Written by: Neil Acharya
If you build it, they will come.
How do you build it?
For Cricket Canada, a future field of dreams is rooted in creating a system that lasts.
“The downfall for cricket in Canada has been that we are known as weekend cricketers, we can’t survive with that, we can’t grow the sport like that,” says Cricket Canada President Rashpal Bajwa. “We want to engage sponsors that can help us with the grassroots system and the senior (national) team.”
Cricket Canada had some lean years following the country’s last World Cup appearance in 2011, however the good news for attracting corporate funding is that the organization is riding a high.
In April, the national team placed fourth in a World Cup qualifier in Namibia. Their standing didn’t result in a 2023 World Cup berth but it did allow them to advance to ICC World Cup League 2 and regain coveted ODI (One Day International) status. ODI Status will allow Canada to play about 40 official one day contests over the next three years. These matches will be broadcasted by the ICC, the sports’ governing body.
Cricket Canada invested in the team by hiring seasoned coach Pubudu Dassanayake and sending them overseas for lead-up matches. It paid off with the promotion. Now, the 14-member Canadian national team will be paid salaries that average about $55,000 to $65,000. The one-year contracts signed on Canada Day will allow the majority of the squad to train full-time.
Prior to this development, the national team consisted of “weekend warriors” contracted monthly.
“People want to engage if you do something on your own,” Bajwa says. “Now the opportunity is there, we have a product we can go and sell.”
Two weeks after their elevation to League 2, Cricket Canada aligned with Boundaries North, an entity who will help secure public and private sector financial support.
The market for the sport is evident. Cricket has an ardent following in countries with large population bases such as India and Pakistan. According to data from Statistics Canada, the two nations comprised 21.3 percent of the 1.3 million immigrants to Canada from 2016-2021. India accounted for the bulk of that figure at 18.6 percent which translates to 247,000 newcomers over the last five years. Immigration is also slated to grow by approximately 500,000 people annually through to 2025. Capturing that market has been top of mind for the cricket hierarchy in this country.
The Olympic Games can also provide an underlying key to sustained growth. Cricket is touted to be on the program for LA 2028. If that is the case, Cricket Canada could stand to benefit.
“It’s going to be marginal organic growth for this next short term period, that will change though (with inclusion into the Olympics)…It’s not official, but the writing is on the wall,” said Michael Naraine, an associate professor of sports management at Brock University. “Here in Canada that means the Canadian Olympic Committee and Own the Podium might be investing into Grassroots Cricket to invest in the next generation of talent.”
One of the ways Cricket Canada is positioning its prospect pool is by having them play alongside the current national team and international stars in an officially licensed property known as the Global T20 (GT20) tournament, currently the marquee event on the domestic cricket calendar. The two-week test event is what constitutes the Canadian cricket season. To draw interest and aid in mentorship of the national program, GT20 pays notable foreign players like Chris Gayle and Shoaib Malik to limelight with the six Canadian teams.
“For two weeks, every summer (they) get an opportunity to play with professionals,” said tournament director Jason Harper. “When these guys now come out of GT20 and being in that environment, that ecosystem, when they go back to the Canadian national team they are sharper.”
This year’s event - held July 20 to Aug. 6 at CAA Centre in Brampton, ON - was the third of its kind and first following the global Covid-19 Pandemic. The GT20 tournament was able to fund their estimated $12 million dollars in operating costs through corporate sponsorship attained by utilizing data from a commissioned cricket study conducted by Cultural IQ, an ethnic marketing and multicultural advertising organization.
“Up until now a lot of the evidence was anecdotal,” Harper said. “Most of the corporations will not throw big dollars into things that are risky.”
Through the study he says they were able to unearth details that informed GT20’s outreach to companies and allowed those companies to better understand how to engage the cricket community as consumers. In 2023, TD Bank came on board for the first time as did Securian Financial as the official insurance partner of GT20. Gatorade was another big-name sponsor.
“The Blue Chip Canadian brands are starting to get warm,” Harper said. “(Before the study) we were selling passion.”
Cricket Canada feels that sustaining cricket will take a wholesale buy-in across the country which involves bolstering provincial bodies and supporting entry level programs at a youth level. Growing the women’s game is also a cornerstone of future planning. Currently Bajwa says they are turning players away in areas of the country where there are no grounds and infrastructure. Cricket Canada Kids is a program for youths aged 6-13 in Ontario and the goal is to replicate it across the nation and create school programs.
“We are now, currently as we speak, talking to sponsors which are ready to come on board all across the country,” Bajwa says. “If those types of initiatives come (through), it’s going to be a game changer for us.”