January 23, 2007

USA

Stillborn in the USA

Martin Williamson

Contrary to reports at the weekend, it is highly unlikely that a planned one-day series between India and Australia in North America will be able to include matches in the USA. At present, there are no venues in the country approved by the ICC to host a one-day international. In fact, there are none even close to being recognised.

While Canada might conceivably host a few games at the quaintly named Cricket, Skating and Curling Club, the failure of Project USA - which was intended to develop the US market - has set the game back in the continent at least until 2008.

A new deal between the largely dysfunctional USA Cricket Association, whose utter inability to run the game led to its suspension by the ICC, and a marketing company called Centrex should give cricket in the USA a commercial stability hitherto absent. But it won't happen in time for this series.

To many - mainly the marketing men who so dominate the way cricket is run - the USA remains the untapped Holy Grail. Crack that, so the thinking goes, and the rewards are almost unlimited. Millions of dollars of income - up to $6 million per game for up to seven matches - was touted as a likely reward for the venture. Up to 10 million first-generation Asians make for a lucrative market, even if the average American doesn't care one jot for the game.

There are three main centres in the USA - New York , Florida and California. The speculation over the Australia-India series centred on New York, but there is not a venue there that could host a match. There was talk that an NFL stadium might be used, but that shows the lack of credibility of the reports. The major NFL stadiums are astroturf, and even if the organisers laid an artificial wicket, such a surface would not be approved for an ODI. There is one other minor detail. NFL pitches are far too narrow.

That leaves baseball grounds, and only one - the Mets' Shea Stadium - could conceivably be used. However, the cricket season in New York runs slap bang in the middle of the baseball season, so that's not an option. And drop-in-pitches are not a short-term solution as there are strict rules about transportation of soil and grass across state lines. The raw materials available in New York are just not good enough.

With that in mind, California has been earmarked as the ideal centre for the game, with the right climate and good soil. In the short-term, the venue at Burbank is the nearest to being ready. There are two grounds in Florida - at Fort Lauderdale and Broward County - but neither has pitches nearly good enough for international matches. The grass pitches they have crumble too easily. One expert told Cricinfo that soil with the right amount of clay needed to be imported, probably from Georgia, and that meant a mountain of red tape to be overcome before the project could even start.

When Andy Atkinson, the ICC's pitches guru, was consulted by the bosses of Project USA, he estimated that with the right soil and the will, a pitch could be laid and ready in around eight or nine months. Australia and India's commitments mean that the only spare dates for a North American series is June, and there is no way on earth that any grounds in the USA could be ready by then. As the flamboyant boxing promoter Don King loves to say: "it's got two chances ... slim and none, and slim just left town."

That leaves the one ICC-approved venue in Toronto, which hosted several one-day series in the late 1990s. It offers a foothold on North American soil, but a long series there would have limited appeal, and it's the USA not Canada that whets the two boards' appetites. In terms of TV coverage, they might as well play in some more established neutral centres such as Kuala Lumpur or Sharjah.

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Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

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Posted by Graham on (January 31, 2007, 19:08 GMT)

Martin Williamson is right to question the credibility of earlier reports. Like the one on January 21 by Cricinfo staff, for example, which said that "It's believed an indoor NFL stadium in New York would host the games". A bit unlikely, seeing as there isn't an indoor NFL stadium in New York, or even anywhere within hundreds of miles of it.

Posted by Triple S on (January 25, 2007, 7:45 GMT)

Cricket ODI between Australia and India is a lot of fun and entertainment would I would definitely not like this tournament to be played outside India or Australia. USA would be a very very very very bad choice...

Posted by Ron Burgundy on (January 25, 2007, 5:08 GMT)

I honestly don't think there's enough interest over in the US to make a serious attempt at winning them over yet. As ja ja boy said, keep at it with Canada, and maybe they'll get interest up in North America. Otherwise, there's just too much education to do - no offense, but most Yanks don't possess the attention span necessary to be cricket fans.

Posted by ja ja boy on (January 24, 2007, 18:45 GMT)

Why waste time trying to attract an audience in the US when the cricket is making progress in Canada. They qualified for the last two World Cups and their level of play has improved over the last few years. If your going to target North America, Canada should be looked at first and if it draws attention there, then the us will start to show some interest.

Posted by Nic on (January 24, 2007, 15:26 GMT)

Playing on the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club ground is great and there are several options to look at in getting more of a US audience. The Caribana Festival is huge in Toronto and has 1000's of West Indian Americans crossing the border to attend. Time a tri series between India Australia and the West Indies and you have a sure bet. It would also give the television audience a chance to see the game. There is no great magical wand that will make cricket huge in Nth America and hoping for all the immigrants to keep the game alive is losing battle. Give the TV rights away for the first few years. Get it on the major networks, even a 30 highlight reel. At the moment the only cricket I see on TV is a snippet of scores at about 1am once a week that is mixed in with every other non Nth American sport. Give the supporters of cricket the opportunity to show their Nth American friends what the sport is about and you have a chance of growing the audience.

Posted by Sandeep Patel on (January 24, 2007, 14:39 GMT)

I believe that Texas with Houston and Dallas as two large cricket loving population centers can be a good alternative to problems faced by NY and Florida markets. Astrodome, the former baseball stadium is empty and can be converted to a cricket venue. Astrodome has hosted international double wicket tournaments and can be a legitimate place to launch ICC's ambitious program. The site will jump start the program and buy time for NY and Florida to get ready.

Posted by David Magness on (January 24, 2007, 6:28 GMT)

I, actually, am one of those few Americans, by birth and heritage, that enjoys cricket! I live in the right area for future cricket, Ft Lauderdale, Florida - but as it seems, there will be no professional cricket here for a while to come. Why not the stadium where Florida Atlantic plays? I believe it is real grass and wide enough once you take away the on field benches and goalposts...

Posted by gary on (January 24, 2007, 2:37 GMT)

What is happening with the 7 match series proposed between India & Australia in October 2007. Is this still going ahead? If so when will the venues, dates, etc etc be anounced? cheers

Posted by Prashant on (January 24, 2007, 1:07 GMT)

I feel targetting USA for cricket matces is not a good idea at all as most of US common man not even know about this game. If you target SUB CONTINENT and some caribbian folks 1 or 2 match here and there will fetch rewards, but series with 7 matches no way people can go watch 9 hours on daily basis. As Nadish suggested ICC should target Twenty 20's in US

Posted by Jeremy on (January 24, 2007, 0:47 GMT)

The yanks can't even get a side and a venue together, and we're already pulling out stops and thinking of changing things to better suit them? They are not a cricket nation, and I hope they never will be. Nice people, great country, but not the sort of people you want to invite into a game with old traditions and standards that the rest of us dont want to see given up in the name of commercialism. Yes the US has money. Lots of it. They are also highly competitive, and always want to win. How long before trading players between nations is on the cards? Oh no, never happen you say ... but what if?

Watch a baseball player get hit by the pitcher and see the brawl that ensues. Will they be able to handle a Lee or Flintoff ball?

I'm not saying they are a bad people. Just ... perhaps not suited to this game of patience and fine skill. And do we really want to be paying our players each 500,000 a game? suddenly it becomes a ridiculous amount of money involved and our perhaps quaint, sometimes backwards way of doing things in cricket is swept aside by the people who have the cheque book. No thankyou.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Martin Williamson
Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.

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