West Indies Cricket: Do the Kids Know About it?
Since its introduction into the world cricketing scene, twice World Cup winners, the West Indies (Windies) cricket team has always presented a unique appeal to all those involved in the sport. That appeal has been on a steady and well documented decline since the end of the 1990s which has seen them currently ranked as the 8th best team of the 10 Test playing nations. The team no longer dominates as it used to in the 1970s, 1980s and first half of the 1990s, and sometimes even struggles to beat lower ranked international teams. Great players had come and gone in the past, but there was always a steady stream of world-class athletes to thrill the capacity-filled cricket grounds all over the world. Lately, that does not seem to be the case. Once the exciting standard bearers of a multicultural society of many nations, the Windies of today seem more like a hodge-podge of average individuals with, at best, one or two truly above average athletes, representing the hopes of an entire region. It was a disheartening situation for cricket in general, when India hosted the Windies to a crowd of 1,000 spectators at the 90,000 capacity ground, Eden Gardens on November 14th, 20111. Far from being an isolated event, attendance figures have been on the decline even at home in the Caribbean. Television broadcasts of Test Matches and some One Day Internationals routinely portray large swathes of empty sections of the stadia. While this might be symptomatic of the problems facing world cricket in general, there is no doubt that the Windies brand no longer grabs the imagination of the average cricket fan, young or old, home or abroad. There have been many theories with regards to the decline of the West Indies cricket both on and off the field. One possibility is the local national associations becoming more nationalistic in their approach to developing the sport. Some of the larger member nations are seen as having more power and thus seem to influence certain decisions to the detriment of the smaller nations. Others have pointed to the economics of the games and particularly to sponsorships. It is no secret that both the West Indian Cricket Board (WICB) and their cricket players enjoy the benefits of corporate sponsorship. However, in recent times, the WICB and the West Indian Players Association have repeatedly clashed over non-payments of monies and sanctions against players who represent rival corporate sponsors. Yet another theory that has been bandied about states that the interest in cricket by the demographic aged 18-34 years old, has taken a backseat to other sports such as Football, Athletics and Basketball. This is of particular interest to the WICB because they have identified this demographic as the target customer segment for its One Day International and Twenty20 offerings2. The competition in this consumer segment is fierce. On offer for the football fan, is the latest and greatest in European tournaments and leagues such as the English Premiership, Spanish La Liga and UEFA’s very own Champions League. Local national footballers have also captured the general population’s imagination with their heroics in foreign leagues and subsequent participation at the FIFA World Cup Finals tournaments. Athletics and Basketball also represent a credible threat to the interests of the WICB. Nowadays, athletics have become premium sporting events that have been bolstered by the involvement of world-class Caribbean athletes such as World Record holder, Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell and Trinidad’s Richard Thompson. These athletes are seen or heard routinely on commercials, on television, billboards and other outlets endorsing various products and
generating a real interest in their respective fields. Not to be outdone, Basketball has also capitalized on the Caribbean sporting market through proliferation of American cable channels to reach a younger, hipper audience. Stars such as Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and even the West Indian, Tim Duncan, are seen as young and successful role models for the younger generation. Along with Football jerseys, Basketball uniforms, shoes and other paraphernalia are among the most fashionable items desired by the young and trendy youth of today. While the WICB has nowhere near the expertise or the resources to deal with or seriously challenge these rival sports globally, they have taken certain steps to combat them closer to home. Several strategies have been identified to generate further interest and get them closer to their target audiences. These include offering more cricket in the shortened form of the game, dynamic television production, giant replay screens and live music at the stadia. Popular radio and television stations as well as other media outlets have also been identified as avenues for attracting interest. In recent times the WICB has also inked a deal that will see the regional and international West Indian teams and their exploits being broadcast on the sporting channel giant ESPN3. Generating more revenue and awareness is also a concern and thus popular companies such as Digicel and Johnnie Walker have been signed on as sponsors. Despite all these efforts, WICB has been a lightning rod for criticism and negative publicity whether it is of their own doing or not. For instance, the link between American financier Allen Stanford and the WICB has caused some level of embarrassment in the aftermath of Stanford’s fraud scandal that saw him head to prison4. This type of bad press along with poor performances by the team will only make it harder for West Indian cricket to be readily accepted by the youth of today. The West Indian people have, for long, been considered to be passionate, fun loving, easy going and resilient people. In years to come, it will certainly be interesting to see if the same can be said of the game of cricket in the West Indies, or will the young people be shouting “Bravo!!!” for Messi?
References:  Eden Gardens looks like a morgue, tweets Tony Greig (November 14, 2011) http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-11-14/top-stories/30397125_1_eden-gardensrahul-dravid-historic-venue  Transforming West Indies Cricket – WICB http://www.windiescricket.com/sites/default/files/documents/WICB_Presenter.pdf  WICB, ESPN sign broadcast agreement http://www.caribbeanlifenews.com/stories/2011/1/2011_01_18_azad_wicb_signs_agreements.ht ml  Sir Allen Standford “show me the money” http://thecricketinsider.com/?p=213