The tournament is new for everybody and a lot of the fans are those who have migrated to the USA. There’s going to be a lot of people who are going to hear about cricket for the first time, says Fawwaz Baksh
The ninth edition of the Men’s T20 World Cup increasing from 16 to 20 teams means there will be a wider pool of cricket fans eager to watch the matches of their favourite sides, either at the stadium or from the comfort of their homes.
The success of a tournament in any sport is directly dependent on fan following and the passion they display for the game, which in turn gives the players inspiration to perform at their best and for the game to keep on evolving continuously.
IANS spoke exclusively to Fawwaz Baksh, the tournament director of the 2024 Men’s T20 World Cup, about the aim and steps taken to make the showpiece event a grand occasion for the fans, and what in his view would be the parameters for the tournament to be successful.
What has been the vision of the organising committee in terms of fan engagement for the tournament?
One reason why we’re so excited to have this tournament is that the West Indies brand of cricket is known across the world. More so with the tournament being a T20 World Cup, and the way we play our game, we reignite the interest of our fans.
Also, we give them the opportunity in the USA to attract more and new fans to the game. World-class stadiums and great matches is something that will happen, anyway. What our big focus is on making sure that the experience for all the billions of fans is memorable when coming to the West Indies or the USA to watch the matches.
They got to have an experience like no other and with the West Indies having a party-like atmosphere, we want to make sure that it’s a carnival and makes for a fun experience, not only at match-day but before and after the match. It’s a big focus for us to make sure that the experience is memorable – not only for the fans, but for the players, support staff and media.
I won’t lie, it’s going to be a great tournament. This tournament is new for everybody and a lot of the fans are those who have migrated to the USA. There’s going to be a lot of people who are going to hear about cricket for the first time.
They will wonder, ‘What is this game and what’s happening? Why have they built a 34,000-seater stadium in my community?’ All of this is naturally going to spark interest and people would want to see what is this big hype about, and why is everybody talking about it on the radio.
So, we have to make sure that when they come to any of these venues in the USA, they’re going to say ‘Wow, this is a great sport and a good time’. That hopefully would mean having lifelong cricket fans who will continue to support and watch the game grow in the USA and the West Indies.
Has there been anything specific about engaging with the fans of the games in the host cities in the Caribbean and USA?
The fortunate part for me is that I’ve been part of every single World Cup that we’ve had in the West Indies. So there’s a lot of learnings that came out of each one of those tournaments. We have always put primary focus on engaging with our people in the West Indies.
Now it’s going to be in the USA, so a lot of our planning and engagement starts at the community level. We partner with schools, and we enter towards communities to make them feel part of this tournament as well. This is a tournament not only for the players to accommodate but also for the people who have been to the USA and West Indies.
We won’t be isolating them at all for this tournament and we have put together activities for the coming months. There’s a lot of activations, activities that will happen at the community level and we’re going to make them so interesting that I imagine they come to the venue.
Could you talk about the planning in terms of engaging with the huge number of overseas fans coming to watch the games?
We know there are going to be a lot of fans travelling to West Indies and USA to watch the matches. Nobody’s naïve about the amount of visitors we’re going to have and local governments recognise that. They’re doing a lot of parties and concerts around the tournament as well.
So, fans from overseas just do not need to look at what happens at the cricket ground, it is also going to be about the experiences they will have from the time they land in the country. We are going to have fan parks outside stadiums so that between matches, one can experience them too.
A big part of that is creating fan parks across New York, Dallas and Florida, and engaging with the communities and stakeholders to put on events around the tournament as well. So we’re working closely with all our governments to have more than just cricket. It will be a carnival-like experience for them in living from match days to non-match days.
Traveling between the USA and the West Indies can become challenging, especially with just a couple of airlines operating flights in these regions. Have there been plans about adding more flights for fans’ travel during the competition?
That’s something that we started a long time ago, where the participating teams for the tournament were finalised. With a confirmed match schedule, we’re speaking more with airlines to get more flights into the region. For us, we’re teaming up with them to get charter flights to move the teams around.
We’re asking the airlines to put out more commercial flights for the fans to travel around. This is also the reason we have partnered so closely with the government. They are very influential when it comes to these airlines and getting flights into the region. The West Indies is a very tourist-driven economy and partnership with the airlines through the government drives tourism to the region.
They are well-poised to have a conversation on our behalf and with us too as well to make sure that their flights are working more in the region. So that’s a discussion has been happening for quite a long time and we anticipate that there are going to be more flights in the region for fans to travel between venues during the tournament.
The demand for tickets has been encouraging, as seen from almost four million ticket applications received from over 160 countries. What has been the ticket pricing strategy so that it becomes affordable for fans to watch matches in the stadium?
We’re introducing a relatively new sport to the USA and we want to revitalize the passion for cricket in the West Indies. To do that, we needed to make tickets accessible. Our strategy at both CWI and ICC is to grow the sport and having high ticket prices will deter people from coming to the games, especially those who have only now heard about cricket but the tournament has sparked their curiosity.
Through our partnerships with our host countries and city we have managed to keep tickets prices down. This is the result of many people sharing in the same vision – putting cricket and the fans first.
What are the parameters in your mind for the tournament to be considered a success?
We have four primary objectives for this tournament. Firstly, we want to create a kind of experience for cricket enjoyed by millions of fans in the world. That’s one of our big focus to make sure that fans find enjoy, between and beyond match days, and unearth new fans that we’re going to build from this tournament, which is huge for us.
Another big objective is to make sure that the facilities in the region meet ICC standards. So, it’s going to be an improvement of all the facilities across the region and new facilities in the USA. Then, we want to make sure that we inspire our youth so that they continue the legacy of the West Indies, and introduce new players in the USA too. We want to see our youth stepping up wanting to play cricket because of what they saw on television and experienced at the venues.
Lastly, we want to connect everyone across the world with cricket. That’s not only for people who are coming for matches, but also for those who are watching on television as well. So we’re working on ways to get more people involved in the game – like talking about the game, no matter where you are. These are the four things that we’re looking for and if we achieve that, we know that we have achieved success.
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