“Cricket. Played. Louder.“
That’s the marketing campaign tagline for the 2019 edition of the Caribbean Premier League (CPL), and boy, they weren’t kidding. As one walks into a stadium hosting a CPL match, the first thing encountered is the loudness of the music and exhortations from the DJ. They have nailed the louder aspect of their tagline; so loud at times that one can’t even hear themselves think.
But also, true to the tournament’s claim as the “biggest party in sport”, CPL games embrace and encourage a party atmosphere in the stands with fans dancing to Soca and reggae, helped substantially by rum and beer of the tournament sponsors. Many T20 leagues around the world try to create a party atmosphere that’s fun and family friendly but none of them come even close when it comes to the celebratory environment in the stands during a CPL game. Peter Miller, the head of PR and communications, believes it’s because CPL “is a good mix between a carnival and cricket.”
I have been to T20 tournaments and franchise T20 matches in England, India, Australia and Bangladesh but the matches in the West Indies carry an entirely different vibe. Perhaps it’s the chilled out culture of the islands that finds itself most expressive during a T20 match that take place at the right time of the day for the fans and more importantly, lasts the right length of time for them to party, feel good, catch a bit of cricket and head on home.
Back in 2012, at a Test match between West Indies and Australia in Trinidad’s Queen’s Park Oval, I spent quite a bit of time speaking to some of the old timers about cricket in the West Indies. They were proud of their history, obviously, and perhaps were turned away by the fortunes of West Indian cricket in the longer formats, and were happy to support their local T20 team – Trinidad and Tobago who were dominating competition in the Caribbean and would send a phalanx of freelance T20 cricketers that enriched franchise T20 cricket around the world for years. Later that year, West Indies won the first of their two World T20 trophies and establish the players from the region as the masters of cricket’s shortest format.
Those seasoned T20 players including Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, Samuel Badree, Kieron Pollard, and a few big names from South Africa, Pakistan, New Zealand and England, have been the backbone of the CPL, for the seven years of its existence on the field, However, 2019 edition of the league provided glimpses, early and often, of a new era of younger players staking a claim, most of them with roots in the Caribbean (including the likes of Brandon King, Hayden Walsh, Jr., Nicholas Pooran, Shimron Hetmyer and Khary Pierre) which bodes well for the long term talent resources for the competition.
For all the good times off the field that CPL excels in, there are several concerns too. The CPL trophy has been won by three of the bigger teams – Jamaica and Barbados twice and Trinidad, thrice. There is asymmetrical spread of talent between the six teams in the league and the reshuffling of players, a worry that certain franchises pretty much get the players they want to stock their team up.
In addition, conducting a tournament within the region, coordinating between six countries and their franchises is a logistical nightmare. Being dependent on the mood swings and vagaries of politics and governments is never a great position to be in, especially for a private enterprise that is only in town for a small window in a year and is profit driven. Plus, things do not always go the way they are planned in the Caribbean; the second qualifier game between Trinbago Knight Riders and Barbados Tridents was delayed for 75 minutes as Tridents were stuck in the hotel without a ride because the bus driver didn’t show up as he was supposed to, and the bus that brought the Knight Riders was stuck in traffic without a police escort while trying to head to the hotel Tridents were staying in.
Another significant challenge, according to Miller, is that the region is “not the most economically strong market.” While sponsorships help, venue ticket sales are important for the margins. With only “about 250000 fans” watching the tournament from the various venues, it averages to roughly 8000 fans per game. But considering Trinidad games bring a lot more than 8000 people in, other CPL venues are struggling to pull their local fan bases in.
While leagues not named IPL have generally found it hard to be profitable or to sustain success, CPL has stayed afloat for seven years by being “lean” and are close to “breaking even or turn a small profit,” Miller says, and that “planning for the 2020 edition is already underway”. The “lean” approach might be good for CPL’s bottom line but then it has taken away some of the comforts for teams and various support crews, who now fly commercial airlines between the islands and not chartered flights, anyone that has tried this will know how unreliable this can be, and pennies are pinched at every turn that appears to grate people that have been contracted by CPL.
As the Guyana Amazon Warriors failed at the final hurdle for the fifth time and the Tridents lifted the trophy under a confetti rain, a visibly exhausted Miller summarised the state and the status of the CPL. “We can’t pay IPL money but no one else but IPL can; what we can do is pay very competitive money relative to tournaments like Big Bash and Blast to attract talents like Shakib Al Hasan and (in previous years) AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn. The CPL doesn’t take itself seriously and it doesn’t take itself unseriously [sic]. it’s in the middle ground where it’s happy in its own skin.”
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