The Guinness Street Football Challenge, now in its second year, is a growing commodity.
This was the view expressed by Melicia Wilson, marketing manager for Guinness Trinidad, at Thursday's press conference at the VIP Lounge, Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
"A lot of new teams came out to participate this year and the only defending zonal finalist is Foundation from the Central Zone," said Wilson.
"The level of talent that we saw this year far surpassed that of last year, making the competition a lot more demanding. As such, we decided that we would expand the finals to include eight teams rather than the six we did last year."
Wilson added that the competition, now bigger and better, is seeking to identify and honour the greatest community team from across the Caribbean.
Guinness Street Challenge ambassador and Trinidad and Tobago captain Kenwyne Jones echoed Wilson's sentiments, adding that it was all about love and reigniting the community spirit.
"People are going to say this is just a branding thing for Guinness. Of course it's going to be a branding thing for Guinness, but on the human side of that it was basically to invigorate communities again into that community-like spirit," said Jones.
"It has gone away from the communities and Guinness decided to reintroduce it. They started it in Africa, where they had the competitions going, and they decided to bring it to the Caribbean because the Caribbean is a big market for Guinness."
Jones said the objective was to bring the people back out, not only in Trinidad but up the islands as well, and to encourage them to bring back that community life spirit.
"It's not the same as it used to be and Guinness just decided to do something different to invoke that love again."
The Stoke City striker said although no decision has been taken yet, he believes that in the future the potential is there to merge the Caribbean leg of the tournament with that of Africa, which could lead to the best of the Caribbean region squaring off against Africa's best.
He added that the Guinness Street Challenge can become very big, but he does not see it becoming a rival competition to the T&T Pro League.
"It's a different format. It's not really for professionals, and it's a community-based thing, so even if it gets bigger than the Pro League it's still non-professional.
"The aim is actually for communities and the spirit behind it is not for it to become a national league or anything like that."
He said if Guinness had it in mind to make it a national league in the future then that decision will be up to them, but for now the message is the rekindling of community spirit.
Jones will be at today's national final at the Jean Pierre Complex, where he will feature in the prize giving ceremony.
Meanwhile, when the eight teams contesting the national finals of the 2012 Guinness Street Football Challenge square off this afternoon at the Jean Pierre Complex in Port of Spain, the hunt will be on for new champions.
Reigning national champ Untouchable were ousted at the semi-final stage of the East Zone, paving the way for new winners to be crowned.
At Thursday's closing press conference at the VIP Lounge of the Hasely Crawford Stadium, national captain and Stoke City striker Kenwyne Jones told members of the eight finalists that the opportunity before them goes beyond bragging to the people down the street as they can aspire to become regional champions as well.
"It's almost like a mini European Championship or World Cup," said Jones. "Apart from the prize that we have for winning in Trinidad (and Tobago), I think it's a big motivation for you all to go hard and play at your best to bring home the prize because at the end of the day it's an entire football pitch."
Jones, who is serving as an ambassador for the annual tournament, was referring to the fact that the national champions earn the right to contest the regional final in Guyana on June 23 against five other Caribbean teams, where the winners get a multi-purpose five-a-side football court constructed in their community.
"It is a landmark and you can put your name to it in the history books or the Guinness Book of World Records for an achievement like this.
"I hope that you will play fair, play hard and represent yourselves, your families, your communities, and then on to Trinidad and Tobago to the best of your ability," said Jones.
The six zonal winners—Drifterz Answer Back (Tobago), Junior Mafia (East), Skillz That Killz (South), Foundation (Central), Merger (North East) and Touches (North West)—will be joined by Whim of Tobago and Mash Dem Down (North West), who were adjudged to be the two best zonal runners-up.
Head official Inskip Carrington also shared some advice with today's participants.
"Do not let the money side track you from the global standard for discipline and fair play. Sometimes footballers forget that football is a game.
"It's a competition, some team will win, some team will lose at the end of the day. But what remains with us is the legacy you leave on the football field. We expect you to conduct yourselves, both your supporters and team members, fairly and properly at all times," said Carrington.
Teams will be competing for a total cash prize of $45,000 along with trophies and medals. The winners take home $30,000, runners-up get $10,000, with $5,000 going to the third-place finishers.
All teams were outfitted with playing kits by Guinness and will compete in two groups, with Drifterz Answer Back, Touches, Junior Mafia and Foundation in Group A, while Group B features Whim, Mash Dem Down, Merger and Skillz That Killz.
Action gets underway at 5 p.m. today and fans will be treated to live entertainment from Marlon Asher and Prophet Benjamin, while some lucky patrons will have an opportunity to win fantastic prizes by going up against Kenwyne Jones in a penalty shootout.
Admission to the public is free.