We missed the boat!
I’M relieved we didn’t submit a last-minute bid for next year’s Twenty20 (T20) World Cup. One needs to be a sports business-oriented nation that understands the value of hosting major sports events and can plan, execute, and account for the economic, sporting and political objectives set. We are not yet that nation.
That serious deliberations took place only now, knowing we were hosting for the past five years, exposes our shortcomings. Planning should have started long ago, guided by government policy, with a team assembled to prepare the business case, develop measurable objectives, gather empirical data. We have Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Minister Olivia Grange with the rare distinction of actual portfolio subject matter expertise. Stephen Price, Flow’s CEO, successfully executed the Cricket World Cup (CWC) 2007 record-setting commercial programme. Michael Hall delivered flawless cricket operations across the Caribbean. Robert Bryan headed the Jamaica Local Organising Committee and ran the 2010 T20 World Cup. Dave Cameron is a past Cricket West Indies (CWI) president and ICC board member. Don Wehby, CEO of Grace Kennedy, is a recent CWI director; he might have insight into how our private sector could exploit the 30 million cricket fans in the United States, putting aside the two billion viewers worldwide. Maybe this tiny US cricket niche, with US$1.6 trillion in spending power, has a place in our export future.
I name names to establish credentials to match what our Caribbean compatriots have, leaders with an understanding of the power of cricket. Dr Ernest Hillair who led St Lucia’s CWC 2007 organisation, is now their deputy prime minister. Mia Mottley, who marshalled the CWC 2007 regional security system and single domestic space, is prime minister of Barbados. With such intellectual and cricket-savvy political horsepower, their leadership in hosting major cricket events is understandable.
It’s convenient and unfair to simply throw stones at the Government. With so many other crises needing attention, not to mention the small matter of an intervening global pandemic, focus was elsewhere. Where was the Opposition, media, private sector and the Jamaica Cricket Association (JCA) for the past five years to help fix their gaze? It is the JCA, specifically, which should have been leading the charge, doing the research and collecting the data on T20’s exploding universe, garnering the resources during these five years to underpin a compelling business case. As with every industry, the leadership of the ‘cricket industry’ is responsible to lobby and protect its interest; convincing the Government and all stakeholders with its vision; giving sound argument backed by irresistible, irrefutable evidence. They failed.
Ghosts like the Trelawny stadium still haunt, rejected by CWC 2007 but built regardless, and now in dilapidation. In this light our decision to bail on next year’s event, resisting public outcry, might be a mature and sensible one. But we should learn from the past and build for the future. The JCA should share the cost-benefit analysis presented to see where we can plug the holes for the next time. Our Caribbean and northern neighbours saw a different outcome. What did they know that we didn’t? We’ve heard whispers, for instance, that the entire cost of building the temporary 35,000-seat stadium in New York will be more than covered from this single event, with a significant net cash surplus. If true, that’s mind-boggling and unheard of 15 years ago when we last hosted.
Something is happening
Something is happening in the T20 cricket world. This version of the game is a paradigm shift, an inflection point that has dramatically altered the trajectory of the sport, resulting in unprecedented geographic and commercial expansion, even while Jamaica’s cricket declines. When I see the European T20 League televised globally, and even here in the Caribbean, its standard marginally better than our Social Development Commission community competition, somebody somewhere knows something that we don’t.
Why are all these commercial entities investing so heavily in T20 leagues, cricket stadia, and in all these non-traditional markets? US Major League Cricket successfully launched this year. Even the International Olympic Committee is looking to cash in on cricket’s burgeoning eyeballs for the 2028 Olympics. Mukesh Ambani, Sameer Mehta and Vijay Srinivasan are among those investing millions in T20 in the US. I suspect these business titans know something we don’t. Maybe we could have targeted them, and all the cricket-loving Indian CEOs of the tech world — including one-third of Silicon Valley — to come for matches here, plying them with Jamaican R&R (rum & reggae) until they spilled the beans. An introduction to Jamaica could lead to collaborations and investments outside of cricket, technology, Bollywood and more. That’s one of the many ways hosting events are used for economic benefit. If only we knew how.
Cricket is the second most watched sport globally. I cringe when I mention this and it is dismissed as “mainly Indians around the world”, as if that diminishes value. India has the second-largest population and the fifth-largest economy, and are global leaders in technology. Britain’s PM is Indian, as are the CEOs of Google, Microsoft, Adobe and ten per cent of all tech and Fortune 500 companies. I hope one day we have an interest in developing our tech sector. If so, we could design a tailored relationship strategy for this cricket-mad nation, something everyone else appears to be doing. Perhaps Brand Jamaica has outgrown the need for this platform. After all, we aren’t like the two Caribbean representatives denied entry by South African authorities when our CWC 2003 delegation attempted a venue tour. No immigration officer had ever heard of their island gems to the extent that neither was listed in their system, frantic diplomatic calls to Pretoria eventually saving the day.
The T20 cricket phenomenon has Canada and Panama currently duking it out in T20 World Cup qualifiers, as are UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Imagine the Qatari emir — reputed to be a big cricket fan — at Sabina Park, with our PM hosting a State dinner afterwards in his honour. While the on-field spectacle isn’t likely to reach the heights for cricket aficionados, perhaps their sovereign wealth fund is the bigger game. Japan set up a cricket academy in 2018 with Indian coaches and qualified for the last Under-19 World Cup. T20 is fast-growing in other non-traditional countries like the Netherlands, Ireland and Scotland. All have recently beaten the West Indies. China contracted Indian coaches for their 90,000 male and female cricketers. The IPL’s [Indian Premier League] last TV rights deal was US$6.2 billion and is now the second most valuable league in the world, trailing only the NFL [National Football League]. There are 200,000 registered cricketers in the USA across 50 leagues. Other pro leagues are popping up like viruses, and Jamaican cricketers — our highest-earning athletes — are globetrotting to take advantage. Ambani — one of the world’s richest men — along with a host of lesser billionaires and multimillionaires, are investing. Saudi-owned Aramco, the second-largest company in the world by revenue, is now an ICC sponsor. T20 is back in the 2028 Olympics, in Los Angeles of all places. Why is all this happening?
These are not just random, unrelated, irrelevant occurrences. Something big is happening and we’ve missed this T20 boat. Let’s try to catch the next one.
Chris Dehring is the former WICB chief marketing executive and CEO of ICC CWC 2007. With over 30 years in the business of sports, he has negotiated multimillion-dollar TV and sports rights deals across the world, including the English Premier League, WICB and ICC events, and led the Caribbean’s hosting of Cricket World Cup in 2007. In 2001 he conceptualised and launched Sportsmax, the region’s first 24/7 sports channel, now broadcast in 26 countries, and was an integral founder of the famous “Mound” party stand. He represented Jamaica in both football and cricket at the Under-19 level, and played for Real Mona and Kingston Cricket Club in the Major League and Senior Cup, respectively.