Stanford 20/20 for US$ 20Million - A Super Duper Victory and Beyond
By John L. Aaron in St. Johns, Antigua
In the end, it was about the money, but something else happened at the Stanford Cricket Ground yesterday. In what some critics may describe as an anti-climactic conclusion to the Stanford Super Series 20/20 for 20 million US dollars winner-take-all contest. With a surprising total of only 99 runs posted, the England XI did not offer much in the way of a challenge to the Stanford Superstars.
In the end, it was
about the money, but something else happened at the Stanford Cricket Ground yesterday. In what some critics may describe as an anti-climactic conclusion to the Stanford Super Series 20/20 for 20 million US dollars winner-take-all contest. With a surprising total of only 99 runs posted, the England XI did not offer much in the way of a challenge to the Stanford Superstars.
In a victory that had several exclamation points, the Stanford Superstars XI earned their money in more ways than one, by defeating a highly touted England Cricket Board (ECB) XI by 10 wickets.
With six weeks of hard training under their belts, the Stanford Superstars made Sir Allen Stanford a very proud man, and returned Caribbean cricket momentarily to a proud moment, albeit under different circumstances than the traditional formats of the sport.
With US$20Million riding on the line, it was strange to hear the Superstars skipper Chris Gayle prior to the match, describe it as just another cricket match. Quite frankly, this was no ordinary cricket match with so many people around the world watching players walk away with the richest paycheck in the history of the sport, on a single day of just three hours of work.
For the ECB's XI, it seems as though the week in Antigua and the richest single cricket match in the world could not come to an end fast enough. In fact, England's skipper Kevin Pietersen stated in a press conference just three days ago that his team could not wait for the week to come to an end, stating that, "… (we) just want to get it over with and go home." One of the English players stated then that it was not as though England was playing for the ashes against Australia, adding that the money was a good incentive, but winning the match would be considered a victory for England as a matter of pride. Well England either did not play with much pride, or was in such a hurry to exit the Stanford Cricket Ground and Antigua, that in the process they left their wickets way too early, scoring under 100 runs. On the other hand, one may argue that it was more about the approach to the match by a well-prepared Stanford Superstars XI, than it was England's haste to pay the Antigua exit tax fee.
England had entered the series highly touted by their own press, as being very formidable. However, after winning by just one run against Stanford's Caribbean 20/20 champions Trinidad & Tobago and complaining about the lights and the slow pitch at the Stanford Cricket Ground, it appeared as though they had given up hope of winning against a well-oiled Stanford Superstars XI. Maybe, the English were preparing for defeat by basing their expectations on issues outside the realm of the match itself.
Flintoff departs - Superstars rejoice
The performance of the Stanford Superstars was exemplary, and no cricket management group, board, or major sponsor could have asked for much more from their journeymen. The Stanford Superstars played with a sense of purpose and determination not often seen by those playing for one's country. Therefore, was it for pride, or was it for the money? Speaking with several of the Stanford Superstars during the days leading up to the match, some of them admitted that the individual prize money would be a life-changing factor, but they were trying not to focus on the money as the sole reason for going out to win the match. Many of them thought they owed a victory to Allen Stanford, for all he had done for them and West Indies cricket during the past three years.
Lost somewhere in the focus of the actual match was the preparation leading up to Saturday, and the resounding victory by a team that in large part represented the West Indies, and by default the West Indies Cricket Board. Allen Stanford and the Stanford organization prepared their representative squad for the match in so many ways; one can only see the preparations as having been handled as a business entity would, and not as an association.
One question, which rose immediately following the match was can the preparation that went into preparing the Superstars squad be sustained by the West Indies Cricket Board, going forward? If such a level of preparation can be sustained, then Sir Allen Stanford's comment immediately following the match would endure, "This victory proves that we can kick anybody's (rear end)," stated Sir Allen, in response to a question I posed to him, just prior to the trophy presentation and the popping of the champagne corks right on the field at the Stanford Cricket Ground.
The emergence of some players, who may not otherwise have been immediately considered for selection by the West Indies Cricket Board's selectors, is a major accomplishment of the Stanford experiment in jolting life into West Indies cricket.
An elated Sir Allen Stanford was vindicated in so many ways for really putting his money where his heart is, in going all out to have a group of players fully prepared both mentally and physically, for the biggest match of their lives, and beyond, by offering financial counseling to the latest Caribbean millionaires. The latter value-added incentive is something each and every one of the players can readily use, while some of them will have earned more money than they would have dreamed of earning in a lifetime, or more so one day's work.
Criticized by some for trying to run West Indies cricket or negatively impacting the classical form of the sport, Allen Stanford has proven time and time again, his ability to demonstrate the business acumen that breathes success. Let's face it; the Stanford Group is in the business of making money, period. Whether, the current investment will yield an immediate profit, is left to economic strategists and investors with a greater understanding of such matters than I am qualified to offer comment. What I do know is that the Stanford Group; a largely financial investment entity is now venturing into the area of the sports entertainment business, making cricket in the Caribbean a family-oriented entertainment experience, with positive outcomes. This brand of cricket entertainment is no doubt ultimately aimed at a larger audience beyond the Caribbean.
Is the next stop for the Stanford 20/20 brand, the United States of America? An American businessman investing in a classic brand, but with a twist to selling more of it or a variation on its theme, is not surprising, nor is it rocket science, but it takes vision, passion, finance and the Midas touch to make ideas leap off the dream boards. Allen Stanford has emerged as one of the single most prudent businessmen in recent times, to recognize a failing brand and inject a sense of hope and pride, in both player and supporter. Stanford's investment will undoubtedly have long term benefits for so many, but more importantly, the Stanford Group, and quite rightly so, because it is that entity's vision that played out on the Stanford Cricket Ground last Saturday.
Cheerleading - the Caribbean way
The branding of 20/20 cricket as an entertainment art form is fast becoming the marketing strategy of proponents of the shorter form of cricket. However, Stanford's marketing strategy is aimed at more that advocating a shorter form of the game; it is aimed at involving greater audience appreciation, through its focused marketing approach and attention to detail in its branding, and customer service. It is a multi-faceted approach, aimed at reinvigorating interest and life into the sport in the Caribbean, while generating revenue for the business, bigger pay checks for the players, and a value-added approach for its patrons.
Stanford's marketing strategy has already paid off significant dividends in attracting more women and children to 20/20 cricket matches than ever before, in the Caribbean. With a strategic branding approach aimed at the younger generation, the 20/20 format of the game will have an indelible impact on the future of the game from an entertainment perspective, a perspective that readily attracts advertisers and generates significant revenue.
Once in a lifetime, there comes along a visionary whose dynamic approach impacts the nature of a business or sport, in a significant way; hopefully for the better. Allen Stanford's impact on cricket will undoubtedly have a long-lasting effect on the sport, whether it will become the dominant form over the more classic format is still left to be seen. Either way, one should sit back and enjoy the ride of seeing young cricketers exploit the opportunities, while providing quality entertainment for the patrons.