Above: CPL play on Tuesday
By Michael W Edghill
Sport is big business, especially in the Western Hemisphere.
Forbes recently released its annual list of the most valuable sport franchises in the world. The value of the franchises that made the list often exceeds the GDP of some of the nations of the Caribbean.
Sport has been transformed from something that was available only to those who were wealthy enough for recreational time to something that is commonly patronized by those in the middle and even lower socio-economic levels of society.
Sport has woven itself into the fabric of modern society and, not only provides a distraction from the everyday struggles of many a fan, but provides something to hope in, to cheer for, and revel in when the chosen team is victorious. The poorest in many a western society will wear a team jersey as a form of a status symbol to those who share their station in life. Modern sport is more than a game. It is ticket sales, branding, merchandising, marketing, and public relations. It is big business in every sense of the term. This week, big business has come to the Caribbean in the form of the Caribbean Premier League.
The CPL, which launched Tuesday night, is a month-long T20 tournament which will field 6 franchise cricket teams in Antigua, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St Lucia, and Trinidad. They will be competing in the T20 form of cricket which, for those unfamiliar, is the latest incarnation of the sport.
Unlike classic test cricket, in which matches last for days, T20 modifies the rules and limits the number of overs per side. Therefore, the typical T20 match can be completed in a few hours. This form of cricket has become very popular in short-order with the ICC (International Cricket Council) organizing an international T20 tournament four times between 2007 and 2012; the West Indies winning the last tournament.
This style of cricket play lends itself much more easily to marketing and the modern business model of sport. The length of the match lends itself to evening play, which allows more people to attend, as well as making it more attractive to a television audience, which is where so much of the revenue in the current sport-business world is generated.
In its inaugural year, the CPL will be broadcast on ESPN3, which is the web-only broadcast arm of the sport-broadcasting giant. This proves that, early on, the sport-business world sees the CPL as a potential revenue generator.
Whether the CPL will ultimately be successful or not depends, just like in any other franchise business model, on the abilities of the league owners and operators to create a product people want to purchase. The model has already been laid out as you have successful T20 leagues in Australia (Big Bash League) and in India (India Premier League). The Caribbean has a long and successful record in international cricket through the West Indies team and cricket superstars such as Brian Lara.
There is no doubt that there is a market for franchise cricket in the Caribbean.
The CPL has done a good job marketing itself and gaining corporate sponsors before the first bowler has even taken to the pitch. But will people turn out to the stadiums to watch? Will people tune in to watch? Will people buy the jerseys, hats, and other merchandise that drives the profitability of professional sports franchises? If the answer to these questions proves to be “yes,” then the Caribbean might have itself a winner in the world of sport-business.
Perhaps it is overly optimistic, but if the CPL could prove to be successful and grow, it may one day be able to position itself as “the” premier cricket league. England has the English Premier League where players from around the world go to play football/soccer and audiences from around the world tune in.
The United States has Major League Baseball where, again players come from around the world and a global audience tunes in. If the Caribbean Premier League could grow into that type of league for a global audience, it could be the equivalent of growing a successful new industry to add to the region’s economy. If it sounds crazy, keep in mind, Manchester United as a company is worth $2.23 billion.
Michael W Edghill, a Caribbean Journal contributor, teaches courses in US Government & in Latin America & the Caribbean in Fort Worth, Texas. He has been published by the Yale Journal of International Affairs, Diplomatic Courier, the Trinidad Guardian, and others.
Follow Michael Edghill on Twitter: @MichaelWEdghill