Dexter Skeene, chief executive officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Pro League, stands confident that the PL will maintain its status as the best league in the country in 2017 and beyond, and by extension the Caribbean.
Skeene said the just concluded 2016-17 PL season has made strides even in economic uncertainty, and will continue to grow with the new 2017 season reverting to the previous April to December format to accomplish sporting and financial objectives.
“The competitiveness of the league continues to improve every season,” said Skeene. “On the final day of the league competition we saw [eventual champions] Central and [runners-up] W Connection battling to the wire for the crown. Also, near the end we had four teams battling for third, which was secured by San Juan Jabloteh.”
The PL boss congratulated two-time Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Club Championship holders Central FC on their historic Digicel Pro League three-peat, and also that of Defence Force’s knockout-double with the First Citizens Cup and Digicel Pro Bowl titles, as well as the on-field improvements by clubs such as St. Ann’s Rangers and Club Sando.
“We also wish Central every success at this year’s Caribbean Club Championship, and that they continue to fly the Trinidad and Tobago flag and serve the country and the Pro League with distinction and that they (Central) along with San Juan Jabloteh qualify for next season’s Concacaf Champions League.”
Central and San Juan Jabloteh, league champions and runners-up respectively in 2015-16, will contest the 2017 Caribbean Club Championship--the Caribbean's qualifier tournament to the Concacaf Champions League. Jabloteh must compete from the first round in March while Central, as defending champions, received a bye to the final round in May.
Skeene admitted that the PL, only fifteen seasons old, is still a long way from becoming self-sufficient, but with the continued support of the Trinidad and Tobago Government and the advent of upgrading community grounds, the League is on the path towards self-sustainability.
“We again thank the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and the Minister of Sport Darryl Smith for their continuous support for the Pro League and subvention to the League and clubs,” stated Skeene, a former Trinidad and Tobago national player and coach.
“The Minister understand the value of professional football in that it provides players for the national level, to be able to qualify for a World Cup. It is a unique animal unlike any other entity.”
Last September, during the launch of the 2016-17 season, Skeene referenced the United States’ Major League Soccer (MLS), which he said in its early years experienced financial and operational struggles despite millions of dollars pumped in by wealthy owners Lamar Hunt of Dallas Cowboys, Phillip Anschutz and Bob Kraft. He said the MLS had lost millions of dollars, while teams played in mostly empty American football stadiums back then. But today, with soccer-specific venues, average MLS attendance exceeds that of the National Hockey League (NHL) and National Basketball Association (NBA). The MLS has also secured TV deals and is now profitable.
“The catalyst for investment, they state, came with the advent of investment in soccer-specific stadia throughout the U.S. in soccer-mad cities,” said Skeene back then. “None of these projects were mega constructions so they were not mega risks.”
Skeene’s notion was put to test during the just concluded season.
Through the support of the Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs Darryl Smith and the implementation arm of the Ministry of Sport, the Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SporTT) along with its facilities manager Anthony Blake, the Park Street Recreation Ground in Morvant was put to the test and the response was astounding, drawing massive crowds in three games over a five-week period. However, with the playing surface due for a much needed upgrade, remaining home games of Morvant Caledonia United had to be scheduled at the Ato Boldon, Hasely Crawford and Larry Gomes stadia.
“The Minister of Sport Darryl Smith is working with the League to upgrade grounds on a phased basis in the communities represented,” said Skeene this week. “…to give the clubs a revenue earning asset which will enable them to roll out proper marketing strategies to maximise their revenue line items such as sponsorship, gate receipts, merchandising and player transfers.”
The PL, the only professional league in the Caribbean, continues to attract the best local players as well as some of the region’s rising talents such as W Connection’s Dimitri Apai (Suriname), Jamal Charles (Grenada) and Briel Thomas (Dominica), and San Juan Jabloteh’s Fabien Reid (Jamaica) among others.
PL clubs also continue to attract interest in the North and Central America, Europe and Asia markets with players such as W Connection’s Jomal Williams and Shahdon Winchester (Murciélagos / Mexico), Ma Pau Stars’ Anthony Wolfe (Churchill Brothers / India) and Jerrel Britto (Honduras Progreso / Honduras), San Juan Jabloteh’s Willis Plaza (East Bengal / India), Central FC’s Nicholas Dillon (K Patro Maasmechelen / Belgium) and San Juan Jabloteh’s Keston Julien (AS Trenčín / Slovakia) all making moves abroad during the last season.
Skeene reminded, “The League is a limited liability company, which each club is a part of, and just like any other industry if one club fails it doesn’t mean that the league fails. In the past clubs such as Starworld Strikers and Tobago United left, but that doesn’t mean the League has failed.”
The new 2017 season (April – December) will boast a full calendar, including the return of one of the most anticipated knockouts, which allows the best Super League—T&T’s second tier league—sides to test themselves against their Pro League counterparts in the annual Classic, which in its eleven editions has never produced champions outside the of the PL.
But beginning in March, the League will kick off its Flow Youth Pro League season 2017, which over a five-month period, will see action in the Under-13, Under-15 and Under-17 divisions—where stars are born.