Harsha Bhogle: Welcome to Time Out. We are looking at cricket in the United States today, and we're delighted to have Don Lockerbie, who is the CEO of USACA, talking to us about the trials and tribulations, and all the joys and frustrations, of taking cricket over there. I am also going to talk to Jamie Alter on the show, who is probably known to a lot of people as a byline on Cricinfo. Then we will get Haroon Lorgat, CEO of the ICC, on why the United States is such a hot destination for cricket, and finally the numbers game with S Rajesh.
HB: Don, first international cricket in the US - Sri Lanka playing New Zealand in a couple of Twenty20 internationals. Is that the start of something big?
Don Lockerbie: Absolutely. We have been working on our Destination USA programme since I took on the role of CEO of US cricket in April 2009. We have been very diligent about the entire concept of bringing in the best players and best teams in the world to the United States so that we can showcase cricket at the highest level and start to ignite what we think will be a big movement of cricket here.
HB: We have seen the US national team play in tournaments before, but do you look at the US as a playing destination or as a staging destination: that the teams will come there and play, not as much as homegrown players trying to make big on the world stage?
DL: No, it's both. We have three major initiatives that we have been working on. Destination USA is the first one, the one that will help us tell a compelling story about US cricket to the rest of the world. With 15 million hungry cricket fans residing in the United States and about another five million in Canada, and about two-three million in the West Indies, we are surrounded by nearly 20 million cricket fans, and we believe that that market wants to see the best players in the world play. That is our Destination USA programme.
We also have a programme called Project 15. It's an attempt to get the United States into the 2015 World Cup, and to do that we certainly have to be in the top 15 or better in the world.
And that means we have to win matches, we've got to improve, we've got to develop players, we've got to have training programmes, we've got to have national programmes. That is our second initiative.
The third initiative is "American Cricket", and that's an attempt to get our cricket into schools. To develop our youth programme, to introduce the sport to very good athletes who might not have been growing up with cricket in their home. For sports like baseball and softball for women, in the United States people get scholarships and try to become pro, and there are plenty who are not going to make it to professional and collegiate level. We believe that there are tens and thousands of very qualified athletes who can learn the game and would love to be professional cricketers one day.
HB: Twenty million is a lot of people, and I guess a lot of them eat curry and have accents like mine.
DL: Well, they do, but there is no question that it's only seven or eight percent of the population. We have got a lot more people we can introduce the game to. We are certainly thrilled with the fact that over the last few decades Commonwealth countries residents have moved to the United States, they have brought their culture, they have brought their heritage, and one of those pieces of the pie would be their love for cricket. And they have certainly kept it growing with their American-born children. At the same time we are finding that the growth of the game is creating a new wave of interest. We have over 1000 cricket clubs in the United States, we have 30,000 active members of USA cricket, and we estimate that there are 200,000 players recreationally on a given weekend in the United States. So it's growing, and right now we are more of an underground sport. We are working to get us at the grassroots and then someday in the mainstream.
HB: We mustn't let our friends in Australia and New Zealand hear those numbers, because when you say 20 million people following cricket, that's more than the two of them together can rustle up.
DL: Well, the US is a large country, and that also makes it difficult for us. For a lot of the things that the ICC expects us to do for the sport, it means that we need much more in the way of resources. There are some countries who can visit all their cricket fields before noon in a day. Perhaps, like India, it takes us several weeks or months [laughs].
HB: I know. Jamie studied in the US, and knows the pressures of trying to play cricket in the US. There are three things that Don talked about; the third of those was getting in the schools. Jamie, you see that as the biggest challenge?
Jamie Alter: I think that's the major challenge, the game there is still sort of seen as an elitist sport by the Americans. I am speaking from my own personal experience, when I was there in college and working there as well. It's played largely by the expats, so the biggest challenge is: how do you get it into the American schools and into that American demographic.
HB: Is it a bit like Netherland (the book by Joseph O'Neill), where you have to scramble around for whatever space you get and play? Was it like that when you were playing at college?
JA: I read the book a few years ago, and it was exactly how it was for us. You basically have to wait till someone is done with their Ultimate Frisbee game or their lacrosse game, or in somebody else's baseball lot. So again, space obviously is a problem, because it's a game which is foreign to the Americans. So it will be a big challenge to find grounds that are open for everyone to play in.
HB: Don, do you see the arrival of playing leagues in the USA, a bit like what football did in the 70s? You have the Peles and Cruyffs coming and playing in the US. Do you see people coming up and maybe playing cricket for the professional teams in the US?
DL: No question. In fact, we are well underway in a planning situation wherein we are working towards professionalisation of cricket in the United States to begin with. We are very diligent right now and working towards equalising what some of the other Associate nations like Ireland, Scotland, Holland and Canada have been able to do recently; beginning to put some of their players on professional retainers, and some of these players are now travelling and playing all over the world and getting IPL opportunities. We need to do that in the United States, and along with that will come a professional league.
I have spent a lot of years in American soccer. There is history there, and the strategies that were employed. When you actually think about it, our Destination USA programme and our Project 15 programme are not that original, when you look at what US soccer has done.
Yes, in the 1970s, the North American soccer league was Pele and Beckenbauer and other prominent players. It was a wonderful opportunity but it died. In 1994 the soccer World Cup took place, and it generated great interest in the sport and it was followed by Major League Soccer, which started in 1996. We are looking to do that too. We would love for the ICC to look at the United States in the future for some ICC events.
We are looking to bring in the best teams in the world. I will give you an another example - 14 years after Major League Soccer started in the United States, they are averaging 14,000, 17,000, 18,000 people to a match, which isn't too bad.
HB: I think we should get more with cricket. I mean, with all those Indians starved of cricket there…
DL: My point is that that's what they average on a night, on a daily night in their league. But when Barcelona comes to play Manchester United in Philadelphia they have 90,000. Why is that? When Mexico plays the United States, they can get 100,000 at the Rose Bowl. So the point is that soccer has a good history now of being positive, the US team is at the World Cup starting in less than two weeks.
So it's all moving in the right direction. So by bringing in Destination USA, events, and what we think was a successful Sri Lanka-New Zealand series, we start that way. And then also work towards a professional league and professionalising our players with national coaching programmes… these are the kind of things that will work.
One more thing that I would like to say is that the city of New York in their public school leagues, even going back to the book Netherland, now has 28 schools playing varsity high-school cricket with over a million-dollar-a-year budget. And that's our success story right now. Twenty-eight schools have made it a varsity sport, as opposed to 22 a year ago.
HB: It's good to hear. I thought US cricket lost out a great deal in the early days because they couldn't figure out whether it was to be called cricket association, cricket board or federation; and they did what lot of us do - they started fighting first.
But Jamie, when you were there did you have to explain to the Americans just what this game is? Why does the ball hit the ground? Why doesn't it curve in the air? Why don't they play with one mitt on?
JA: Honestly Harsha, I probably spent more time trying to give answers to the guys on the field, when I wasn't batting or when my team was batting, because they just couldn't get it.
I remember there were two guys who were playing varsity baseball, I knew them. So I got them to practise with us. They had their fielding down pat. They had all of us looking like fools in the fielding department. Obviously, they couldn't get the bowling down at all. The batting, as soon as you bowled them a full toss, the ball was in the next state. But obviously when you pitched the ball down on a length, they had problems there. I don't know how much that has changed since I was there five years ago.
HB: Good question to ask, Don. Do you still have to dig at puzzled looks when you see these guys in whites banging the ball down on the turf?
DL: I think the fact of the matter is that it is a curiosity to a lot of people, and yet now we have about 500 cricket grounds in the United States. Some on them may just be an artificial strip somewhere in a public park. But we have counted over 500, and that's an average of 10 per state. Certainly a lot of states like New York, California, Florida will have a lot more than the average. The fact is that people are seeing the game being played, and surely what we need to do is that we need to make sure that the cricketers are doing what Jamie was doing, and that's inviting their American friends to come play, try it out and see if they can learn the game. And not to worry about the heritage fiefdom that we have, or groups who basically close the door on anybody else and just play with friends and colleagues and families. I think that is the secret.
So my job is to really continue the exposure, and for me the exposure is going to be to get it into the schools, create youth academies, which are also happening, popping out all over the United States. We have a group out of the Atlanta area, which is already working with, reportedly, 10,000 kids in Atlanta schools and teaching it almost as a public physical-education curriculum. Then kids who are interested go the academies, if they find the sport interesting.
|Twenty20 is the perfect storm for us. Five or 10 years ago, there was no Twenty20 game, we did not have a national stadium, which we now do here in South Florida. We are better organised, and there is growing interest. Even in the last five-six years, the amount of immigrants moving to the United States, who are cricket-crazy, has just doubled and tripled. So we are ready to go with that perfect storm, the Twenty20 game Don Lockerbie, CEO of USACA|
JA: Don, when you are talking about the last step, what format are you primarily talking about? Is it the Twenty20 format?
DL: First of all, the ICC is going to put the United States in the position where we have to play every format. Of course we play Twenty20 and one-day. Our team in currently in Bermuda. In fact, we play Bermuda today. We lost to Canada two days ago and we beat Argentina three days ago. We are in the midst of the ICC World Cricket League, Americas division. That's a one-day tournament. Now if we move up into the top five or six of the Associate world, then we can qualify for the Intercontinental Cup. That's three- and four-day cricket. So we as a programme, on the professional side, need to be ready for everything.
HB: Does it make sense to ask people to play four-day or five-day cricket? You think that the messiah, the missionary here, will be the 20-over game?
DL: Well, it is. That's the perfect storm for us. Right now, when everybody talks about what happened to American cricket five or ten years ago, there was no Twenty20 game, we did not have a national stadium, which we now do here in South Florida. We are better organised, and there is growing interest. Even in the last five-six years, the amount of immigrants moving to the United States who are cricket-crazy, has just doubled and tripled. So we are ready to go with that perfect storm, the Twenty20 game.
In the right city, with the right demographics, with the right two teams playing, I don't see why four or five-day cricket is any different than Phil Mickelson teeing off on Thursday and winning a golf tournament.
HB: On Sunday evening…
DL: And sometimes he doesn't win till Monday, and you've had 60,000 people walking that golf course. Now if India plays almost anybody in a Test match, say in New York, we will have 40,000-50,000 people there.
HB: So do you see the future being, say, an India-Australia, or an India-South Africa, or do you see Mumbai Indians against Kolkata Knight Riders.
DL: Oh, I will take any of them. We are not picky. I will take any of them!
HB: We won't tell the ICC what you said, Don. Whether it will be Mumbai Indians or Kolkata Knight Riders. Because I can tell you that if you get all the Mumbai guys and get all the Kolkata supporters then you will need to find a stadium big enough.
DL: I will just say that we are open for business, and my phone is easy to find and my email is easy to find.
HB: The other question that probably worries a few people from the subcontinent, and that to my mind could be a stumbling block to take a lot of cricket from the subcontinent to the US: the immigration laws, and getting visas. Will little things like that just worry people or is that not an issue?
DL: We did not have any trouble in getting anybody from Sri Lanka into the United States to play last weekend. It was fairly easy.
HB: That's brilliant.
DL: I think the fact is that we are dealing with professional sports, professional athletes. The United States holds World Cups, Olympic games and world championships every year, and working properly with organisations like the US Olympic committee, which we are joining... The government representation wants to see entertainment through sport at the highest level, enjoyed and played. So I don't see any difficulty in getting the top teams from the world to the United States.
HB: Who is competition for you, Don? Are places like Abu Dhabi, Dubai competition for you, or do you think that you've got a more compelling package?
DL: Well, I think there is one thing that nobody else seems to have and that is our weather. We can play 24x7, and 365 days in the United States in perfect weather. We just have to have the facilities. So the competition right now is the infrastructure and not any other country.
HB: So we don't have to worry about the snowstorms and the blizzards then, which are completely new to people like us, Don. I have never seen snow in my life and I am petrified of the snow.
DL: I don't think we will play cricket anywhere it's snowing on that day. In South Florida, August-September is little dodgy because there is an occasional hurricane that can could come by, but that leaves 10 months of the year in South Florida. In California we can play 12 months a year. In New York, we can play from May to October. So when you think about it, with the English summer being, essentially, the northern hemisphere country to play in, and maybe only one, two or three countries a year get to play in England, we are the next option.
HB: And given that in England you hardly get more than two weeks in the year where the weather is good... Yes, Jamie
JA: Don, how long do you think it will be until you see more Americans making it into the big leagues in the United States?
DL: That's a process, and that's why I said that our third initiative is what we call, American Cricket. Frankly, we are a country of immigrants, and it's hard to say who is an American. If you are talking about someone whose family came down on the Mayflower in the 1600s… I am a son of immigrants. I am a Scottish American, born in the United States, and I am very much seen as an American.
The key thing is that we don't really label, we just want people to come in and be part of our programme. Yes, as I said, we have a shortcut that nobody else has. Our shortcut is college baseball and college football.
I will take you through the statistics. On an average year in the United States, there are somewhere between 6000 and 9000 college baseball players, who all have scholarships to go to university. They are in the gym every day, they are running every day, they are in their batting cages every day, they play 50 or 60 baseball games in a year, and then they graduate. And only 5% percent of them are going to go on and become professional baseball players. That means that from age 21 to 22, we have kids who have been playing baseball since they were 10 years old, at the highest level, essentially paid to go to college, trained to be very stellar athletes... they are 20-21 years old and their baseball career is over. That's a huge market for us to be tapping. Then there are kids younger who might not get that college scholarship, who are very good baseball players and could be excellent cricketers. With women in softball, it's the same issue. We have tens and thousands of girls going to college on a softball scholarship, who are incredible athletes. And now that softball has been removed from the Olympic Games, there is really no professional future for them.
We could have the greatest shortcut in the sport if orchestrated well, and that's our plan.
HB: It's wonderful to see you so positive, Don. We have kept you for a long time, this is the last question I am going to ask you. Between American football, between baseball, between basketball, between winter sports, athletics, college basketball… is there any money left for our little game?
DL: Well, our little game is the second most popular sport is the world, as I view it, behind football. With the great interest from the rest of the world, in the United States, people want to do business in the United States, certainly a lot of your listeners may do business and come to the United States often. I think there is a worldwide economics, and people who would love to see the sport flourish in the country, and if those people want to approach us, then we will certainly give that a listen. But we believe that we are on our way to corporate sponsorship, investment in US cricket, development of facilities.
The mayor of Indianapolis is very serious about building a cricket stadium. Indianapolis is often called the sports capital of the United States. The Indianapolis 500 just took place the other day, with 500,000 fans at the event, the world's largest one-day sporting event. We know how to put on events, and their attitude is - cricket is the second most popular sport in the world and why wouldn't there be a stadium in Indianapolis? The city of New York has said to us that one day they would like to have a cricket venue, and they could see themselves as the capital of cricket in the United States. We could become the capital of cricket in the western hemisphere.
This is a very big step, and I am hoping to work with my board of directors, our investors, and sponsors, to make that happen in the next three or five years.
HB: Wonderful to hear that, Don, you seem very bullish and that's a very good way to start. So who knows, hopefully we might have big cricket in US and we will all come down there and talk about cricket, like we do in other parts of the world. Thank you so much for joining us, Don, and may it go really well for you.
DL: Thank you very much.
Cricket is still a foreign, elitist sport for the Americans
HB: That was interesting. He seems very committed, seems to be a serious cricket lover, doesn't seem to think that money is a problem, and seems to be very positive. Jamie, you share the high spirits?
JA: Well, he has got a very big challenge on his hands. Again, I am a bit of sceptic, so I still think that there is a long way to go if you want to get the first-generation American involved. It's going to take a lot. It's still seen as a foreign sport. It's still seen as an elitist sport.
HB: But I think, even if you get the expats in. If you are talking of 20 million… all of Australia is about 18-19 million; when they went from 17 to 18 there was an outcry, they thought they are getting too many people in good old Oz. So 19-20 million is what they have there. Another three-and-a-half to four million in New Zealand, and we are talking of two countries which are the soul of world cricket - 25 million is the total population between them. So 20-25 million cricket followers (in and around the USA)… you are sitting on something fairly big, at least as a viewing audience if not as an active playing audience.
JA: I think if you are going to have matches there, say India-Pakistan playing in New York and Chicago, then you will have sold-out audiences. The expats there are starved for cricket. I was one there myself, so I know what it is to go and just be able to watch cricket.
HB: So what did you do when you were starved for cricket? That will be a story in itself.
JA: There were no live matches back then, unfortunately. Streaming was just starting out, there was one site - to begin with it was free. I remember we watched the 2001 series, between India and Australia, the one in India. Because it was such a big hit after that, the next series was pay-per-view. So we had to dig deep into our pockets and pay out big bucks as well. There were about 15 of us who chipped in, and we got the dish to watch the 2003 World Cup, which was quite an experience but we thoroughly enjoyed it.
HB: You chose well actually, the 2003 World Cup. Because sometimes it could be very frustrating, spending all that money and seeing an Indian team not making it to the semi-finals. Or if you were following India in the World Twenty20 then they might not win a Super8s game. But that's another story.
Playing, did you get a lot of locals playing? Or was it just guys like you who were desperate for the game coming together and playing like we did, playing galli-mohalla (bylane) matches?
JA: It was pretty much that. We tried to make it a varsity sport but we had no luck because it involves too much of red tape and funding. So we were a club sport, and there would be a lot of interest from guys who were walking through. We played on the weekend, so there were no classes. So a lot of American guys would come and watch, and a few of them would try their hand at playing, but they would still wonder as to what is happening.
I remember once the Dean of our college happened to be there. He said, "What's happening here?" I said, "It's cricket." He asked, "What are those three pegs out there?" I said, "They are not pegs, they are called wickets." So we had a good chat. After a while he came to bat, and he couldn't touch the ball. Through him, the word sort of spread through the campus that there is a group of guys playing. So there was a lot of interest that way.
HB: And hopefully that will all change, though. I suspect in the medium term at least we will get a lot of Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans… a lot of West Indians?
JA: West Indians, Zimbabweans, expat Australians and Kiwis…
HB: There couldn't be too many expat Australians and Kiwis, because there aren't that many Aussies and Kiwis to start off with.
JA: There were a few.
HB: Wonderful. So I guess things have changed. I think the biggest thing in favour of getting more people interested in cricket, certainly from a viewing perspective, is indeed streaming video, and with more and more cricket being available easy off the tube.
Excellent, that was Jamie Alter telling us what it was like to play cricket in the United States. Thanks a lot, Jamie, for joining us.
Globalisation of cricket and the potential in the US
HB: Continuing on the theme of cricket in the United States on this programme, we are delighted to have Haroon Lorgat, the chief executive of the ICC.
Haroon, how important is it to take cricket to the United States, given that we are already playing in so many countries. Is the US a big thing for the ICC?
Harron Lorgat: I think some time back there was the recognition that the United States was a significant market and a big opportunity to spread the game. There are a lot of people who have got cricket heritage, living out in the US. It is a big market. So it is important that we play cricket in the US.
HB: Do you look upon it as just another staging centre. Like we had the New Zealand-Sri Lanka games there? Do you see it as a place where you can get people to come and play, and beam it to the rest of the world, or actually get US citizens to come and play it?
HL: No, in fact, very much the latter. In the last couple of years, in particular, we have been very conscious to get cricket played in the schools. We were quite excited when we learnt that the New York police department was playing cricket with people of Indian and Pakistani origin. So it's very much in our sights to make sure that people within the United States play cricket.
HB: Are you a little disappointed with the standard of cricket in the US? They have not qualified for 2011. They are struggling to put together a competitive team. Is that part of the mix at all?
HL: I think introducing cricket to any nation presupposes that ultimately they would be competitive. It's fair to say that by now they should have been a lot more competitive than they presently are. But there is a little bit of history to that, they had a little bit of a challenge a few years back, they earned themselves a suspension for whatever reason…
HB: Haroon, you are being as polite as you always are. They were fighting among themselves, weren't they?
HL: No, no… that is true. But I think we have certainly come along to them now and said that they should be making a lot more progress. They have appointed a chief executive, if you recall, just about a year ago. The signs are quite positive, and I am quite optimistic.
HB: Let me ask you what I asked Don Lockerbie as well. Is Twenty20 going to be the missionary to take cricket to the United States?
HL: There is no doubt about that, Harsha. For the people in the US who are accustomed to fast and short time spans, introducing Test or one-day cricket would simply not be possible to get them excited. Twenty20 is a format that, without doubt, in my mind, you would get people in the United States excited about.
HB: There is a peculiar challenge, though: that the established nations sometimes talk down to them. They don't really take them very seriously. They talk about them being a second-rate county side, as we are hearing these days. Is that a problem as well, that the globalisation of the game is bringing the quality down?
HL: I am not so sure there is truth in that, because the established nations continue to compete against each other. If anything, some of our established nations should be picking up their level of performance. So it's less about the developing world and their competitiveness. I think it's about our established nations being competitive themselves.
HB: Does the US have an advantage over the other associate nations? You've got Abu Dhabi as a staging centre. You've got Dubai as a staging centre. In the past, we have had a lot of cricket played in Canada with the Sahara Cup. Does the US have an advantage at all, in your eyes?
HL: I think the size of the market is surely an advantage. The expats who follow the game so richly; it's an advantage. We can see that from the number of hits we have on the website. There is a huge percentage that emanates out of the US. So they have got particular advantages.
HB: There is a point of view that says that with YouTube emerging, with streaming video coming in, you don't really need to take cricket to the US because it's going there anyway?
HL: No, I think the fact that we can get people to play and increase participation in the sport must surely count for something.
HB: So we still need to explain to them the difference between baseball and cricket, you think?
HL: I think they will catch up very quickly, with the Twenty20 format.
HB: So you are bullish about the cricket in the US, and you are bullish about all globalisation, are you, Haroon?
HL: I think developing any sport, for that matter - in particular, there was a strategy sometime back to develop the sport of cricket - is fundamental to future existence.
HB: Thank you very much, Haroon, and hopefully we will meet one day when we are actually playing cricket in the US.
HL: Thanks, Harsha.
Harsha Bhogle is a television presenter, writer, and a commentator on IPL and other cricket. @bhogleharsha
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