Interview: Allen Stanford September 25, 2007

'In three years West Indies will be the best in the world'

Multi-billionaire Allen Stanford was the first to throw big money at Twenty20 but he's far from finished. He's got $100 million riding on hopes of bringing the glory back to West Indies cricket

Money talks: Allen Stanford has announced a $5 million playoff between the World Twenty20 winners and an all-star West Indian team © Joseph Jones

Twenty20 cricket is taking the world by storm. The hugely successful World Twenty20 has just been completed in South Africa and the Indian Premier League and club Champions League proposals have been announced. Allen Stanford, the Texan multi-billionaire, spotted the potential a few years ago when he launched Stanford 20/20 in the West Indies. It hasn't been all plain sailing for him but, as he told Cricinfo in Johannesburg, he has big plans for the concept in the Caribbean and believes it can revive West Indies cricket.

What are your next plans for Stanford cricket?
We are going to invite the winner of the World Twenty20 to come to Antigua for one night and play one game for US$5m, winner takes all. If the winner of the game chooses not to come, we are going to ask Australia as a back-up.

What we wanted to do was invite Sri Lanka, India, Australia and South Africa to come down and play. Single elimination, and you come out with a winner who then plays our Super Stars. But because ESPN-Star are locked into this big contract with the ICC, it eliminated me getting four teams.

We needed to get their [the ICC's] permission and had a meeting scheduled here in Johannesburg with them, but they couldn't make it. And I think it's going to be too big an issue to get ready for this year, because our tournament starts in January, so we opted for this one-off game. We wanted the four-team playoff but there is a lot of bureaucracy.

You had plans involving South Africa last year. What happened?
South Africa were committed to come and play last November, and prior to that, in June, we had a letter from the ICC saying that you can invite one of our member teams to come and play on these dates in a one-off deal and we'll sanction it. We went to the West Indies board and they said fine, but all of a sudden a tour of Pakistan by West Indies gets scheduled for the same time. We did everything we could to try and accommodate them, despite having a letter to say we had those dates available, but it didn't work.

So it must be a significant step to now have the WICB fully on board?
It brings us closer together and means we aren't in conflict with them. It means during our tournament we aren't going to have anything scheduled in that time.

Are you following in the footsteps of other businessmen who have come into the game?
People have this image that because I have the money to do some big things in cricket, I'm going to be another [Kerry] Packer or [Subhash] Chandra [Zee TV], but I'm totally different to those guys. I don't have a TV station, my business is financial services, my concern is to see cricket, which is now at the very bottom [in the West Indies] - and I mean bottom, it can't get any lower; we were knocked out in the first round here [at the World Twenty20] - be pulled back up.

With the guys who serve on my board [the cricket legends] we work together with the Twenty20 format to bring in some great athletes instead of them going to baseball or basketball. I'm spending a lot of money doing it. Last year I put in $30m and this year it has been a little more, around $35m, I would guess, and I've got $100m committed for the next three years including this one.

West Indies are stuck in the late fifties, early sixties, in terms of sports. While everyone else has moved into the 21st century, they have stayed behind. You can play with your heart and soul but that only gets you so far these days

It's huge amounts of money, with a chance that you might not get a return.
All money is relative. $100m is a lot of money but it's relative. To me it's not a lot of money - even though it is. When you have your heart and soul in something in a place where you live - my home is the US Virgin Islands - you don't want to see it stay down at the bottom.

When we do sports marketing - and we work with the PGA, tennis, sailing, polo - we have spent around $83m promoting the Stanford name, so this is just part of our marketing campaign. I'm putting a large amount from my own pocket, but it's all relative.

How did your interest in cricket start?
I've lived in the Carribbean for 25 years. I played football at college in the States, and I'm just someone who loves sports. I love what West Indies cricket does for West Indies - it brings people together. And I've got quite a bit of business in West Indies.

What we have in West Indies no one else has in the world: island against island competition. You take the Stanford ground, all you need is 6000-7000 people and it is full. It's like Mardi Gras, New Year's Eve, a World Championship fight and a family reunion put into one. That atmosphere bleeds into television like you can't imagine.

This is a long-term commitment from you, but have you got a time frame set for success?
In three years we are going to be the best in the world, mark my words. Within two years we will have the best pro teams throughout the Caribbean. We are setting up teams in every single island. By November there will be sides in Antigua, Nevis, Anguilla, and St Lucia. By this time next year we will have nearly all 20 teams. In three years we will be back playing like these guys [the legends] did.

We have the best athletes in the world, but you can't be a bank teller and be a professional athlete. You are either doing one thing or the other in this day in age. West Indies are stuck in the late fifties, early sixties, in terms of sports. While everyone else has moved into the 21st century, they have stayed behind. You can play with your heart and soul but that only gets you so far these days. Sport, unfortunately, is not only entertainment but money.

Are you concerned about the pull of American sports?
It's absolutely true that they [youngsters] are being drawn to American sports. Basketball is the biggest thing to have come up in recent years.

The Caribbean has the best raw athletic talent, but that isn't going to get you very far. You've got to have the nutrition, training, the best coaches. There's a whole package to go along with raw ability. Look at the Australians - they were good but when they become professional they went to great. They may look like a bunch of bar-room brawlers but they are great athletes.

Stanford and his board of legends at Nelson Mandela square in Johannesburg © Stanford 20/20

Our guys can run like greased lightning and are genetically built to play cricket. They are just getting beaten by 10 to 20 per cent. If you can't take it to that next level, it won't change. That's what we are trying to do.

How do you see your influence moving through one-day and Test cricket?
The way I view it is that what we are doing can be the catalyst to get young kids interested. What do they want? Something that's comparable to other sports like softball and baseball that they see on the television. They see that this is exciting and there's money involved in it. Once they get into Twenty20, they can go into 50 overs and Test matches.

I'll tell you about the demographics. In West Indies a Test is about 90 per cent male and 10 per cent women and kids, but in our matches it was 40 per cent male and 60 per cent women and kids. Most of the women didn't know anything about cricket but came because it was so much fun. Once you get into the game you want to stay for the whole game.

Test cricket, I still don't understand it; it's like playing chess for hours and days, but Twenty20 can be something everyone can understand. I'm not a purist when it comes to cricket, I'm a pure entertainment man. It will make business sense eventually; now it doesn't because I'm having to seed it with a lot of money, but it's going to bring West Indies back in three years.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer on Cricinfo