Zimbabwe Cricket will face minimal monetary losses in the hosting of its popular Twenty20 tournament which starts on Friday, ZC managing director Ozias Bvute has said. The 10-day event features five franchises and 16 foreign players, and has been the highlight of the domestic calendar since its inception three seasons ago. It is also a sign of the growing financial viability of cricket in Zimbabwe after a period of instability.
"We will be very close to breaking even this year and we are not too far from making it a sustainable and profitable tournament," Bvute told ESPNCricnfo.
ZC made losses on each of its three incoming tours this summer, when it hosted Bangladesh, Pakistan and New Zealand and made a historic comeback into Test cricket. They have secured major sponsors in recent times, to cushion the blow, and are also making inroads into the television rights market.
South African-based broadcaster SuperSport has bought the rights to the T20 tournament and all 14 matches will be screened live across the continent. The company has made a name for being one of the most comprehensive sports broadcasters in the world and secures rights to most major events.
Clinton van der Berg, SuperSport communication manager, said they viewed the series as important to their African objectives. "SuperSport is a Pan-African broadcaster and Zimbabwe is one of our key areas," he said.
Alistair Campbell, chairman of the ZC cricket committee, said that he hopes SuperSport's involvement will be able to "increase the profile" of the tournament. "As it becomes more popular, we will able to leverage more on the sale of the TV rights," he said. "Everything can't be funded by sponsors but we are working on this, it will happen down the line."
For now, the focus is to grow the competition and ZC appears to be willing to accept lesser revenues in order to do that. While van der Berg could not reveal the specific numbers, he admitted that SuperSport were "very satisfied with the commercial arrangement" they made with ZC.
The event is expected to be well attended, with Campbell predicting "packed crowds on the weekends, especially the finals weekend, which will fall over school holidays". Viewership figures are also expected to be on the up, after ZC secured big names such as Chris Gayle, Shaun Tait, Dirk Nannes and Ryan ten Doeschate to play in the event. "Being a new tournament, it may struggle initially, but the big names ought to help," van der Berg said. "Given the popularity of T20 elsewhere, we would expect it to do reasonably well."
ZC and Gayle have both confirmed that they were "unable to pay him what he could command elsewhere" but that players such as him were willing to play in the short event, for less money than usual. "He knows we don't have the resources to pay him what he may deserve, but he was willing to help us out and we are most grateful," Campbell said. "As the event grows, we will be able to get more big names and pay more."
Although money is one of ZC's main concerns, Bvute said the primary aim of the competition is to promote cricket in the country, which has only just started to become more inclusive to the majority population. "We are transitioning from a period when cricket was an exclusive sport played by less than 600 people in a population of well over 13 million; to a place where cricket is a majority sport accessible to everyone - players and spectators alike," Bvute said. "From the onset, this competition has been a major success, generating record numbers of spectators."