USA T20 threatens to undermine English season
England's traditional cricketing summer, already under siege from the expanding ambitions of IPL, must face up to another unwelcome challenge next week when meetings take place in London to promote a United States Twenty20 league planned to launch next July with a host of international stars.
The league will be launched in direct competition to the English season with ambitions to attract many of the world's top stars for what Neil Maxwell, one of the main proponents, is presenting to the States as "baseball on steroids."
Maxwell also freely admitted that USA promoters are monitoring tense negotiations between the ECB and Kevin Pietersen, which will determine whether he has an England future. Maxwell told ESPNcricinfo: "We haven't spoken to Pietersen as yet. We are keen to work through the Boards to ensure the appropriate processes a followed. Once his position and ours is clarified we will no doubt chat."
Pietersen's choice of whether he commits himself to a serious future on the Test circuit - which he told England he would on a specially-commisioned YouTube video - or becomes an itinerant player, making a fortune on the Twenty20 circuit, could now not be more stark.
England will be slap bang in the middle of an Ashes summer, and will automatically be unavailable, but if UST20 succeeds it will cause further disruption for a county circuit already struggling to find overseas players of quality, including for a long-standing t20 tournament that is struggling to compete with newer, brasher competitors.
While the ECB continues to agonise over the future make-up of its t20 competition, which earlier this week lost its sponsor, Friends Life, promoters from the United States are heading for London to begin the tender process for six inaugural franchises, with ambitions to grow to as many as ten by 2016,
The league would most likely get underway after the conclusion of the ICC Champions Trophy, which takes runs from June 6-23 in England. The 2013 Ashes Series then follows, which means that top international stars from Australia and England would be unavailable but players from other countries might be tempted by the prospect of coming to play in America.
Cricket Holdings America, a joint venture headed by the USA Cricket Association and New Zealand Cricket, has also declared ambitions for the USA to apply and secure hosting rights for future ICC events, including the ICC World Twenty20 within the next 10 years.
In addition to taking bids for franchises starting this month, CHA also plans to host exhibition matches in the USA next year between imported stars and local talent.
The population in the USA with South Asian background has doubled in ten years, leaving promoters convinced that the time is right to launch what will initially be a league relying entirely on imported talent.
Maxwell, a CHA director, told The Times this week that the success of ESPNcricinfo in the United States was further proof that a market exists. There is little pretence, however, about educating an American audience, initially at least, about the finer points of the game.
"Our marketing has to appeal to mainstream America," he said. "It's about promoting an entertainment product. Almost remove the reference to cricket and create a thing called Twenty20 that competes with movies. Link it to Hollywood and Bollywood and provide all the razzmatazz that goes with it."
CHA hopes for the league to grow to as many as 10 franchises by 2016. The first season, reports suggest, will be played primarily in New York and San Francisco. New York has thriving West Indian and South Asian immigrant populations, particularly in Brooklyn and Queens, while the San Francisco Bay Area includes Silicon Valley, where thousands of South Asians have immigrated over the years for work in the software and technology industries.
If the league does launch franchises in New York and San Francisco, it would be highly probable that matches in those cities would be played on artificial pitches. While both cities are home to multiple professional sports teams with outdoor stadiums that hold in excess of 40,000 seats, neither city has an international standard natural turf wicket facility exclusively for cricket and it is doubtful that one would be built to be ready in time for next summer.
Currently, the only facility in the USA that is approved by the ICC for use in Twenty20 and ODI matches is the Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill, Florida. Two t20 internationals between New Zealand and West Indies in Florida in July attracted decent crowds
A Twenty20 league launched in the summer months would primarily be competing for fan and media interest inside the USA with mid-season Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer. The NHL and NBA typically finish their play-offs by the middle of June while the NFL, currently the most popular professional league in the USA, starts its regular season every September.