Tony Becca: The franchise system and West Indies cricket
Franchise cricket matches are supposed to be a way of pulling in the crowds and making money out of cricket, or, according to West Indies Board president, Dave Cameron, and the English technical director of West Indies cricket, Richard Pybus, it is one of the ways to develop West Indies cricket.
Both ways can be right, but in West Indies cricket, both are wrong, and definitely so. As Mark Nicholas of BBC fame wrote recently, "Franchises spread West Indies cricket so thin that the franchises are a terrible sop. It is as if a fancy name will change anything."
Like everything else in life, it takes money and good sense to make money. Either that, or one must have some very good friends, or one has to be lucky, very lucky.
On top of that, franchise cricket, a form of cricket in which players are bought and sold, does not, or should not, include sovereign nations.
West Indies cricket is losing ground. In fact, it has lost ground for some years and is now trying desperately to find its way back. West Indies cricket is really falling apart, and the West Indies Cricket Board, in a desperate attempt to halt the slide, to improve the skill of its cricketers, and to make some money has gone the franchise route.
Apart from money to make it work, however, franchise cricket, needs proper planning, a good atmosphere, and it needs competitiveness.
The Professional Cricket League consists of six teams, not Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Guyana, the Leeward Islands, and the Windward Islands as usual, but the Jamaica Scorpions, Barbados Pride, Trinidad and Tobago Red Force, Guyana Jaguars, the Leeward Islands Hurricanes, and the Windward Islands Volcanoes.
Players from other territories
This year, the territories were ordered to accept players from the other territories.
The names sound impressive, like those of the American franchises. The difference, although it may be really too early to tell, is the appeal of the American franchises, the money they make daily, the quality of the players, and the competitive nature of the tournament.
This season, the board, which is the source of funding for each team, has made it compulsory. Each team must have two or three overseas players in its squad of players and each franchise must have a manager, a marketing man, a coach, a physiotherapist, a trainer, a doctor, and an accountant.
The plan is that the board will provide each franchise with money, some US$45,000, to run the franchise each year, and the territories are to select a squad of 15 players, including two or three overseas (West Indies) players for the tournament to be played as return matches and run from November to March.
With some US$27,000 going to the salaries of the players, only approximately US$18,000 is left to pay all other expenses.
The first question which must be asked is this: what will happen to the respective boards during all this? Will they simply mark time from day to day doing almost nothing, or will they serve the board as well as the franchises in a move to save the franchise some money?
If this is so, if one man serves a territorial board and also serves a franchise, is it a move which could spell trouble in the long run?
Another question is this: what is a franchise? Is it a group granted authorisation to carry out special commercial activities, is it an individual within a group that is granted such authorisation, or is it that one leads to the other?
Is it that the West Indies Cricket Board is the franchise, or is it that Jamaica, for example, is the franchise? Is the WICB the franchise owner, and is Jamaica one of its members?
Is Jamaica expected to finance itself, and expected to share any profits, or losses with the board?
Is it that the West Indies Cricket Board is expected to finance Jamaica as the Jamaica franchise, or is Jamaica expected to develop young cricketers, to produce cricketers, through its own resources for the West Indies-Jamaica franchise?
Will the franchise team, its players and its management team, replace, for example, the Jamaica Cricket Association as guardians of Jamaica's cricket, in the school, the clubs and parishes, etc?
West Indies cricket is weak, some of the regional teams and many of the clubs are very weak, and the franchise system is seen, in some quarters, as the way to improve standards and to balance things.
Once upon a time, when a team was weak, people, like coaches, worked to improve the players' skill. After this, however, people will simply shop around for a replacement, from anywhere, and according to the board, or so it seems, even from weaker teams.
This, as sure as the night follows the day, will eventually lead to a situation where the stronger the bank account, the stronger will be the team, unless, of course, the governments of the West Indian territories step in and protect the sovereignty of their country.
Free of certain restrictions
Probably the biggest point about this version of the franchise system, however, is this: for a franchise system to be a real one, it should be free of certain restrictions.
For a start, a franchise like the Jamaica franchise should be free to buy players from anywhere and from any country in order to strengthen their team. It should not be restricted to West Indian countries, and it should not be a forced situation.
Even if a country has the money to accommodate a player or two - or any number for that matter - a country should not be expected to contract a player unless it needs to do so. If a country's players are better than others in the market, why contract one?
It may be too early to see the folly of the franchise system. However, right now, after Jamaica's embarrassment in losing seven wickets for 20 runs in one session, despite the presence of a foreign player, although they came back to win, and after the Leeward Islands declaration at 24 for seven in the first session and losing the match inside two days, it certainly is cause for concern.
The other concern, based on the lack of support for the competition and for the West Indies team, is this: where will the money come from to keep this system one going?
The franchise system is not working out. Based on the crowds, it is not working in terms of money, and based on the action, it is not working in terms development, and certainly not when teams find it difficult to bat out one session.