The proliferation of T20 franchise leagues has spread further to North America with Cricket Canada's announcement on Thursday that they have signed a 25-year licensing agreement to start their own three-week competition. Dubbed the Global T20 Canada, the tournament is tentatively scheduled to get underway in July 2018 after it was sanctioned by the ICC.
Among the key characteristics of the six-team league, according to Cricket Canada president Ranjit Saini, who spoke to ESPNcricinfo from Delhi following the announcement, is that a minimum of four Canada eligible players must be included in each 15-man squad. However, there is no mandate that any Canada players must be in a starting XI, opening up the possibility of XIs comprising only foreign players.
It has not been decided if the league will have an auction system with a salary cap or a draft, but Saini said that one of the six teams will be made entirely of West Indian overseas players, aside from the four Canada resident players.
"The West Indies is a sponsor of the league," Saini said. "The ICC approval is based on Full Member participation so one team will be a West Indian team."
Though each team in the league will have "geographical representation" from across Canada, the entire first season will be played across three venues in the greater Toronto area. Those are expected to be Maple Leaf Cricket Club in King City - which previously hosted a quadrangular series with Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Canada in 2008 - as well as Sunnybrook Park and Mavis Cricket Ground, home of the Ontario Cricket Academy.
The Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club is also a possible venue having hosted the Sahara Cup in the late 1990s but Saini said it may be difficult to get permits to play at the exclusive private facility. It would mean utilising the other three turf venues which would all be in serious need of infrastructure upgrades in order to host a high-level tournament.
"I think in the initial stages this year and probably next year, we will have to make do with the makeshift structures but we do have plans to build a stadium," Saini said. According to him, "a few million dollars" have been committed by Mercuri Group, an Indian company that acquired the Master License Agreement to manage the league with Cricket Canada, for the purposes of building a dedicated stadium, though full costs including an exact location have not been chalked out.
The last high-profile cricket event staged in Toronto was a T20 All-Star event at the Rogers Centre in 2012, which turned into a catastrophic financial loss for all involved. Many of the players who appeared, including Mark Boucher, Sanath Jayasuriya and Brian Lara, wound up losing thousands of dollars after paying for their own travel expenses up front only to not be reimbursed.
Saini was emphatic that such disorganisation would not happen with the Global T20 Canada. The Cricket Canada president said that the league had enough investment backing from Mercuri Talent Management Private Limited, an Indian media and entertainment business with offices in Pune and Chennai, to operate the league in the initial few seasons.
"Very shortly, there will be efforts and agreements signed for the team owners," Saini said. "Mercuri has the capacity at this time to own all the teams themselves and lease them out to different management. As we grow, there will be different owners. At this moment, the league is entirely owned by Mercuri and Cricket Canada is giving them the authority to own, sell or lease."
Though the Caribbean Premier League has organised a handful of matches in Florida over its last two seasons, the Global T20 Canada would be the first franchise league held completely in North America. An agreement initially signed in December 2010 between the USA Cricket Association, New Zealand Cricket, Podar Enterprises and Neil Maxwell's Insite to form a franchise Twenty20 league in the USA for a launch in the summer of 2012 fizzled out due to a series of operational issues, including the inability to get outside investment support.
Cricket Canada also distanced itself from recent reports about claims made by Toronto businessman Roy Singh to start his own T20 franchise league in Canada, a proposal not sanctioned by the ICC or Cricket Canada. Roy, who in 2007 was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison after pleading guilty to a charge of fraud, claimed in 2014 that he had plans to build a $700 million stadium in Toronto to launch a franchise league, which like the USACA-NZC project never got off the ground.
Saini said that the Global T20 Canada may generate revenues in the "six-figure" range for Cricket Canada in the first season and more in the subsequent years. "Cricket Canada is very excited by the opportunity and we're looking forward to it."