Tony Cozier

CPL sans Barbados will not be the same

The prospect of dropping the loss-making Barbados Tridents from the tournament will be a blow to the country and its partying fans

Tony Cozier
Tony Cozier
Kieron Pollard roars after taking a wicket, Barbados Tridents v Guyana Amazon Warriors, CPL 2015, Barbados, June 20, 2015

Barbados Tridents may be the defending champions but at the boardroom the picture is far from rosy  •  CPL T20 Ltd.2015

The Caribbean Premier League (CPL) entourage moves on from Barbados and St Lucia this weekend, heading north to St Kitts for its next round of partying and T20 cricket. Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad, which hosts the final at Queen's Park Oval on July 26, follow.
It leaves Barbados after four matches that attracted spirited sell-out crowds each night with an ominous notice from the CPL bosses that, after three years, it could well be the end of play at Kensington Oval.
Chief executive Damien O'Donohue and chief operating officer Pete Russell told the local press that the government and private sector had "failed to come on board" and that if they received a good offer from "people knocking on our doors" they were prepared to pull out of Barbados.
"All the other teams are making money because of the support of the government and the private sector in those countries," they said, adding that they would review Barbados' position when the season is over.
They didn't sound in conciliatory mood, even as they declared that they "love coming to Barbados".
While CPL had invested US$20 million in staging matches on the island, it was getting little in return, describing it as "a very unfair partnership".
Should Barbados fail to produce "at least US$1 million", their franchise team, Barbados Tridents, the 2014 champions, would morph into the title of whichever franchise would take its place, just as Antigua Hawksbills were disbanded and transformed this season into St Kitts and Nevis Patriots for the same reasons. The St Vincent Vikings and Grenada Spice could be next, provided their governments and private sectors "come on board".
The crux of the matter is money and how much of it Barbados and other territories keen on attracting a tournament that has stimulated cricket's waning interest are willing to provide CPL with the investment its seeks.
The Barbados government is passing through difficult economic times. It is under public pressure for cutting jobs and taxing heavily to reduce its substantial deficit
O'Donohue and Russell termed the Barbados operation "a financial disaster", estimating losses at US$1 million over each of its first two seasons.
Citing a report, prepared for it by the international sports market analysts, SMG-Insight/YouGov, the CPL claims it injected US$166 million overall into the economies of the participating territories (Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago) over the six weeks of the 2014 event.
It went mainly into the rental and preparation of grounds, hotel accommodation, air travel and internal transportation for teams and CPL personnel along with fees for players, officials and entertainers who are the core of the package.
It placed the US$28.7 million pumped into Barbados' economy at the top of the list last year, just ahead of St Kitts and Nevis, the venue for the final, with US$25.1 million.
The report estimated that 217,176 spectators paid US$47.4 million to follow the matches in 2014, with "thousands of new jobs created in tourism and travel across the region".
Exposure through global TV coverage was up to 65 million from 36 million in the first year, according to the report; a further increase is expected in the current season.
Such statistics should be enough to encourage those that could raise the capital to buy into the CPL. The government of St Kitts-Nevis, with support from its wealthy foreign citizens, has a five-year contract worth US$7.25 million; other governments and private sectors have come up with similar sums.
A few issues preclude Barbados following suit, as they did Antigua-Barbuda. The government doesn't have the money. It's as simple as that. It is passing through difficult economic times. It is under public pressure for cutting jobs and taxing heavily to reduce its substantial deficit. One union is threatening to call an island-wide strike.
To hand over even US$1 million to guarantee four, privately run T20 cricket matches for a week every year, however popular, would be generally regarded as irresponsible. Even if its treasury could afford it, it might see it worthier to use the funds to boost falling local standards.
The experience of the 2007 World Cup is somewhat different but is another factor all the same.
"The net effect of the Cricket World Cup could well be negative in light of its heavy fiscal costs and the already heavy debt burden in the region," the International Monetary Fund (IMF) accurately predicted.
Bidding territories then had to satisfy a long list of expensive qualifying criteria, among them the construction of new or improved stadiums in Barbados, Antigua and Guyana. Barbados earned the final but the anticipated returns never materialised; the completely renovated Kensington Oval remains a drain on the treasury, as does the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua and the National Stadium at Providence in Guyana.
In the case of the CPL, it's once bitten, twice shy. The tourism, manufacturing and business sectors, normally the most obvious sources for investment, find themselves caught up in the financial bind that affects their governments.
There is no question that the CPL has revolutionised the game. Sold in 2013 by the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) under licence to Digicel, the giant Irish mobile phone company with considerable interests in the Caribbean, it has fired the public's imagination in a once flourishing, but now waning, game. Nowhere has its appeal has been more profound than at Kensington Oval.
Every night, the stands have been filled to capacity with joyous fans celebrating the success of the Tridents, a team in the national colours of blue and gold that includes five Trinidadians, a couple of Sri Lankans, a South African and a Pakistani. It is captained by a Trinidadian so locally popular a placard at Thursday night's match proclaimed: "Citizenship for Pollard".
It is a phenomenon unthinkable before the CPL's arrival. Regional cricket had always been based on the intense, age-old rivalry between the territories; the WICB met such resistance to its plan to open up its new Professional Cricket League to draft selections that it had to mandate each of the six teams to include at least two non-nationals in their squads for next season.
If Tridents' match against St Kitts and Nevis Patriots on Saturday was, indeed, the last of the CPL in Barbados, it will be truly missed by the thousands of its converts. But there would be obvious reasons for it.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for 50 years