'Back to the drawing board and then back to the ballpark'
Martin Williamson chatted to Bernard Cameron, the driving force behind Major League Cricket, in the aftermath of the 2005 National Interstate Cricket Tournament and looked ahead to what 2006 has in store
The 2005 National Interstate Cricket Tournament (NICT) achieved much more than it set out to achieve. Future cricketing partnerships were forged across international lines including England's Professional Cricketers' Association, West Indies Players Association, Glamorgan, Sussex, and Nothamptonshire to name a few. We look forward to 2006 and bringing these organizations to the USA to compete against our state and national teams; many commercial partners were introduced to cricket in America through our sponsorship and marketing proposal efforts giving intents for future sponsorships; we solidified a political partner in Broward County for the long-term development of cricket - in all facets of the game; however, and most important of all, US cricketers were given the opportunity to play state cricket at an embryonic first-class level. Additionally, and culminating the NICT, these players got the ability to play against Test, ODI and first-class cricketers and did a tremendous job making the MLC organization extremely proud of their efforts.
What lessons did you learn for next time ... assuming there is to be a next time!
Yes! There will be a 2006 NICT. We have learned several lessons. From sponsorship negotiations, hospitality management, itinerary scheduling for the professional international teams, use of better publicity and the media. The list can probably go on. Notwithstanding, we have already done the MLC's Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis in the context of the 2005 NICT. We have been putting in place the necessary business processes to turn these areas of weaknesses into strengths for 2006.
How do you build on the success of the event?
We will be consistent whereas our US Cricket Development Program (USCDP) is concerned. However, we are modular and flexible in our approach as a number of factors have and will develop due to the success of the event. We will be immediately announcing the 2006 NICT and begin the pre-registration process including the Under-19 and Under-15 National Tournaments - all part of the USCDP. Additionally, we will be working with our commercial partners almost immediately to enable deeper pockets. This will allow us to solidify agreements with the cricketing entities and individuals from around the world that we intend to bring into America to compete against and train our American teams. Moreover, we will be looking for voluntary State Development Officers to work with us for the development of the game in all states. Extremely important, we will be working with other State Governments to develop and solidify anchoring mechanisms that will serve as an infrastructure for the development of the game throughout America as was done in Broward County. This of course is but a snapshot of the entire picture.
Would you look to move the tournament round the country or keep it based in Florida?
The National Interstate Cricket Tournament is to become (in the context of cricket) to Florida what the US Open tennis is to New York. That is our vision. As a result, it is imperative that we develop an ongoing long-term relationship with our governmental partners. As we continue to execute our USCDP we will implement already created properties like the U-15, U-19 etc, align them with a governmental partner thereby solidifying there existence in that particular market. Notwithstanding, it is our intention to negotiate and position our agreements allowing us the ability to receive other offers that will only seek to foster the further development of the sport as interest develops over time.
Where do you go from here?
Back to the drawing board and then back to the ballpark. There is much administrative and corporate work to be done to further the existence and execution of our plans. Our USCDP calls for implementing technological systems for data gathering. As a result, shortly we will be launching a new and improved website that will facilitate this and more. We have been analyzing several development plans and looking to partner with commercial entities to implement proposals to elementary, junior and high school in selected areas. There is something in it for the commercial entity - their logo slapped across America's cricket youth whereas equipment and merchandizing is concerned - and there is something in it for us; the development of the sport. This is a vast project. As a result, we are identifying voluntary State Development Officers (SDOs) that would head the cricket development efforts in the respective state. This project will also move into the YMCA and like entities.
Is there enough support to run a national league, much as Pro Cricket attempted to do, but with a more professional approach?
Not where the greater percentage of players are locals. Let's be practical. Even the immigrant American cricket fan wants to see Test and ODI cricket and for the least first-class cricketers. Consequently, it is possible but expensive; to execute a pro-tournament with a greater percentage of Test and ODI players - MLC holds a business plan for this. One must also take into consideration the logistical side of things that include stadium development and operations; something that does not presently exist for cricket in the United States and one that is included in our National Facilities Development Plan. However, a true professional "national" league will have a greater percentage of "National Players." As a result, the product development life cycle must begin now in the elementary, junior and high schools along with the colleges and universities allowing us to reap the benefits in the next 5 to 10 years. Moreover, the financial support needed to sustain such a professional tournament at present will not be attractive to investors if the talent pool - in their eyes - cannot muster the necessary revenue streams (licensing, broadcasting, merchandizing, personal seat license etc) for long term sustainability. This is the reason why it is our every intention to partner with cricket boards around the world to engage in supporting the proliferation of the game of cricket in America. We see benefits to all parties and invite all parties to work with us to this end.
How would you fund such expansion?
The funding for any pro-league will come from commercial partners and various types of investors.
Are there plans to set up more permanent structures in more states?
Absolutely! It is the intention of MLC to replicate much of our relationship presently established with Broward County, Florida with other cricketing states across the United States.
The greatest obstacle that was placed in our path was the challenge of getting players to the tournament. We are aware of national entities - separate and apart at the time - established to foster the growth and development of the game of cricket - who were involved in certain divisive tactics that created a grassroots under-current that led to many states not competing in the 2005 National Interstate Cricket Tournament.
Is there any truth that players and states were threatened with being barred from national selection if they took part in the Interstate tournament?
It came to our attention by players in many states - on the condition of anonymity - that these methods were in use. As a result, they could not and would not participate in the tournament as MLC is not the governing body of cricket in America .
Have you development programmes planned for states/universities?
Absolutely! In 2006 we hope to change the selection of the state team through state trials of which details are pending. These trials will have at least one former international Test/ODI player and or an ECB level III coach or equivalent. These are areas in which our partnerships with cricketing entities around the world will prove fruitful. Additionally, as state teams are set up (working with our State Development Officer) the entire infrastructure will be implemented from Under-13 through Under 25 of which we already own the properties. Systematically, we will address the universities and colleges through the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA).
Have you, as rumoured, had any discussions with Allen Stanford regarding him becoming more involved in the USA?
MLC has indeed had discussions with the organization that handles all cricketing matters on behalf of Mr. Stanford whereas investing in the development of cricket in the United States in as much the same way that we sent proposals to various sports US-based sports investors.
Is his tournament and investment in the Caribbean a threat or a boost to your organization?
At this present time we believe it is neither. We believe however, that it is a boost in some context to the development of cricket in the West Indies. The United States of America has close to 300 million people - 98% of these people have at least one television set in their homes. There are more first and second generation West Indian Americans both documented and undocumented living in the United States compared with the approximate five million in the West Indies. As a result, given the Nielsen Media Reports for the 2003 and 1999 World Cups of Cricket, we believe that the United State presents any cricket or general sports investor with lucrative long term opportunities while achieving the development of a great game; Cricket!
Given the continuing refusal of the USACA to acknowledge its own deficiencies, how do you react to calls for MLC to assume control of running cricket in the US, and is this something that would interest you?
Major League Cricket is effectively, efficiently and concurrently working on a cross-sectional solidified plan to develop the game of cricket in the United States . As we continue to execute our strategies, and as they become acceptable and create opportunities to both the stakeholders at the grassroots level and the management at the world administrative level, we would graciously and humbly accept any responsibility placed upon us to effectively administer and govern the game of cricket according to our mission; the education, strategic development and promotion of cricket throughout the United States.
What do you see as MLC's role inside US cricket?
The development of cricket in the United States of America has spanned over 40 years. America (along with Fiji) was the first Associate Member country of the International Cricket Council. Through this time, every American sporting entity has experience substantial growth that is more that 10,000 times that of those placed with the responsibility to develop the game in America . Even Major League Lacrosse (established in 1999) which launched professionally in 2001 has experience exponential growth having an average attendance of 4343 per game with an annual increase of approximately 6.7%. Lacrosse is now a staple game in schools, colleges and universities and is a part of the NCAA. Infrastructure has been laid whereas facilities for professional play are concern. Without getting into the various sports marketing platforms of implementing a successful sports organization; these are but a few of the roles of MLC inside U.S. Cricket.
The USACA EGM earlier this month attracted no support. This was blamed on communication. How did you get your message across to the grass-roots players and clubs?
MLC embarked on a marketing, promotion, and publicity campaign to all of the clubs, leagues, and cricket organizations across the country. We took out advertisements in cricket magazines, issued press releases, researched quality player-email lists while double checking for data integrity, sent frequent updates and formally invited USACA and the CLP to encourage their stakeholders to participate. Except for the USACA and the CLP (of whom we received no response) the response was incredible. As far away as Nepal, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Australia and the West Indies to name a few; cricketers, administrators, fans and supporters of the game contacted us and offered their services and support in one way or another. We even did interviews with the BBC Live at 5 and with radio stations in Canberra, Australia. We are truly thankful to all who supported our efforts and look forward to 2006.
What is your message to cricketers in the USA?
The future for U.S. Cricket is bright. There are mountains and valleys that we have to cross, however, with MLC's vision and plan we are absolutely positive that we will achieve our stated goals within reasonably established time-frames - together. It is a bold and courageous step but MLC is totally committed to the opportunities as well as the challenges that lie ahead. We see a cricket paradise where dreams are attained both nationally and internationally. We see fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers remembering from whence they came and the struggles they endured to make a decent living playing the game of cricket. We see them - in their box seats or maybe in the concrete stand (simply due to nostalgia), with parasol in hand looking on as their Tendulkar or Lara achieves greatness on American soil.
Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo