Elisha Chauhan asks the man behind the Caribbean’s new professional football league why the project will succeed where others in the past have struggled.
Launching in September 2015, it is hoped that Major League Football (MLF), the new professional Caribbean football league, will transform the footballing fortunes of a region whose highest-ranked team in the FIFA rankings currently stands at a lowly 78.
Backed by CONCACAF (the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football), MLF will be made up of a minimum of 20 franchises from the Caribbean Football Union, which represents 31 countries, 25 of which are FIFA-affiliated.
The priority is to develop homegrown talent, with all franchises required to have squads of at least 60 per cent Caribbean players. However, increasing the profile and playing standard of the MLF will also be achieved by recruiting internationally-known players, who will be paid up to $60,000 per month. Brazilian internationals Dida, Ronaldinho and Robinho are three players who have been targeted.
“We have spoken to quite a few big names in football that plan to retire from their respective professional football leagues by 2015, in order to take the MLF to the next level,” Chris Anderson, chairman of event organiser and rights-holder Caribbean Football Trust Limited (CFTL), told SportBusiness International.
“We have also secured a competitive salary structure to attract top players and for them to stay in the MLF, as well as recruiting foreign talent to take up some coaching positions. Our aim is to have one big name per team to help create brand awareness.”
The MLF will consist of five competitions: the Open Challenge, +ONE League Cup, FA Cup, Cup Winners Cup and the SUPA 8 Cup Championship, the grand final of the league season, which will run from September to June. The prize pot will be split between the competitions on a winner-takes-all basis.
“The MLF can’t use the same marketing strategy as European football leagues. In the Caribbean we like competitions to be a constant challenge and to always be on edge. That’s why every fixture in the new league is a knockout game,” Anderson adds.
The MLF is not the first attempt at professional club football in the Caribbean. The CPFL (Caribbean Professional Football League) was established in 1992 with franchises set up by local businessmen, but was cancelled in 1995 due to financial and logistical problems. The United Soccer Leagues (USL) – the country’s third-tier professional football division – also planned a ‘Caribbean Division’ for 2011 with the inclusion of three teams from Puerto Rico. However, the three were removed early into the season due to “economic and ownership issues”.
“Anyone can launch a structured football league [in the Caribbean], but all the focus needs to be on logistics,” Anderson says. “The league is investing in its own airplane, but financing your own airline is difficult so we have steered away from simple home and away game fixtures, and have opted for group play-offs played in four hub nations that will help manage this problem too.”
Martinique/Guadeloupe, Suriname, the Dominic Republic and Antigua/ Barbuda will become the four host nations. Stadia and training facilities will be made available in each of the hub nations, with many of the participating regional governments committed to a five-year development plan.