Cricket in Trinidad & Tobago will look different during the next Caribbean Premier League (CPL). The men who own and run the Kolkata Knight Riders franchise of the Indian Premier League bought the T20 franchise last year, and this year they have rebranded the team as the Trinbago Knight Riders with the hope of making the Knight Riders brand a global powerhouse. It is a bold move and one that has some risks.
The proud cricket fans of the twin island republic of Trinidad and Tobago have got used to support the Red Force and then the Red Steel. When the new logo for the team was announced it was the purple of KKR not the red, white and black of the T&T flag.
The reaction from some fans was an angry one but Venky Mysore, the CEO of both TKR and KKR, has assured them that the rebranding will be sensitive to their concerns.
“For us, the branding with the logo and the name was the more critical part. There is an old saying that you think global but act local so we definitely want to act local.
“In fact, that was one of my visions last time I came here. I understand the sensitivities of the local culture and what is important to them,” Mysore said.
“We have to find an interesting way to integrate the flag colours. I saw a sea of red in the games that were held in Trinidad and for me it was a no-brainer.
“This is what people here are passionate about — their cricket and their colours so you have to take that seriously and get on board.”
Mysore arrived in the Caribbean straight from the IPL auction and pointed out how they were very different processes.
Whereas in the IPL each side can bid as much as they can afford for a player, in the CPL it is a draft process with each team taking turns to select a player for each salary bracket.
“Last year we came in and joined the party so to say. This year we have had a lot of planning, opportunities to prepare and participating in the draft was a very enjoyable process.
“I just came from the IPL auction that was very different from the CPL draft. So there are different dynamics at play and a different type of preparation is needed.
“You have more of an opportunity in the auction to get what you want based on the fact that if you have money in your purse you can bid for anyone.
“But here it is also about waiting for your turn and having enough options and homework that you can make sure that your team combination is strong.”
While the CPL is entering its fourth year, the IPL is twice as old and Mysore believes having solid off-field support in terms of infrastructure and experience will be helpful to the Trinbago version of the Knight Riders.
“Behind the scenes support is one of our strengths. We have always had this vision of creating the Knight Riders into a global brand, but first we had to build a solid base and a solid brand in India.
“Like most global companies, it is only when you have a good set-up and a process in place that you have the courage to go out and say we can replicate this in other parts of world.
“We have 15 million followers back in India for KKR. So trying to cross-pollinate all of that and bring in our best practices and our systems here and support the team on the ground is something we are really looking forward to.”
While the CPL has a solid Indian following with as much as half the viewers of last year’s tournament coming from the sub-continent, there is still room to grow.
One of the ways in which the CPL can gain a stronger foothold in India is with the inclusion of Indian players. The BCCI has never allowed its cricketers to take part in another country’s T20 event but Mysore would like to see that happen.
“Marquee signings like Brendon McCullum or AB de Villiers always generate a lot of excitement. They lift the profile of the tournament and get the crowds and the fans going.
“I think it will be great to have Indian players as well. The board has its own reasoning for (restricting involvement), but I hope it at least allows some emerging players to play for CPL because there is a lot of talent on offer. It will also be great for them to come and have this kind of exposure.”
CPL can also gain some currency in the Indian market by revising the schedule so that they hit prime time TV hours in India.
There is a danger here, though. CPL has seen good attendances at night-time games. Moving a match to 12pm local time will be ideal for fans in Kolkata but that may adversely affect local attendance.
“We have been in discussion with CPL. We are working with the broadcasters on some ideas because last year’s CPL stats were quite impressive.
“Maybe it was a coincidence but with our entry, Indian viewership has doubled and it is now 50 per cent of CPL viewership.
“I think it will be fabulous to do something interesting. There are a few ideas that are being collated and brainstorming taking place. I think we can do something really neat.
“I will certainly be requesting Shah Rukh to get involved in the promotion. What that does automatically is that several of the brands, Indian brands, will start to get involved, but also to showcase the country and the cricket.
“The cricket is definitely something to showcase, but also the country with the impact it will have on tourism, for example.
“In our meetings in Trinidad with the Prime Minister, the sports minister and other members of the cabinet, we have focused on ‘what is it that we can do for you?’ Ours can be a mutually beneficial association.”
With Vijay Mallya of the Royal Challengers Bangalore also buying a stake in a CPL side it will be very interesting to see just how the tournament changes to reflect the tie in with the IPL.
India is the money generating powerhouse for the sport and it could mean great things for West Indian cricket to be so closely connected with the most successful T20 tournament in the world.
As long as those involved are mindful of ensuring that local fans stay involved the future could be a bright one for the CPL.