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CPL's greatest challenge - commercial viability

10 Aug 2017 10:40 #348377 by chairman
The heaving stadiums, which many feared were obsolete, have returned to the West Indies: the Caribbean Premier League's great gift to West Indies cricket. But what it has not yet translated into is a league that is economically viable.

In its fifth season, the CPL's greatest challenge remains commercial. Of all the T20 franchise leagues in the world, the CPL is uniquely encumbered with a small and economically deprived market. The time difference means that night matches take place in the early hours in both England and India; when the CPL experimented with matches starting in the morning, to suit these markets, the result was disastrous - in the working week, even free tickets could not fill the ground, and the atmosphere was utterly out of kilter with the CPL's mantra of being "the biggest party in sport". The sheer logistical difficulties of getting between different Caribbean islands - often the only flights between islands are via Miami - are a further complication. And then there is the international schedule, which not merely restricts the overseas talent available but also deprives the league of some of the best Caribbean cricketers: 15 players are currently in England preparing for the Test series.

The upshot is that, in each of its four years, the CPL has made a loss. The league expects to make one this year too, although the deficit is closing. The CPL has used new media - like streaming games live on Facebook in the UK and, perhaps more importantly given the time difference, pushing smaller clips to be absorbed around the world during and after games. But ultimately perhaps the most compelling answer for the CPL to become profit-making lies in expansion: not within the Caribbean itself, but beyond it.

All of which explains why a sultry Wednesday night in south Florida brought the incongruous sight of Kane Williamson delivering the ceremonial first pitch at a Miami Marlins baseball game: part of the CPL's attempts, along with a children's coaching clinic held by the Jamaica Tallawahs, to grow the American market, and build interest ahead of four CPL matches over the weekend.

Yet the games were no triumph. After a vibrant atmosphere on Saturday - 5,200, more than attended the Marlins game earlier in the week - Sunday brought a distantly underwhelming crowd barely into four figures. It was too hot for most fans to sit outside all day - and floodlights were too costly to hire, so the games could not be played at night, as they were last year. The pitch was too stodgy, so they were barely more runs over each day's double-header than the 489 when India played West Indies in a T20I in Lauderhill last year. Jamaican Independence Day, on Sunday, provided another competition attraction. And having the same teams playing each other at the same time in consecutive days, while Trinidad & Tobago's side, the biggest draw, did not visit the US (they did not want to lose a home game) added to the underwhelming feel.

At $65 for a day, the tickets were far too expensive, as CPL organisers privately admitted. When added to an exorbitant parking fee of $25, the lingering impression it created was an event designed to monetise existing cricket fans in the US rather than engage new ones, in the way that the NFL has done to great effect in the UK.

"We were let down," said Renny, a Guyanese IT consultant from New Jersey. "People who are diehards will accept bullshit. But I'm not a diehard cricket fan. I'm used to going to an event that's elevated. To me it's like a scam. It shouldn't happen. I don't think I'll come back next year - and I'm the fan you want, somebody who's just getting into the game that really liked what they saw last time, and was hoping for the same or better this time. I'm not willing to pay a ticket to get let down again. It's supposed to get better, not worse. And this is general consensus - everybody I spoke to said they felt like they got robbed. It was done poorly on so many levels."

While the trip to Florida was far less successful than last year, it still felt like a harbinger of the league's future: not so much the Caribbean Premier League, as the Americas League. The CPL mandates that each franchise drafts an ICC Americas player, a development initiative for Associate cricketers unmatched by any other other men's league. When the CPL was launched, the number of teams was kept at six - intentionally creating room to expand, to eight, in the future. The small Caribbean market does not offer any great scope for growth. But the possibilities in North America - both in the US and Canada - are tantalising, as long as the mistakes of 2017's CPL matches are not repeated.

In a cut-throat sporting world, mid-sized leagues are swiftly embracing how international expansionism, across not just countries but continents, offers the best chance of remaining relevant against the behemoth competitions. Super Rugby, the southern hemisphere rugby union league, expanded to include teams from Argentina and Japan last year. Already in 2017, a side from Toronto has joined the English rugby league pyramid - with others from Montreal and Philadelphia being lined up. Pro12, the European rugby competition which has existed in the shadow of the English and French leagues, is about to welcome two new teams from South Africa, with two more from the USA mooted to join in 2018.

Perhaps this points to the future for T20 leagues existing in the shadows of the Big Bash and IPL. And so, for the CPL, playing regular season matches in Florida for a loss can really be considered a downpayment on the league getting a team in the US too. Exactly where it would get one remains unclear: Lauderhill has the facilities but is not ideally located; New York is ideally located but does not have the facilities; a team travelling around the US, playing at a mixture of Lauderhill and grounds leased from elsewhere, could be another option. In Canada, Toronto has both the facilities and the location.

In 2020, the CPL hopes to welcome two new teams - one from the US, and another in Toronto - which might offer it the best prospects of being commercially viable. The ICC believe there are 15 million cricket fans in the US alone, three times the number in the West Indies; if a reasonable proportion of these can engage in the CPL, its commercial viability would be transformed - not only would the league organisers make money, but franchises would have more cash to afford the globe's best talent.

The market for T20 leagues already appears saturated; whether it is really possible to sustain leagues in 11 months a year - in 2017, only June will lack a competition - let alone with each making money, is a question that the sport will grapple with in the coming years. For the CPL ultimate success will rest on whether it can shift from being a Caribbean league to an international one, and do so without losing its distinctiveness. Other sports leagues expanding into North America provide inspiration - but the struggles of the weekend emphasises the extent of the challenge ahead.

first published in Cricbuzz

Always tell someone how you feel because opportunities are lost in the blink of an eye but regret can last a lifetime.

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10 Aug 2017 19:46 #348405 by timmyj51
Cricket world JIZ...DON...GETTIT!!!  Still can't think beyond dat "15 million" Desies/Rastas.  After 16 failed matches
proof beyond doubt that cricket WILL NEBER be economically viable in 'Merica without mainstream 'Mericans.  Jiz can't see
dat 330 million > 15 million.

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