JD Jaguars captain Kinchit Shah along with Darren Sammy and Tim Cutler

Juggling between profiles comes easy for Tim Cutler, who has his expertise spread across Administration, Playing (Still very much active in HK’s Premier League, his team HKCC won the T20 a title few weeks ago), Consulting and now in the world of news Reporting / Journalism. Ask him if it’s a bit hectic, and he might just shrug it off saying “you haven’t yet seen the wrath of Cutler”!! in his own “Star Wars/Trek” style.

So, when I got the opportunity to just know what he thinks of things around him related to Hong Kong, Cricket and much else, the opinions in themselves presented the picture (which portrays a lot more than mere words in writing), as an eye-opener for a neutral like myself and millions across the globe to know that much more about Hong Kong, its Cricket and the craze for Rugby Sevens.

Read on for Czarsportz Exclusive with Tim Cutler:

First and foremost, the HK T20 Blitz concluded its third season just over a week ago. What is your overall feeling from the time it started to where it is today??

The overwhelming feeling is pride. Even though I don’t have any direct/working connection with the event presently, to see where it is today, grown from where it started – a three day event organised in under seven weeks – to a six day carnival beamed to almost 200 million homes it does send a chill down the spine to be honest! We were brave enough to really throw ourselves out there as an Associate Member (AM) and I think we created something to be very proud of.

Prize presentation Match day 6 final of Hong Kong T20 Blitz 2018 at Tin Kwong Road Recreation Ground, Kowloon,, Hong Kong, on 11 February 2018, Hong Kong SAR, China. Photo by : Ike Li / Ike Images

Besides Afghanistan’s Shpageeza league, which was primarily an inter-country tournament until the last two years, we were the first AM to have a successful franchise league with so many international stars – and now, the Hong Kong T20 Blitz is very much on the radar of World T20 Leagues.

What were some of the most tricky challenges to face when you were at the helm of Cricket Hong Kong in terms of staging a tournament like the Blitz??

The first year – with only seven weeks to organise everything, really it was everything! When we put the four franchises up for sale – we didn’t know if anyone would buy any! So when we were able to sell all four we were over the moon. And then to secure the services of Michael Clarke in partnership with “nine dragons” owned Kowloon Cantons – i.e. the team started by nine Hong Kong Ladies and one very brave man – it really set us along the development path quicker than we’d probably ever dreamt of.

Michael Clarke with Sandeep Lamichhane during 2016 HK T20 Blitz – Image by Tim Cutler

Hong Kong now has two International Cricket tournaments in a calendar year, the revamped Sixes and the Blitz. However, crowd turnouts haven’t been up to the mark. Any possible ways to attract more people to come to the ground to watch the game??

Yes, this is one the biggest challenges for the organisers in the short term. For most major events, tickets sales –  whilst still important to the bottom line – is not as high of a priority as getting a full house for the broadcast’s appeal. That is to say, the major income streams will generally come from the broadcast sale and related commercial deals, rather than ticket sales. With the Sixes and Blitz – both in their nascent (or reloaded) stages – without major income from their broadcast (yet), the ticket sales are critical to the bottom line.

Crowd watching HK T20 Blitz Final // Hung Hom JD Jaguars vs Galaxy Gladiators Lantau during Match day 6 final of Hong Kong T20 Blitz 2018 at Tin Kwong Road Recreation Ground, Kowloon,, Hong Kong, on 11 February 2018, Hong Kong SAR, China. Photo by : Ike Li / Ike Images

We saw the weekend ticket prices for the Blitz rise 75% from HK$200 (approx. US$25) to HK$350 (approx. US$45) for the general admission (i.e. grandstand) entry. On the face of it, this is not a high number compared to the only other comparable event in terms of international exposure – the famous Hong Kong Sevens. This year, HK$350 will only get you into the Friday. Saturday & Sunday tickets, i.e. the bigger days are HK$800 (approx.. US$102). We must however remember that the majority of the faces in the crowd for the Blitz GA are of a subcontinental background (despite majority being HK residents!) where the Sevens is historically an event that attracts crowds with a very high proportion of British/Irish/Australian/American/Canadian etc. background; a demographic whom statistically have a higher disposable income to spend on such events.

Crowd watches at Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens – Image by HK Sevens // www.hksevens.com

There is a very delicate balance being able to make tickets affordable for the HK Cricket Community and making the event commercially viable – not an enviable challenge!

On reflection, I think the organising committee for the Blitz may regret not investing a little more for the marketing of the event – especially on Facebook, which would be the most popular network used across its target demographics. Speaking with similarly thirty-something professionals, there was a distinct lack of awareness of the event (besides those who had heard me go on about it!) and whilst this is only my perspective, the number of times I heard similar stories, showed to me that CHK could’ve invested more in this respect. That being said – HK is a very tough market to get to your audience/s. Local TV isn’t necessarily consumed by many non-Chinese people and there is really only one major English radio station that is generally only enjoyed by older more long-term residents. It really is new digital channels and word of mouth / outdoor advertising that seem to get the most bang-for-buck.

2018 Natixis Cup – Image by Hong Kong Rugby Union // www.hkrugby.com

To put it in perspective, advertising for HK Rugby’s Natixis Cup (Racing 92 v The Sharks) that was on during the weekend prior to the Blitz never seemed to disappear from my FB feed. It is not fair to compare cricket and rugby side by side though – HK Rugby is the second richest union in the world behind England’s RFU on the back of the windfall from the Sevens over the years, but I would interested to know how much was spent on their digital campaign compared to the Blitz’s.

The Sixes is probably a better comparison to the Sevens being only over a weekend – and whilst I think there is room for both cricket event from a commercial model point of view, I think the fact HK Rugby still struggles to find a second event (besides the Sevens) that brings any profit is instructive for CHK as they review their 2017/18 events. 

From a personal perspective I still believe Sixes – or another ultra-short format – has a place in providing “pop-up” events around the world to build awareness of the sport – similar to what sevens did for rugby. I have always envisaged a version that can be played in a football stadium with a drop-in wicket run as a weekend event. Designed to be an entertainment destination – as a great way to grow the game in emerging cricket markets. Nothing should ever be done in a vacuum of course and needs effective activation and community engagement before AND after the event.

The issue with the majority of current “pop-up” events that they are generally run only FOR profit, be they T10 or T20, and rarely have any legacy programmes around them.

The 2017 & 2018 editions of Blitz saw many domestic players perform on par with the overseas stars. How important will it be for Hong Kong Cricket to improve the infrastructure and competitiveness of the domestic structure to pave way for more players like Arif and Arshad??

Cricketing infrastructure is CHK’s biggest challenge by far. One only has to look at Tin Kwong Road to see this. There are only three grass-wicket grounds in HK and TKR is the largest field! Despite cricket being Hong Kong’s most successful major team sport, unfortunately this has not equated to the provision of facilities that sports such as football or basketball receive. One must also weigh up the local interest in both those sports – however, it is not fair to really compare them as cricket has been the poor cousin in facilities for a long time. If it had the same number (or event land area) or facilities as football – and the funding from government and entities like the HK Jockey Club – it would be very interesting to see the interest level.

Arshad celebrates one of his wickets // Galaxy Gladiators Lantau vs Hung Hom JD Jaguars during Match day 4 of Hong Kong T20 Blitz 2018 at Tin Kwong Road Recreation Ground, Kowloon,, Hong Kong, on 9 February 2018, Hong Kong SAR, China. Photo by : Ike Li / Ike Images

It has been very satisfying to see Hong Kong players perform in all three Blitzes. Last year Babar Hayat won player of the final and Nizakat Khan score one of only two centuries. This year Haroon Arshad announced himself to the cricketing world, and we saw great performances from Babar again, and from bowlers Kyle Christie, Imran Arif and Daniel Pascoe in particular.

Arif in his delivery follow through // Galaxy Gladiators Lantau vs Hung Hom JD Jaguars during Match day 4 of Hong Kong T20 Blitz 2018 at Tin Kwong Road Recreation Ground, Kowloon,, Hong Kong, on 9 February 2018, Hong Kong SAR, China. Photo by : Ike Li / Ike Images

When the Blitz started – it was very much designed to be a high performance event / stepping stone for both current and emerging HK talent. Last year we saw a few articles that lamented a lack of depth in HK cricket – I disagree with this. If the sentiments of these pieces had been heeded and – for example – the overseas player number in each starting eleven was increased, I don’t think the likes of Arshad, Pascoe or maybe even Kyle Christie would have got the number of opportunities they received this year. As time goes on – the number of overseas v local players will definitely be something that comes into commercial conversations, but I hope CHK (and broadcasters/partners) remember how important the event is to continue developing Hong Kong’s cricketers.

Kyle Christie & Nizakat Khan celebrate a wicket // Hung Hom JD Jaguars vs HKI United during Match day 5 of Hong Kong T20 Blitz 2018 at Tin Kwong Road Recreation Ground, Kowloon,, Hong Kong, on 10 February 2018, Hong Kong SAR, China. Photo by : Ike Li / Ike Images

Hong Kong Cricket started a trend by live streaming their WCLC matches which generated big viewership on YouTube and Facebook channels. With Sunset+Vine involvement and the list of broadcasters for 2018 Blitz, will it pave the way for more TV time for future HK matches from Production/Broadcasting companies (Internationals including bi-lateral or WCLC)??

This was a major pillar of the CHK strategic plan – around celebrating our heroes and doing the best job possible to develop properties (Blitz/Sixes/WCLC etc.) that can be offered to commercial partners, whilst building a pride in Hong Kong’s cricketing achievements.

Besides Cricket Ireland – on the back of increased TAPP ICC funding – I think we were the first to commit to streaming all of our home limited over international fixtures. ICC supported some of the costs too and this was very much appreciated.

I believe it has now set a standard that other AMs are trying to follow best they can, we received plaudits from the ICC, other nations and various media agencies for our innovation in being able to broadcast matches with such a tight budget.

Sunset+Vine crew enjoying Nizakat Khan’s innings in 2018 HK T20 Blitz Final – Image by Tim Cutler

At this stage, unless we are talking about FM fixtures and/or ICC subsidies – I think full TV time will be limited to Sixes and Blitz type events though. After the success of the World T20 qualifiers in 2015, and the announcement that the World Cup Qualifiers were to be a heavily televised, bumper event we were all excited. However it would appear due to budget cuts, we are only going to see ten matches televised – with only one guaranteed match with an AM – and I think all fans of emerging cricket are very disappointed they won’t get a chance to see more.

The Blitz franchises do a wonderful job before the start and during the tournament. How much work are they putting in throughout the rest of the year to grow the Blitz culture??

As part of  their licence agreements, the franchises have a minimum number of hours of community development in their areas to complete. As far as I am aware, all franchises have gone above and beyond this requirement, running tournaments, events and school programmes. Ultimately – beyond the value to CHK in the Blitz itself – this is where the real benefit of the Blitz is, as these are programmes and promotion that CHK would not have been able to do otherwise, or at least, they are able to focus elsewhere.

Not many mainstream cricket fans would know that the owners of Islamabad United (and HKI United) have live in Hong Kong – nor that the (postponed) T20 Global League franchise Bloem City Blazers’ parent company, City Sports Group, was initially set up to own and run City Kaitak. There is a lot of cross promotion there – and I can imagine even more to come as the owners look to renew their licences for the fourth iteration of the Blitz as its audience and value continues to grow.

Hong Kong Island United Squad with Amna & Ali Naqvi // Cocktails reception of Hong Kong T20 Blitz 2018 at Spiga Restaurant Terrace, LHT Tower, Central,, Hong Kong, on 5 February 2018, Hong Kong SAR, China. Photo by : Ike Li / Ike Images
City Kaitak Squad with City Sports Group management // Cocktails reception of Hong Kong T20 Blitz 2018 at Spiga Restaurant Terrace, LHT Tower, Central,, Hong Kong, on 5 February 2018, Hong Kong SAR, China. Photo by : Ike Li / Ike Images

Should Hong Kong players look for more opportunities to play in T20 leagues in countries like USA, Nepal, Singapore, Afghanistan’s T20 League in UAE or others since the opportunity is very limited in the bigger T20 leagues??

This goes without saying – absolutely. The talent on show from players such as Nizakat, Anshuman, Babar, and Nadeem is right up there and could fit in to most international T20 leagues. With 2018/19 being a “fallow” year for the WCLC/ICup leading into the World Cup, there is a great opportunity for HK players to ply their wares – especially in leagues like the CPL, BPL and the new APL T20.

Moreover, there is great opportunity with events in countries like Nepal and Malaysia to create / build on their own T20 tournaments. The Everest Premier League was precluded from accessing too many overseas players in late 2017 as a result of very late approval from ICC, but I see great potential in this tournament alongside the Dhangadhi Premier League T20, its second iteration to get underway after the world cup qualifiers.

Biratnagar Warriors with Everest Premier League Title – Image by Everest Premier League @eplt20official

There is also potential for some of these leagues to work together – there is only so much money out there for emerging leagues, so I can see chances there for tournaments different countries to explore cross- marketing / merger /champions trophy scenarios to maximise their impact – both from a commercial and cricket development viewpoint.

What does the growth curve look like for CHK Dragons and what are some of the steps Hong Kong Cricket are planning in the near future for them??

The Dragons are a very important programme for CHK. From a ladies’ perspective, it is heartening to see that approximately half of those playing – and in the national squad – are Hong Kong Chinese. While there have been some talented male cricketers of Chinese decent over the years – and now that half-Chinese Mark Chapman plays for New Zealand – there is still a lot of work to be done bringing the male talent from the majority population up to speed in an effort to grow the game throughout the entire Hong Kong community.

I must point out that the majority of the Hong Kong men’s teams are Hong Kong born and/or developed – there are over a hundred thousand people in Hong Kong with backgrounds from ‘major’ cricketing nations, so it is inevitable that the cricket community is made up of many of these who – or their families before them – make Hong Kong their home. However, for any sport to be truly accepted in HK, it really needs to develop across the entire population. We’ve seen the developing talent of Li Kai-ming – and I really hope one day soon his gets to the stage where he breaks into the men’s team on a regular basis.

CHK Dragons player Li Kai-Ming in action // Galaxy Gladiators Lantau vs City Kaitak during Match day 5 of Hong Kong T20 Blitz 2018 at Tin Kwong Road Recreation Ground, Kowloon,, Hong Kong, on 10 February 2018, Hong Kong SAR, China. Photo by : Ike Li / Ike Images

With Hong Kong’s partnership in the “One Belt One Road” initiative, I do not that the HK (or mainland) government has recognised the power of cricket that could be a “super connector” with economies along the South Asian “belt” – where cricket is the number one sport (or very close) in all but one nation.

Belt and Road Initiative by Hong Kong Government – Image by HK Government // www.beltandroad.gov.hk

You have got quite few feathers in your cap already. What does the future hold for Tim Cutler now that you have also covered the blitz from a reporting side??

Well, that is the 64 thousand dollar question isn’t it?! I have been consulting for the last year or so on a few projects around the world – including covering the Blitz for Czarsportz. I really enjoyed the challenge that presented – having to balances priorities for real-time coverage, to reporting, to content-gathering for future pieces. With zero training or experience besides  my marketing / writing in the corporate world and for Cricket Hong Kong hopefully I was able to add value to the event for those who read my musings!

Kyle accepts his RobTheRich Snap Back Player of the Match along with Anshy Rath, also collecting his RTR goody – Image by Tim Cutler

Beyond this however, there are a few different opportunities being explored at the moment – hopefully they’ll be news to report soon!

Finally, will we ever see a Tim Cutler team/franchise in the Blitz?? if so, which possible region in Hong Kong will it be named after??

Ha! I’d love to be able to afford one – total values invested by each franchise annually are guesstimated between HK$1-2m (US$128,000-256,000) so not any time soon unless I win the lottery! 

However, let’s say I was able to start/run a franchise I would definitely explore the New Territories (northern HK). The next potential venue (and home of international cricket) is in Ma On Shan – in the Sha Tin area. There are beautiful water ways and spectacular views across Tolo Harbour and Pat Sin Leung from that location – so without any hesitation (and my love for a certain rugby league team from where I grew up) I give you, the “Sha Tin Sharks” with colours of Black White & Blue!

Whitehead Barbeque in Ma On Shan – Image by VenueHub HK // www.venuehub.hk
Cronulla Sharks Rugby Club – Image by sharks.com.au // Cronulla Sharks

In all honesty though, I think that as long as the Blitz is less than a week long – and only in HK – and unless the sixth team meant a split into two pools of three I think five is enough for now. However, you never know what the owners of franchises are thinking – some may change hands which present opportunities for relocations etc.!

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