages contrasted starkly with the WICB’s understated introduction of its restructured tournament that reverted to home-and-away matches and, for the first time, placed 90 fully professional players it expected would be scattered through the six franchise teams.
Ajmal Khan, head of the initially assumed purchaser, merchant bankers Verus International, proclaimed the intention to make the CPL “one of the most enviable franchises anywhere in the world”.
The eventual owners, Irish mobile phone giant, Digicel, have decisively built on that boast over its three seasons.
A quota of overseas players was mixed with West Indians in the six franchises. Among them were Caribbean stars from the Indian Premier League (IPL), seldom seen in regional cricket.
Suddenly, the Barbados Tridents and the Guyana Amazon Warriors were being led by Trinidadians. Bajans and Guyanese were scoring runs and taking wickets for other teams that included Pakistanis, South Africans, New Zealanders, Australians and Bangladeshis. England’s discarded superstar Kevin Pietersen added lustre to the St Lucia Zouks.
And the whole extravaganza was T20, the game’s newest and most popular format, played mainly under lights with matches completed within four hours.
It was a package that had sponsors falling over themselves in an effort to get on board with the increasing involvement of Indian entrepreneurs never slow in recognising an opportunity, among them new title holders, Hero Motors.
Presenting the PCL, Cameron wrote to the players, advising them that the new full-time professionals would each have the potential to earn between US$35 000 and US$53 900 annually.
It was exciting news for the players, not seemingly so for the ultra-cautious WICB shareholders who baulked at what Cameron referred to as “a revolutionary introduction into the West Indian cricket landscape”. In its first season, all but one of the PCL franchises stuck to home-based players.
Against the flashy media advertising campaign, the prominent billboards, the fireworks and the fanfare of the CPL, it was an embarrassment, an opportunity lost.
The upshot was that the CPL has played to mostly packed stands for its three years; in its first season, 2014-15, there was no significant increase in attendances at PCL matches.
Cameron appears unfazed by the disparity. The PCL, he notes, is another attempt by the WICB to provide players with more cricket and more financial stability. He is confident its impact would be evident three or four years down the line.
At their meeting in Antigua last weekend, WICB directors agreed on a new commercial strategy. Two of its goals are to “increase revenue” and “create a cost-effective marketing platform that delivers commercial partners”.
Acknowledging that such an undertaking is beyond its limited capabilities, it has signed on the London-based Pitch International sports sponsorship sales agency as its “exclusive commercial consultant”.
It is a demanding challenge likely to determine the future of the Professional Cricket League.