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Damien O’Donohoe

CEO, Caribbean Premier League

Published in Sports Management 2015 issue 3
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Damien O’Donohoe, CEO, Caribbean Premier League
Damien O’Donohoe, CEO, Caribbean Premier League

“When I first arrived in the Caribbean, every kid was wearing a LeBron James, Dwayne Wade or some other NBA basketball shirt,” says Damien O’Donohoe, the chief executive of the Caribbean Premier League (CPL). “Now you see kids running around wearing CPL shirts – it gives me incredible satisfaction and pride to see that. It really makes our project worthwhile.”

CPL, now in its third year, is a Twenty20 cricket league played over six weeks at the end of the West Indies’ domestic cricket season. It is the brainchild of Denis O’Brien, head of communications firm Digicel, and O’Donohoe, a qualified lawyer, who chose a career in events after his dreams of becoming a professional rugby player were ended by injury. 

In sporting terms, T20 cricket has become big business in each country which has embraced it. The Indian Premier League (IPL), the world’s most watched T20 competition, has an estimated brand value of US$7.2bn. Meanwhile in England, the seven home games played by the 18 county cricket clubs in the NatWest T20 Blast are responsible for a disproportionately large percentage of annual revenue for the clubs. In Australia, the Big Blast League attracted average attendances of 23,500 during 2014-15 – far exceeding the crowds watching the longer forms of domestic cricket.

CPL aims to not only match the commercial successes of its counterparts, but rejuvenate West Indies cricket, which has for long been losing ground to football and basketball as the region’s favourite sport. O’Donohoe believes his team will be able to complete that task.

This year, the CPL involved six franchises, with each team consisting of a mixture of world stars and local West Indian players. The prospect of seeing the likes of Kevin Pietersen, Shahid Afridi, Chris Gayle and Jacques Kallis – all famous for their expressive playing style – is reflected in the CPL’s tagline, “The Biggest Party in Sport”.

According to O’Donohoe, the opportunity to see global cricket stars wasn’t the only reason for the chosen motto. “T20 cricket by its nature is very much a mix of entertainment and sport, so the format fits the Caribbean lifestyle perfectly,“ he says. “Caribbean people love cricket and they also love to get dressed up, have a good time and have a party. The CPL mixes cricket with the Caribbean culture – the sounds, the atmosphere, the food, the drink. When you put all that together it makes for a very unique experience for the players, the fans and the TV audience.”

As a product, the CPL has been pretty much an instant hit. In its first year, more than 90 per cent of all tickets to the games were sold. This year, all games were played at sold out stadiums, while a string of lucrative TV deals saw the matches beamed to a potential global audience of 300 million. As a result, the league has now broken even and has recouped the initial investment of US$20m (€18m, £13m) made in 2013.

“The CPL creates excitement,” says O’Donohoe, “And people are passionate about their local teams and its success.”

Details: www.cplt20.com

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