The second Caribbean Premier League, the annual Twenty20 franchise cricket league that launched in the West Indies last year, comes to a close this week. Chief executive Damien O’Donohoe explains to sportindustry.biz about the challenges of setting up the competition and how the franchise model is changing cricket from the grassroots up.
Is it a challenge putting on such a global event in the Caribbean?
It’s a hell of a challenge, there are eight islands! What people forget is that sometimes people think of the Caribbean as one island but in reality there’s lots - with different sets of people, laws, issues and challenges associated with them.
Despite all that though, it seems to be going very well. Are you where you had hoped to be at this point?
It’s amazing. After year one we were already where we had expected to be in year four or five. Every year we'll ask more and more of ourselves and we’re genuinely honoured and humbled by the take up of the people of the Caribbean because cricket has been in decline here for a number of years – there’s West Indies games that are played in front of 3,000/4,000 people.
When we came with our vision last year some people said ‘this is never going to work’, but fans came out in their thousands. We absolutely packed the place. The atmosphere and the party you can have here, you can’t do that anywhere else in the world.
You mentioned the West Indies side, is there anything that the CPL is doing to benefit the sport through from grassroots to the national level?
That’s one of our big focuses, and always has been. We contribute over 350,000 for a first-class contract in the West Indies and each franchise gives youth contracts to players. You can imagine the benefit that brings to Under-19 kids from Antigua, for example, suddenly you’re playing keeper to Chris Gayle or batting with Kevin Petersen. Amazing. It’s pretty special and it has had a huge impact.
Then of course we’re trying to develop the game and we’ve been working with the West Indies Cricket Board on this, grassroots is where it has to start. The single biggest decision we’ve made is pricing the tickets for the event in a way that is acceptable and accessible to as many people as possible – that’s why we’re filled the stadiums.
The WICB have already commented that the amount of kids playing cricket this year is up by a huge amount compared to the last three or four years, and I think that the CPL is a big factor in that.
In terms of a global perspective the franchise system has proved pretty popular, there’s other T20 competitions being played all over the world at the moment. What does the CPL do to differentiate itself, how is it different?
Well I think it’s fair to say that the Caribbean is the natural home of T20 cricket. It’s all about the people, they’re incredible. They come out in their thousands, dressed up in colourful outfits, with their drums, they make as much noise as they possibly can and they party like anything! They create an atmosphere like no other place in the world.
However, while we knew we could create a great party around this event, we knew from the start that if we don’t get the cricket right for this competition it is not going to survive. That’s why we have spent a lot of money this year in getting the wickets up to the highest standard for our T20 games. Everyone can earn a living from this too – from the unproven 19 year-olds through to legends of the game, so it’s so important we get the cricket to the highest standard. We did that last year I think we’ve raised the bar this year.
What’s your strategy in terms of sponsorship?
Get as much as we can! Obviously, the countries here in the Caribbean have been going through a tough time financially but the sponsorship take-up has been fantastic – 90% from last year renewed - and on top of that, we’re getting some big international sponsors.
Hero in India and Virgin came in this summer, so sponsorship-wise, we’re very happy and we’re delighted that there’s been such a good pick-up locally.
What’s the future hold? Is T20 becoming the new test cricket?
Well we’re not trying to compete – I think it’s fair to say that the test cap is the most important thing you can get as a cricketer, but the great thing for cricket is that T20 bringing a whole new audience to the game, especially in terms of the kids and their families. 40% of our audience was women last year. I think it’s a very exciting new element to the game which can only mean good things.
Finally you touched on the atmosphere off the pitch, what does the CPL do to back up its claim to ‘the biggest party in sport’?
Well for a start we have all sorts happening off the pitch to compliment the cricket, from DJ’s, bands, cheerleaders, stilt walkers, fire eaters, you name it! We also have kids zone, with face painters and other entertainers. We bring all the ingredients to the table to create the best party and it helps if you have people like we do in the Caribbean who help bring the party to a whole new level. Combine the two and it’s a very special product.