CPL 2014 August 18, 2014

'We plan to take CPL to America'

At the end of the second edition of the CPL, the league's chairman Damien O'Donohoe speaks about expansion plans and potential lessons from other T20 tournaments

"The important thing is that the standard of cricket has been excellent" © LatinContent/Getty Images

Crowds have appeared perhaps slightly down on last year. How do you think this season of the CPL has gone?
We are really happy with how this year has gone as we have seen very good quality cricket, engaged and passionate crowds, and an amazing atmosphere. While there were some empty seats, the fans have made plenty of noise and ensured the famous CPL atmosphere has been present throughout.

What has been the biggest challenge in running the CPL?
No other T20 tournament in the world is working with six teams across the eight different countries. This is still probably the biggest challenge - ensuring the tournament runs smoothly while moving to different countries each week or so. We are learning lots each year and the hard work of the CPL staff on the ground in each country and the teams is hugely appreciated.

The CPL can arguably lay claim to completing the trio of the leading T20 leagues in the world, alongside the IPL and BBL. Do you feel this is an accurate assessment?
We've got the most passionate crowds in the world. Combine this with the unique and traditional carnival atmosphere of the Caribbean and it makes something truly special that can provide a spectacle to rival the other big T20 competitions. The important thing is that the standard of cricket has been excellent. The overseas coaches have all been genuinely impressed by the professionalism, talent and skill levels of the players. They have also been positive about the future of West Indies cricket based on the breadth and depth of the talent they have seen across the islands.

How big does the CPL aspire to become? Are there plans to expand beyond the current six teams?
The first thing we want to do is establish the tournament within the Caribbean cricket calendar long term. It has proved to be a competition that fans across the region have enjoyed and really looked forward to. But we also want franchises to expand as demand dictates. The exciting cricket and energy of the fans is very infectious and we think this could eventually even lead us to taking the tournament to America.

The CPL has attracted some considerable overseas talent but perhaps not many of the sport's biggest names, despite occurring at a time in the calendar when player availability is generally good. What is holding the league back in this regard?
I am not quite sure that is necessarily the case this year. Word of mouth is clearly spreading amongst the players. This year 121 overseas players entered the draft, more than five times the number we had in 2013. Last year we had the likes of [Ricky] Ponting and [Kumar] Sangakkara taking part, and this year we had Kevin Pietersen, Shoaib Malik and Daniel Vettori to name just a few.

A lot of the marketing of the CPL has had to do with the concept of going and enjoying the beautiful beaches and partying when there's not cricket on - for fans and players. Have you ever worried about the image of the league's sincerity being diluted by too much of the fun-party vibe?
As you can see from the quality of cricket throughout the tournament, the players take it very seriously, practise hard, and emotionally care about their performances and want to win. But it can't be denied that one of the attractions of playing in the Caribbean is the lifestyle and partying is part of that - a six-week tournament would be a long time for players not to let their hair down at some stage.

The CPL is not owned by the West Indies Cricket Board. How much influence do the stakeholders Digicel and Verus (Ajmal Khan) have in the day-to-day running of the league, if any?
Digicel is the presenting sponsor and a major investor in the league and its support is invaluable - not least because of its long relationship with West Indies cricket and support for the game across the region. That said, a wholly separate management team runs CPL, which is responsible for the decision-making and the day-to-day running. The buck starts and stops with that management team, led by myself.

Jamaica Tallawahs and Guyana Amazon Warriors are partly private-owned franchises. How confident are you that you will eventually attract owners for all franchises?
Clearly the ultimate aim is for all of the teams to be owned, but the key to success here is to pick the right partners who have a genuine interest in developing the league, developing the players and developing West Indies cricket. We have had potential buyers for the franchises that we have opted not to go with, as they would not have been the right fit. This is all about building a successful league over the long term that will benefit the game and the region.

Do you feel you are in competition with the ECB for coverage, talent and attention? As the CPL runs parallel to the English season, has this been an issue with the ECB at all?
Natwest T20 Blast is not necessarily a rival but the timing of the CPL and the English county season means that there will be clashes in terms of player availability. However, we have seen Kevin Pietersen, Owais Shah and Kevin O'Brien playing this year, and of course we'd love to have more England players put themselves forward, but it is tough, given the scheduling.

What can you learn from other T20 leagues?
We're already the market leader in terms of all-round entertainment and star quality - we've got Mark Wahlberg and Gerard Butler involved, and Rick Ross, a huge hip-hop star, is playing a concert for us. However, we're always trying to improve and enhance our product. Both the IPL and Big Bash have developed some very strong brand partnerships, and that is something we are focusing on developing further for next year.

Do you feel that it is a hindrance to the CPL's potential that the time difference makes the Asian market almost entirely inaccessible?
Every tournament has parts of the world where their audience on TV is affected by timings, but we have lots of fans in the subcontinent and there has been plenty of interest in the CPL from their cricket media. We have played matches at various times throughout the tournament to give fans across the world more opportunities to watch.

Is there real potential for the CPL in the American market? How has the CPL been received in America? Is it a possibility that you could have a franchise based in the States?
We certainly believe there is an opportunity to tap into the US and Canadian markets in the coming years, but first and foremost, we want to be able to provide sport and cricket fans in the Caribbean with the best opportunity to see some of the world's most exciting cricket. If there are opportunities to expand outside of the Caribbean, we'll certainly listen, but it's key that it is good for the tournament, and that any interested parties subscribe to our vision for CPLT20 cricket. We're also trying to grow around the Caribbean. This year we're playing matches in two new countries - Grenada and St Kitts & Nevis - and I wouldn't rule out further expansion in future.

Freddie Wilde is a teenage blogger based in Hampshire who first played cricket at the age of seven. He tweets here

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