How Carnival and Cricket Became the CPL

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‘But we felt that if you could fuse Carnival and cricket you would get a pretty good combination’ – Pete Russell


By Prior Beharry

THE Caribbean Premier League (CPL) is about another six years from breaking even but its Chief Executive Officer Pete Russell says the journey has been fantastic.

“We wanted to make it an entertainment product as much as a cricket product so the cricket had to be good because that’s your principal activity.

“This is sort of where we envisaged it, where you’ve got a rocking party stand and obviously a Caribbean crowd tonight…, we’ll show the best of the Caribbean,” he said in an interview with AZP News at the Media Centre of the Brian Lara Cricket Academy in Tarouba where a sold-out crowd in a sea of red supported the Trinbago Knight Riders in a victory over the Jamaica Tallawahs on Saturday. (Click here to read full match report)

Dubbed The Biggest Party in Sport, Russell said when the CPL was established 11 years ago “we wanted to be a differentiator.”

He added, “We didn’t just want to be another T20 tournament. We felt that that was something. We didn’t want to call ourselves Carnival because, that’s a very unique proposition. The party… it’s synonymous with the region.”

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Carnival is a national festival of Trinidad and Tobago that culminates in two days of masqueraders in costumes dancing on the streets to Soca music. The atmosphere continues throughout the year in parties, fetes and sporting events as spectators at games jump to the beat of music by deejays. Carnival takes place in almost every English-speaking Caribbean island that plays cricket.

TKR skipper Kieron Pollard dances during the game on Saturday showing a mixture of Carnival and cricket

The beginning

Russell said the early days were very hectic “because you’re trying to create a product and a brand.”

He added, “This is where you envisaged. Nights like tonight where you’ve got a full house, that’s what you always thought we could get. But if you remember the early days, we didn’t have that. So you had to create the product.”

Click here to see photo album of game TKR vs Tallawahs

Way back in 2013, the first year of the CPL, the Indian Premier League (IPL) and Australia’s Big Bash were already established.

A carnival atmosphere at the Brian Lara Cricket Academy in Tarouba where TKR took on the Tallawahs. AZP News/Azlan Mohammed

He said, “We were apprehensive because it was the third tournament that was launched, if you remember that, it was IPL had launched, the Big Bash had launched and those two have gone pretty well.

“But we felt that if you could fuse Carnival and cricket you would get a pretty good combination.”

Russell’s early years

Born in Newport in Wales, Russell grew up a “mummy’s boy” being the middle child between two sisters. He did business studies at a polytechnic school in Oxford but spent time in the Far and Middle East because his father was in the oil business.

He did play cricket in some of the leagues in and around London fancying himself as a medium pacer and middle-order batsman.

At an early age, he got into advertising and stayed in it for some time. He started at Optimedia, a media-buying agency owned by a large publicist French group. He was a founding partner and was there for about six years, he said.

Then he went over to PI Sports – an early mobile gaming company. After that, he worked with PO Promotions involved in sponsorship.

CPL formation

So the establishment CPL seemed a natural succession. His first real taste of Caribbean cricket was when he worked with Digicel to get to sponsor Cricket West Indies (CWI).

Russell said, “So that was my first introduction to the Caribbean and cricket. And then through that partnership, I teamed up with Jamie Stewart, who is our commercial director and some of the folks of Digicel and that’s where we sort of came up with the initial concept (of the CPL).

He started off as the operations manager and as one of the architects of the CPL, he then became its chief executive officer in 2021.

Asked if he has been accepted being an outsider, Russell said, “I think the key thing is to make sure, as a foreigner, you embrace the cultures.

“I loved it. I love all, every element of the Caribbean and West Indies cricket, you know, I’m very passionate about West Indies cricket.

“For me, it’s been great. I mean it’s been a fantastic journey because I learned so much about the region, the people. And actually, again the passion that everyone has for cricket, which still burns brightly. That’s why we love playing CPL here. Because cricket is still very important to the region.”

CEO of the Caribbean Premier League Pete Russell, right, looks on with Commercial Director of the CPL Jamie Stewart from the edge of the boundary at the TKR vs Jamaica Tallawahs game on Saturday

Russell’s jobs before entering the CPL may have suited him for his current role.

He said, “I’m a great believer in marketing and yeah, at the end of the day, you have to make sure that you project, your product is in a way that you want consumers to look at it. And then you have to live up to that expectation. You have to deliver on the promise. So I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that (but) more to do.”

CWI (in those days it was called the West Indies Cricket Board of Control) had its local T20 tournament that was losing money. This was on the heels of the Stanford 20/20 which crashed after its founder Allen Stanford was charged with fraud in 2009.

Commentator Alex Jordon enjoys the tempo as her colleague Samuel Badree sits this one out

Russell said, “CWI had their local tournament which was losing a lot of money. That was its problem. So we said to them look, ‘we’ll take that debt off your hand so you won’t have to lose money’ and let’s get costs.”

The rest as they say is history and the first tournament happened from July 29 to August 26, 2013.

Today, despite several new and different manifestations, the CPL tournament has six franchise teams – Barbados Royals, Guyana Amazon Warriors, Jamaica Tallawahs, St Kitts and Nevis Patriots, St Lucia Kings and the Trinbago Knight Riders.

CPL has not been a cheap thing to run and it’s still very much in the red even after 11 years.

Russell said, “So Digicel put a lot of money in and invested heavily in the early years and yes the deal was done with CWI and I still think it’s actually an excellent deal for both parties and we’re here today.”

But, the CPL is yet to see a profit.

He said, “I would say we’re probably five or six years away from even considering breaking even, so that’s quite a time away. But the lovely thing is that people that have invested in it are long-time investors, which is what is actually needed, what you didn’t want, is someone to come in and just do it for five years, and go outside.”

Helping West Indies Cricket

Asked if he felt the CPL has enhanced West Indies cricket, Russell said, “I think it has because it gives exposure to the younger players. It allows younger players to actually mix with some of the internationals. So, I think as a nursery for becoming a first-class, top-class T20 player, I think, absolutely.

“I also think it gives them an opportunity to earn a good living. I mean, because, you know, they’re seen around the world via the TV. And, we’ve seen that they got to IPL, all these other leagues. So, so I think it has for sure.”


In terms of technology, he said, it was always evolving.

Russell said, “I think we try to be as creative, more creative than a lot of other leagues can be. And obviously, we make sure we employ all the best technology that we can.”

He cited the use of Hawk-Eye and the use of umpire cams as examples.

Oh what a night as spectators dance to the beat of Soca and Chutney music on Saturday at the Brian Lara Cricket Academy

Russell said, “It’s about making sure that whatever is new on the m

arket, we are trying to or at least give it a go. So we put the chip in the ball the other year, which was quite interesting. We’ve got, as you can see, the umpired with the cams.

“So, yeah, there’s all sorts of things that we try and do, and that’s really just it enhanced the fan experience.”

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IPL the Goose that lays the golden egg

Asked about the BCCI not allowing its IPL cricketers to play in similar leagues around the world, he said he understood the reason.

Russell said, “If you’re India, you’ve got the goose that lays the golden eggs, so you’re going to protect that. If all of a sudden, Indian players played elsewhere, you know, the IPL will look at it and say that damages their product.

“Of course, we all want Indian players to play in all our leagues because like gives us all a bit of a shot-in-the-arm but well I think every other cricketing nation allows their players to play around the world and the problem is the schedule. The cricketing scheduling is so tight. It’s difficult to get all the players here at the same time, but we do a pretty good job.”

He said the new rules that penalised the fielding team for a slow over rate worked “pretty well.”

No Friday night games?

This year’s CPL tournament takes place in five countries where there are franchises – Barbados, Guyana, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago. There were no games in Jamaica this year. But noticeable is that there were no matches on a Friday night when many come out to have a good time after work. Why no game on a Friday night?

Russell said, “That’s a very good question. What we are looking to do in the future is to actually make the Friday, the entertainment night. So I think you’ll find we’ll do a lot more things on a Friday in future. So whether we have concerts or a fete but it creates this sort of CPL weekend feel so people can enjoy different activities, a little bit like if you look at Cricket Carnival in Guyana, sort of mini ones of those wherever we go.

“My sense is that a lot of people come and watch CPL, so you want to give them parties and activities to do outside of the cricket. And that was the thinking on a Friday we could do that with the cricket obviously being played across the weekend.”

Doing it in style on Saturday. AZP News/Azlan Mohammed

After the 6IXTY men’s and women’s 60-ball tournament in 2022 there were none this year.

He said he thinks that that tournament could stand on its own and will be looking to have it back next year.

The Future

Russell said in the future the game of cricket will always be important.

He said, “The game is always paramount. You don’t want to change the rules of cricket or the way cricket’s played. I think if you can change things within the rules of the game that makes it a better product and I think we’ll try and do that.

“The one thing that I have happy about is the fact that the women’s game in the last two years has really become to flourish and the games this year have been pretty good.

We trialed it and everyone was delighted with the trial because everyone like it, the fans liked it, players liked it. So I think that’s something we could really enhanced going forward.

Click here to see photo album of game: TKR vs Tallawahs

Click here to read full match report TKR vs Tallawahs on Saturday


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