Even a winning West Indies team can't draw home crowds to St Lucia as Test cricket left to fend for itself

Nick Hoult
The Telegraph
England fans soak up the sun and cricket in St Lucia - AP
England fans soak up the sun and cricket in St Lucia - AP

“They don't like losers. If you're not winning they're not going to support you.” That was the verdict of Lance Gibbs this week when asked about the lack of local support during the third Test. 

The immediate answer is that West Indies are winning, and came into this Test with the chance of a whitewash. But the local turnout in St Lucia has probably been the lowest of the series with no more than a few hundred on each day, and that is being generous.

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Instead, it has felt like a county match with polite ripples of applause greeting the players on the field before the Barmy Army’s painful rendition of Jerusalem and the ground DJ spinning cheesy hits to get the Brits singing along. West Indian flavour has been confined to the jerk pork. 

This England tour does not visit famous venues such as Trinidad, Guyana and Jamaica with their long histories of cricketing excellence. Instead, it is confined to the tourist holiday islands because the governments of St Lucia, Barbados and Antigua, the three Test venues, helped with staging fees recognising an England tour is worth an estimated £4 million per day to the local economy. 

Guyana, Trinidad and Jamaica opted instead to host matches with India later this year, partly because of their local Indian communities but also because they aim to attract the Indian diaspora in the United States with flights cheaper from America than for British tourists visiting from the UK.

<span>Not a West Indies fan in sight</span> <span>Credit: action images </span>
Not a West Indies fan in sight Credit: action images

“An England tour is very expensive for us to operate as we cover all the costs. Putting up England for 60 days in $300-a-night accommodation is huge and if the local government are willing to support those costs we can’t really say no,” said Johnny Grave, the chief executive of West Indies cricket.

Ticket prices in St Lucia are between 60-140 East Caribbean dollars (£17-40), easily affordable for the tourists, less so for local fans. Only around £150,000 was spent marketing this series on the three islands, the matches instead left to become home games for England with tour groups snapping up most of the seats that were pre-sold.

Twenty20 and one-day cricket is vibrant in the Caribbean. Matches take place at work-friendly times in the evening and the post-match party at the Caribbean Premier League attracts non-cricket fans too. It is a place to have fun.

But Test cricket is left to stand on its own feet, with no effort put in to persuade a new generation of supporters to give it a try. There has not been one poster advertising the cricket on any of the islands visited on this tour.

World cricket’s economics play a part. The West Indies board lost £15m last year hosting tours by Bangladesh and Sri Lanka that brought in no money and were worthless in terms of media rights. They expect a £15m profit this year from the England tour and India in the summer months, highlighting the inconsistency of cricket financiers.

<span>An England tour is worth an estimated £4 million per day to the local St Lucia economy</span> <span>Credit: action images </span>
An England tour is worth an estimated £4 million per day to the local St Lucia economy Credit: action images

Last year’s loss forced cuts and one thing to be slashed was the marketing budget. There are no sophisticated marketing databases like they have at Test venues in England where grounds like the Oval have the email details of thousands of previous ticket buyers to target with advertising. Marketing is old fashioned and expensive in the Caribbean, involving printed flyers, and print or broadcast advertising, plus lots of man power.

“We had good crowds for the Women’s World Twenty20 and the Caribbean Premier League proves that with good marketing, a decent event outside the cricket with a concert after play we can get people in,” said Grave. “It is something we will address as we restructure the business. We will be marketing locals a good two months before the event and probably at the end of play on weekends put in concerts and music to get locals in who are not massive fans.

“A winning team that represents the region will make a big difference because a lot of cricket fans have fallen out of love with West Indies teams and these performances will help address that, but we still need to do more.”

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