For the TT Pro League, football’s enormous popularity in an age of fingertip access to the world represents an almost insurmountable challenge. As is to be expected, CEO Dexter Skeene remains confident that the key stakeholders—from the executive level of the League to the individual clubs—have what it takes to survive an extremely challenging economic period.
“In any recession all sectors have challenges,” the former national striker stated over the weekend, a weekend that saw top-level club competition returning to Barataria for the first time in 17 years as San Juan Jabloteh edged Point Fortin Civic Centre 1-0 on Saturday.
“It is those owners of businesses who are resilient and innovative and think strategically who will survive and thrive,” Skeene continued. “The industry of professional football is no different.”
An important observation no doubt, one that clubs must heed to avoid being added to the list of former Pro League members who have either gone out of existence completely or are now functioning at a lower level with significantly reduced resources. But the reality is that even in times of plenty in the previous decade, when taxpayers’ dollars were being squandered by the billions, professional football in this country has been in a constant battle to stay above water.
Those rough seas and heaving waves have nothing to do with the local economy but the local mindset, which remains strongly outward-looking, even moreso in the age of the internet and therefore the ridiculously easy access to the best leagues, the best players and the highest standards of competition virtually 24/7.
Everyone wants to enjoy the best of the best. And now, with the internet dimension added to what has become an increasingly competitive cable/satellite/fibre optic television environment, a football fan just needs to have his or her subscriptions paid up to take in the spectacle of every major European league, along with those in South America and the United States, “live” and direct in their living rooms or favourite liming spots without having to cope with any travel or security issues associated with getting to Pro League venues across the country.
How does a struggling league in a tiny twin-island state cope with Messi, Suarez and Neymar in HD? Jabloteh coach Keith Jeffrey was encouraged by a turnout of almost 100 spectators in Barataria, believing that they would have gotten maybe five times that number in the team’s Bourg Mulatresse heartland, an area of lower Santa Cruz where very real security considerations must be getting in the way of the League’s desire to take the game back to the home communities.
As with any other sport, the diehards are always likely to turn out, especially if the game is just around the corner. But how do you get the younger football fans, the ones brought up in the era of wall-to-wall coverage of the English Premier League, to ring the touchlines on a Saturday afternoon when they would have spent all morning locked into a pulsating North London derby between Spurs and Arsenal or watched as mesmerised as the opposing defenders while Ronaldo scored four for Real Madrid at the Bernabeu?
It is by no means a fair comparison yet this is the reality that faces the TT Pro League: the quaint, humble surroundings of Barataria and elsewhere being deemed decidedly unattractive by a viewership that consumes its football via a screen with accompanying high-quality audio, making them feel as if they’re among the tens of thousands raising the roof with all the chanting, singing and celebrating that is so much a part of the international football viewing experience.
No amount of money from anywhere—government or the private sector—can alter that daunting reality and rest assured, it’s the sort of saturation coverage of the world’s most popular sport which is only going to increase.
We often hear stalwarts recalling the glory days of the local game in front of the Grandstand at the Queen’s Park Savannah and I am old enough to have been among the throng on Friday nights at PSA Centre in St James for big double-headers in the 1970’s. But those were different times and it surely would not have been the same if “live” television football coverage was as readily available then as it is now.
At a time when the phrase “Buy local!” is gaining currency once more, Skeene and others associated with the TT Pro League may already be coming to terms with the grim reality that local football fans are more inclined to make do without strawberries and quinoa than give up the precious subscription which sustains their footballing addiction.
Charting a course towards prosperity is laudable. Reality though suggests that attaining sustainability, when facing competition from the rest of the world, would be a noteworthy triumph.