No profit yet from CPL
Founder Ajmal Khan talks about the fledgling tournament...
The following is an abridged question-and-answer interview with founder of the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) Ajmal Khan on the recently concluded Twenty20 tournament, conducted by Geralyn Edward, Associate Editor (Business) of the Nation Newspaper, Barbados.
Tell us about your attachment to cricket.
It started in England. I am not a very good cricket player and I am not a cricket fanatic but I grew up in a time when West Indies dominated with the likes of Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, and Gordan Greenidge. That was something that left an impact on me and whenever they came into town, I would watch them destroy every team they came up against.
A lot has happened between then and now—so why put so much money into a Twenty20 tournament in the region?
I think cricket is part of the West Indian DNA. Cricket is to the West Indies what soccer is to Brazilians. You have the glamour; there is a lot of excitement and the fans make it into a big carnival atmosphere. But having a population of not a billion people in your backyard makes it very difficult to drive revenues. From a business perspective it is probably something that led to the deterioration of cricket and the demise I’ve seen since I’ve lived here.
Five-day cricket is tremendous and great as well as the one-day and they have their place but what Twenty20 cricket has done has revolutionised the game to make it much more action-packed and more exciting. It has allowed the game to be more enjoyable in a short period of time.
What are you hoping to achieve through the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) tournament?
My passion for the region and Barbados being where my home is, I think CPL is great for the region. With the exception of a couple of countries, our economies are driven by tourism, and sports tourism is one of the fastest growing aspects of the industry in the world today. From that perspective it is a way for me to find an investment that helps me to give back and helps the country and the region.
But I am also a for-profit investor and anything that has to be successful has to be sustainable and I am hoping with CPL to be able to achieve that.
With cricket being a religion in the region, I wanted to see grandfathers and grandsons going and making this a family affair.
What kind of investment did you make in the CPL and what percentage was supported by sponsors?
From the get go I made it clear that in any business or industry, you need a combination of different partners to get involved...so this is not a one-man show. You guys experienced that before and it was a failure. So this is a partnership and a commitment that involves the local sponsorships as well as at the regional and international levels in order to be able to encapsulate the business of making sure that this is something that is here forever.
So it is not about me as an individual. Yes I am the leader in putting this together—and I will continue to be—but the fact is that I can’t do it without the support of the governments, some of which I was delighted to see and some I was disappointed to see. I can appreciate that some were skeptical to begin with but if I don’t have [government support] I can’t go anywhere no matter how much money I pour into it or bring in outside investors.
[Sponsors] like Digicel have been extremely helpful in making sure from a ground perspective that we had the ability to operate on the scale for a tournament of this nature and you need that support. The likes of Virgin and Sir Richard Branson—that was important and you can’t forget West Indies Cricket Board (WICB)—they are an important partner as well. I am grateful to each of them for being part of it and making the investment.
Did these people come forward to sponsor the event because Ajmal Khan was behind it or because CPL was a viable business venture?
It is both. A lot of them are my personal friends. So I went to my friends first but my friends are also very astute. So as much as they may like me they also sensed that the business proposition stacked up.
Did the CPL make a profit?
No! Not at all and I have to be candid about that. This is something that is a long-term investment that requires capital to be invested. You will lose a significant amount of money putting this together but the hope at the end of the day is to have a product that keeps the integrity and professionalism of the game at the highest levels and along with that Caribbean secret sauce that allows this to be a unique, carnival-like atmosphere that attracts the world.
This is not just about the Caribbean—this is about the world seeing what we have staged here. We are keeping our fingers crossed because that is the bet that I am making that this will be an event that people are going to come to and watch and eventually will have an investment that is going to be profitable.
Have you been dogged by the Allan Stanford shadow and did it affect the kind of support you got from some governments?
As much as I lived in the Caribbean at that time I did not pay attention too much to the past. I can appreciate the fact that there had been a lot of skepticism towards ventures such as this... and in some cases rightly so. People have been burnt in the past. It is not something I take personally but I understand why they would feel that way. In any venture when you first start off people are generally much more conservative but I hope that the second season next year will prove different because of what we were able to do in such a short period of time—we did this in five months. Now hopefully we will have a year to plan. I can tell you, we will have a much better product.
How were you able to stage this regional event given the intra-regional transportation challenges we face?
It had a big impact and the travesty of what we had to deal with in the transportation of players and equipment showing up 30 minutes before games started. It was disgraceful.
Could our intra-regional transportation woes undermine the viability of the CPL?
It did cost us millions of dollars in extra costs to fly people around and it is something that I definitely will ensure does not take place next year. I will definitely lease (planes) for my players...for sure I will have transportation lined up unless the local folks can convince me otherwise. But so far the experience has been disappointing.
I have heard rumours that Digicel is now majority owner of the CPL, is that so?
The ownership between myself and Digicel are controlling shareholders and WICB is a shareholder—but they need me as much as I need them.
Why did it appear that Digicel got more public presence out of the CPL tournament than the title sponsor. Did Limacol—the title sponsor complain about this?
You have to understand that without Digicel I would not have been able to pull this off and I have a great friendship and partnership with Denis O’Brien. Digicel has been first-class and first-rate and a key element to the success of the CPL tournament. [O’Brien] really was a God-send. That is something that needs to be understood. They mobilised everything on the ground, they used their retail stores and did whatever it took to push the tournament. They helped me tremendously.
Is it likely to be the Digicel CPL next year?
What I have learned about Digicel over the years is that they are quite pragmatic people.
Are you likely to keep the same timeline each year for the CPL?
It is the International Cricket Council (ICC) that gives us the window when we can play. For the next three years we are set and its likely to be between June and July and early August but we have been given dates for the next three years.
I was actually excited that we were here around Crop Over because it gave us the momentum and the thrill of showing off the CPL and the carnival atmosphere—which was the whole idea.