The Jamaica Tallawahs may soon become the Fort Lauderdale Tallawahs, or find a new name altogether, if the team's new owner has his way. Florida-based businessman Kris Persaud, whose Worldwide Sports Management Group (WSMG) purchased the Tallawahs in July, declared his intentions this week to hopefully shift operations for the franchise from Jamaica to Lauderhill where the team would call the Central Broward Regional Park their new home. It would make them the first USA-based cricket franchise in any of the major T20 franchise leagues.
Persaud took over the Tallawahs reins from former owners Ron Parikh and Manish Patel, two Indian immigrants based out of Texas who were content to keep the team in Jamaica. However, Persaud's vision differs, and he is hoping to use the Tallawahs as a springboard for attracting more matches to the stadium in Lauderhill.
Earlier this year, WSMG signed an agreement with the Central Broward Regional Park for exclusive rights for staging international cricket at the facility with a guarantee of three international events per year. Games involving the Tallawahs would ostensibly be a part of that number.
A press release sent out on July 27 by a PR firm on behalf of Persaud invited local media to welcome a "multi-million dollar Caribbean Premier League cricket franchise coming to Broward County". At a welcome gathering held this week in Florida, multiple sources told ESPNcricinfo that WSMG representatives announced to attendees that they intend to hold at least three home games per season in Lauderhill.
A spokesperson for the Caribbean Premier League played down Persaud's statements when asked about them. "While the CPL has been open about pursuing opportunities to expand the number of franchises in the future with the possibility of a new franchise based in the USA, the CPL remains committed to keeping our original six franchises at home in the West Indies," the spokesperson said.
An ICC official responded with similar surprise when told of Persaud's comments and stated that as with any other cricket hosted in the USA, Tallawahs ownership would need to receive sanctioning permission from the ICC or ICC Americas. The national governing body typically holds sanctioning authority in its respective home territory but the ICC has held that authority since June 2015 when USACA was suspended and will continue to maintain it until a new national governing body is formed in the wake of USACA's expulsion as an Associate member of the ICC in June.
The proposed move for the Tallawahs away from Jamaica is odd for several reasons, first and foremost to do with the franchise fees. According to documents obtained by ESPNcricinfo, ownership groups looking to purchase one of the six existing franchises were informed it required them to pay a yearly franchise fee of $2.5 million to the CPL but that $2 million is subsidised by a "support payment" from the CPL, in effect making the annual franchise fee $500,000.
However, the documents stated that if a new owner taking over the franchise was to move the team to the USA or Canada, the CPL would essentially face a $1.5 million penalty. According to a line from the documents, "should the franchise move to the USA/Canada, CPL will reduce its annual support by $1.5m per year, so the net franchise fee will be $2m per year."
In terms of fan and media interest, a strong indicator of the reception the franchise may receive in the event of a move is the fact that the initial press conference to unveil Persaud as the new owner of the Tallawahs was cancelled due to a lack of interest. Sabina Park had strong crowds for every Tallawahs home game last year during their title-run, but there was sparse support for the Tallawahs during their visit to Lauderhill in 2016, with Tallawahs fan numbers dwarfed by those cheering for the Guyana Amazon Warriors and Trinbago Knight Riders.
Similarly, ticket sales have been slow for the upcoming games in Florida, with only about 5,000 expected for Saturday's opening double-header in the 10,000 capacity Lauderhill facility, well below the sellouts that were achieved for 2016's set of weekend games in Florida. Sunday's projected attendance is particularly bleak based on current ticket sales and availability, unless boosted by strong walk-up numbers on the morning of the games. And that doesn't factor in the impact of the weather, with 32C+ temperatures and 70% humidity producing a heat index of 40C. Stifling conditions kept some fans away last year and may do so again.
Playing games in Lauderhill also comes with increased operational costs due to the lack of permanent infrastructure to accommodate games. The VIP tent and Party Stand as well as all of the TV broadcast facilities are built up with temporary structures. The TV aspect demonstrated its vulnerability last year during the India v West Indies T20s at the ground when a breakdown satellite feed from one of the temporary production vehicle units on site caused the start of the second T20I to be delayed.
For now, the remaining four Tallawahs home games for 2017 outside of the opening weekend in Lauderhill will be held at Sabina Park. Next year might be a different story.