Flashback: Pro League club W Connection in CONCACAF Champions League play last year, with Connection defender Mekeil Williams, left, battling with Cam Weaver of American outfit Houston Dynamo at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo. —Photo: Curtis Chase

Tools

A League of our own

By Christophe Brathwaite

Talk has become action or so we hope. David John Williams, owner of Trinidad and Tobago Pro League club W Connection, and former 2006 World Cup player and ESPN football analyst Shaka Hislop are the chosen members on a CONCACAF task force designed to begin a feasibility study on the potential of a Caribbean professional football league. 

The sceptics have already begun showing their red cards at the initiative shouting that this has been tried before and has failed to score. They believe that the parsimonious desires of each Caribbean state to hold on to their football patrimony; the poor attendance at games; and the failure of member clubs to attract funding from corporate coffers to pay for players’ salaries, coaches and overall administration is the reason behind the previous attempt at establishing a league falling flat.

One such sceptic is Jamaican Football president Horace Burrell. The Jamaican Star newspaper reported his circumvallation on the grounds that it was his opinion that the Caribbean lacked the infrastructure across the board to sustain such a league at this time.

President Burrell’s view then begs the question when is the right time? Given that the Caribbean has over 25 FIFA member nations, over 100 stadia and enough economic wealth to sustain such an initiative thrice over. In addition, FIFA and the English Premiership league have promised that they would lend their know-how to develop the structured framework. Given the aforementioned why can we not try again?

A structured framework is exactly what a Caribbean Professional Football League (CPFL) needs to survive. In this regard the proper survival of the CPFL can be divided into two components to render success; issues that are essential and those that are fundamental.

The essential category can be tabled as the foundation of the CPFL and has nothing to do with infrastructure, monies and full stadiums as Burrell and others would have us believe, rather it is the preparation of the CPFL as a premier package worthy of commercialisation. Any CPFL initiative will need the right mix of sport attorneys, marketing gurus, public relations advisers and sport and non-technocrats to fulfil a successful mandate--to achieve a unified and sustainable Caribbean Professional Football League. 

The first order of business should be effective communication to each member team that they cannot operate independently but must cooperate with one another in order to sell the entire package to the public. The hierarchy of the league must also walk the talk. Accordingly, they must give incentives geared toward team collaboration. According to Sharp, Regis and Grimes in their presentation on the ‘Economics of Professional Sports’ one such incentive lies in the shared disbursement of broadcasting rights revenue. They noted that the more successful leagues were the ones who sold their national TV and radio broadcast rights to all the games played by their members as “packaged deals” to the highest bidder and then divided the revenue amongst their members. This simple yet effective measure will address some of the financial worry woes of the less popular teams.

The second essential component should be the willingness of all regional governments to subsidise the league. The high level of participation and expenditure in football in the Caribbean should be a signal to regional governments that it is time to step up and get into the game. Governments should be made aware of the fact that 18 billion and 50 billion euros are spent globally on sponsorship and TV rights respectively. 

Furthermore, there is also the positive externality argument. According to a paper entitled “Government Subsidies for Team Sports in Australia” written by John Wilson and Richard Promfret,  the argument had been made that the principal economic argument for subsidising an industry is that in the presence of positive externalities the market will under-supply a good or service.  The positive externalities they speak of range from such things as the public health aspect of sport to reductions in poverty and crime as a result of participating in sport and the various jobs created to facilitate the establishment of a league. In our case, an additional positive externality may even extend as far as indoctrinating Caribbean solidarity.

The fundamental component of the package is the players. They are the ones who put the icing on the package and are the economic and social drivers behind the demand for the package. Accordingly, their welfare and interests must be first and foremost on the agenda. The task force must seek out sport attorneys who will be charged with the duty to protect the welfare and interest of the player. The sport attorney has a pivotal role in erasing the jumbie that looms over the Caribbean football player and sees him as a non-professional unthinking tool. In addition to protecting the interests of the player, the right sport attorney would be an asset to the task force in terms of advising on event management contracts, players and coaches’ contracts, transfers from in and out of the CPFL to other international Leagues, advice on anti-doping, anti-trust and anti-corruption regulations and a host of other regulatory needs which will provide the necessary ingredients for a sustainable CPFL.

What is both essential and fundamental to the success of the CPFL is the establishment of a regulatory framework through an independent authority designed with numerous powers to investigate all irregularities and be to the CPFL the main inspector and guarantor of accountability and transparency. 

The task force must consider how to substantiate the role of this authority. One way would be to lobby every Caribbean member government to write into their legislative and public policy that they recognise this body as the supreme authoritative body to control the affairs of the league in terms of sanctions and investigative powers.  From the global perspective, such recognition will give the authority and vicariously the CPFL, the efficacy and international recognition it needs to open the doorway to international assistance both financially and in the form of professional services. 

In closing, as a talented and industrious people, we should not allow past failures to inhibit us from moving forward. Notwithstanding that there are many more essentials and fundamentals which need to be explored before the first whistle is blown and given that more and more the global economy will be relying on people rather than refined resources, the time is now to pursue and make the CPFL a Caribbean agenda. It is time for a League of our own.

Christophe Brathwaite is an attorney-at-law who specialises in corporate, commercial, sport and entertainment law.

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