CT20 is an investment in young players - Transcript of interview with CEO Hilaire

 

WindiesCricket.com sat down with WICB CEO Dr. Ernest Hilaire for a frank and exclusive interview on Caribbean Twenty20 2011 which will be played from January 10th to the 23rd in Antigua and Barbados. Following is a complete transcript of the interview.

WindiesCricket.com: Dr. Hilaire the Caribbean T20 2011 is a few short weeks away, what are the projections for this marquee tournament?

Dr. Ernest Hilaire: The Caribbean T20 is a very important tournament that the WICB has put on the agenda. Firstly it serves a developmental purpose in developing our T20 players to allow them to represent the West Indies at the international level and in world tournaments.

But also important for the WICB is the fact that T20 cricket has become such a huge commercial entity that we want to be able to give our players maximum global coverage to allow them to be more attractive to the other T20 leagues around the world. Players get the opportunity to be showcased on a global stage and we hope it will develop into a very valuable commercial commodity that would bring in returns for the WICB.

WC: How have the players responded to this investment in them by WICB?

EH: From what I have been hearing the players are excited. They are really looking forward in the tournament. The highest ranked West Indian team will participate in the multim-million dollar Airtel Champions League which is a massive opportunity and incentive for our teams to play at the highest club level anywhere in the world.

I have to reiterate that Caribbean T20 is all about giving the talented up-and-coming players and those players who have been around regional cricket but have not had a lot of television exposure an opportunity to showcase their talents globally. They can demonstrate what their skills and competencies are at that level and that more than anything else is why it is important to the WICB that the tournament is broadcast on television.

WC: How much will it cost the WICB to televise CT20 2011?

EH: The WICB is spending a lot of scarce resources to ensure that the tournament is on television. Television costs are usually two-fold – the fee to produce the television production and the fee to actually broadcast the tournament in terms of buying the airtime. To produce the television coverage is almost US$800,000 so that is the first half – the production cost.

With regard to the costs for broadcasting the tournament all across the world, we are trying to ensure that this is at no cost to us so we’ve been in negotiations with a number of broadcasters – ESPN, EuroSport and ESS in the Asian sub-continent.

WC: So the WICB will not be making a profit for the television rights?

EH: While we would like it to be CT20 is not yet a profit making event by any stretch of the imagination.

CT20 has not yet developed to the point where you have broadcasters running behind us to pay us a rights fee but we’ve been negotiating with broadcasters to ensure that we can get it broadcast at no cost to us. It is not an easy task but we have been working hard at it because we want our young players to be broadcast around the world. We want cricket teams around the world to see what our young players are capable of doing and of course to prepare them for international duty when they are called upon to do so.

Our regional cricket is not yet at a level where there is global value for it. In fact the IPL is the best example of a domestic tournament which is broadcast internationally which is quite valuable although most of the value still remains within the Indian market itself.

There is no commercial value at present for Caribbean T20 or any other WICB domestic tournament so having it televised is really big and it is at a deficit to the WICB. It costs us more to produce the television coverage than we are earning from any company broadcasting it for us.

However we are committed to the cricket-loving Caribbean public who have been calling for this tournament and to the players who need the opportunity to market themselves. And we believe if we are going develop a product in the future we have to have it on television for sponsors to start to want to be associated with it.

WC.com: So CT20 is still very much in the investment phase from the point of view of the WICB?

EH: Very much so and we probably expect it to be so for the next couple of years. It will take some time to build the brand value. We are committed to doing so and to ensure that it is a very valuable commercial product.

WC.com: CT20 has been expanded to include two English teams along with the return of Canada, is this part of building the brand value and will other teams be included in the future?

EH: We are in constant contact with the market out there trying to find out what can best sell. Last year we had Canada, we were hoping to have a couple teams from the Indian sub-continent but that did not work out. We are working with the ECB to have a couple of the counties and see how that develops.

We’re hoping to have outside players involved in our tournament. It may very well be that the market demands not foreign teams but foreign players in domestic teams and if that is the direction we have to go then we will discuss with the territorial boards the extent to which they can include foreign players to play on their teams. We are in constant contact with the broadcasters, the sponsors and we are trying to find the right model for the tournament which is commercially viable.

WC.com: From all indications three marquee West Indian players – Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo – will not participate in CT20 as they have opted to play in Australia’s Big Bash. Does this affect the profile of the CT20 in your view?

EH: It does to some extent from the point of view that these are Caribbean players and they won’t be present but at the same time it presents a tremendous opportunity for the younger players to come out and shine.

All three of these players were young unknown players at one time and we have the players who can become the mega stars of tomorrow.

It is no accident that the tagline for the tournament is “Where stars are born”. We’re saying to the world to look to the Caribbean T20 where you will see the next generation of West Indian cricket super stars. For example you see the performances of Kemar Roach or Darren Bravo or Adrian Barath and you can see the stars in the making.

And it is not just players, you will also see a whole new generation of West Indian umpires and commentators coming to the fold and being showcased internationally. So in many ways the CT20 is where the stars are truly born. The WICB is very proud of being able to showcase that to the world.

WC.com: What will be the overall costs to the WICB for putting on CT20 and what returns are you projecting in terms of sponsorship?

EH: The tournament will cost the WICB just about US$3M to put on. We are paying just about US$500,000 in appearance and players fees alone. There is the cost for the television production, travel, hotels and other logistical costs.

There are quite a few sponsors who want to be associated with CT20 but they still want to see that the tournament continues to be broadcast internationally and that it has commercial value before they put in a significant amount of money. We are hoping that this edition will make another major statement so that sponsors will want to be associated.

WC.com: There were some lingering image rights issues in CT20 2010, do you have any indication of any similar reservations by the players?

EH: Everyone is aware of the landscape in which we operate. It is a very uncertain landscape. At the end of the day though the WICB is organizing the tournament for the West Indian supporters and the West Indian players. It is not a profit making venture and therefore the players must take the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that they are professionals.

No foreign league, no overseas franchise, no international club team, no sponsor wants to be associated with players who do not show a commitment to the game. CT20 is an opportunity for them, the WICB is investing in it for the players and for the region. I believe the players would be committed to that and would go out and give their best. If they don’t want to then the board will have no choice but to reconsider the tournament but nobody wins in such a situation. At this stage we all have to pull together in one direction and build CT20 for all of our future benefit.

Of course there are always constructive and mature ways to deal with image rights and other matters. Taking action like (taping up logos) is never the best way and it turns off sponsors, broadcasters and anyone who may be interested in contracting players for foreign engagements. The WICB remains committed to discussing with the relevant parties what arrangements can be put in place.

WC.com: What is the biggest challenge the WICB faces in putting on CT20?

EH: The challenge in the Caribbean is that we have a very small commercial space. There are not very many companies in the Caribbean that can put in the kinds of money that is required to make cricket tournaments profitable. The most profitable product the WICB has is international cricket and that has to subsidise all other aspects of our cricket.

For CT20, the television production of 12 days of cricket is US$800,000. Do you get a sponsor who can give you that sort of money knowing that they can make a return on their investment? It just doesn’t happen and therefore the WICB will always be struggling to find sponsors to put in enough money to break even in any tournament.

WC.com: Do you forsee the WICB making back the investment in CT20 2010 and 2011?

EH: We are not going to make back the amount of money we are putting in so we have to accept that but that is where the other aspects come into play – the developmental objectives for hosting the tournament and building the brand value of West Indies cricket internationally. Although we will lose in terms of direct returns from the tournament we believe the exposure for our players and for our cricket as a brand will bear benefit in the long run.