Will CLT20 be hit by Twenty20 overload?
On Sunday the World T20, an event that lasted three and a half weeks, will end. On Tuesday the Champions League T20, a tournament that will go on for two and half weeks, will start. The 48 hours in between may offer a chance for some perspective.
If Sundar Raman, IPL chief executive who is also a member of the CLT20 technical committee, is correct, that time enough will create a "continuum," of the format. Many fear the opposite: that it will be a time when overload is reached.
Since September 8, the only international cricket that has been played is T20 cricket. South Africa and England played three matches, India and New Zealand played two (one was abandoned), teams warmed up for the World T20, played a group stage, a Super Eight round and a knockout stage. A total of 43 T20 matches will have been played by Sunday and by the end of October, that number will sit at 72 over seven weeks.
But Raman does not fear spectator fatigue and is confident the tournament has a place in the calendar despite the challenges it faces. "This was the window of time that was available currently. All the countries have their international seasons after this and there was an opportunity that was available here," he said in Johannesburg. "We hope the World T20 has created enough of an appetite. The timing of the broadcasts are also pretty good and the schedules are done in a manner that will provide the opportunity for every country to watch their teams."
Reaching out to fans in different countries is what the CLT20 claims to be about. They hope that process will start in South Africa, which is the reason Raman gave for moving the event here from India. "We thought it is only fair to come back to South Africa; to reach out to new markets," he said. The tournament was last previously hosted in South Africa in 2010 and crowd turnout was better than at both events held in India.
More of the same is expected by Jacques Faul, CSA acting CEO. He said even though the CLT20 clashes with South Africa's domestic rugby competition, the Currie Cup, he expects seats to be occupied. "Rugby is a serious contender when it comes to crowds," Faul said. "We did take it into account but we did as much as we could to make sure we will have crowds."
The thinking may well be that the cricket and rugby market are different and in some ways, they are. The CLT20 has also brought in spectators who may not attend other forms of the game, or sport at all, and Faul hopes those types of people will grow in number. So far, it does not look like it. There are a maximum of 380,000 tickets available for sale and only 18% have been bought - around 70,000.
Nassei Appiah, the tournament director who is also CSA CFO, said the numbers should pick up this week. "We know that most of the tickets will be sold a few days before the event or when people know the actual teams playing," he said, referring to the three-day qualifying event which will take place before the tournament proper. "But 30% of tickets for the final have already been sold."
The sales figures did not dampen Raman's confidence in South Africa delivering an event that meets expectations. "It's a great country with a sport loving public," he said. "All the infrastructure is here, 14 teams can be put up in a city like Johannesburg and the stadium atmosphere is also good. The stadium sizes are also smaller than places like India or Australia."
Australia are the third shareholders of the CLT20 and have not yet hosted the competition. Raman said it is unlikely they will be do so in the near future, primarily because their time-zone is unsuitable. "Obviously that is a problem," he said. He did leave the door open to other countries to host the event, saying anyone from England to Sri Lanka to Bangladesh could come into contention in the future.
"As a tournament we are evolving," Raman said. "In 2008, we had an eight-team format. We've evolved from there to be able to accommodate more teams and now we have 14 teams from around the world."
Despite that, the 2012 edition will take place without representatives from either Zimbabwe or Bangladesh, both of whom hold their own domestic twenty-over tournaments. That too, could be revised looked at in future. "As we go forward to future editions, we will try and be as inclusive as we can," Raman said.
It may mean an even longer qualifying phase since only the shareholders' teams gain automatic entry. India, as the largest shareholder, has four teams while South Africa and Australia have two each. This unbalanced nature of the tournament has also caused it to be criticised. England have indicated they will not take part in next year's event because of the large impact CLT20 has on their domestic season which is cut three weeks short even though the teams that qualify for the qualifiers could end up playing only two matches.
Raman is bullish that issues like those do not detract from the CLT20's success and the standing it has among participating countries. "There is a significant interest because people are looking forward to playing in another tournament because of their domestic success," Raman said. "CLT20 has re-energised domestic twenty-over cricket. Players like Sunil Narine have come through CLT20. It gives players the confidence and the ability to believe in themselves and that for me is very heartening. "
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent