England news September 1, 2012

USA T20 threatens to undermine English season

David Hopps and Peter Della Penna

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.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ed on September 4, 2012, 8:54 GMT

    Lunacy. Complete lunacy. All discussions in the US with regard to cricket begin and end with the question 'whaddya mean the batter doesn't have to run if he hits the ball?'.

    It'll be like the 'World League' that the NFL tried to foist on us in the early 90s with the 'London Mon-archs' that captured so much public attention. Not.

    To have the tiniest chance of this working, the organisers have to get a couple of mainstream colleges on board first, and then build a working league that doesn't rely completely on imported players or collapse in a shower of corruption and bribery scandals and in about 10 years time, maybe, just maybe they can start thinking on this sort of crazy T20 level. By then they'll be at the stage the Afghanistan, Ireland or Holland are now. Oh.

  • Dummy4 on September 3, 2012, 8:57 GMT

    Yes....artificial pitches, hide the finer points of the game, add razzmatazz, adverts between every delivery...I can already see Americans flocking to the stadiums or glued to their TV screens.

  • rajesh on September 3, 2012, 6:59 GMT

    You must having a laugh. Agree with Puffin.

  • Jason on September 3, 2012, 6:44 GMT

    @Harvey, if the proposed franchises were aligned with Baseball/American football teams then they would have a built in fan base to exploit, dont forget a T20 game is about as long as a the average Baseball game. So I dont think theres much to worry about in regards to getting enough people into a stadium. The biggest issue is the lack of proper grounds, so for 2-3 years they'll largely be playing on artificial wickets while more traditional wickets are prepared and seasoned, this leads to an interesting point about ground staff, where will the curators come from as most work for years developing an understanding of thier pitches and perperation, something the americans dont have, this was shown in the recent WI vs NZ games in Florida, while granted international status they were probably just equivalent to minor county/grade cricket pitches in England/Aus.

  • harshini on September 3, 2012, 4:33 GMT

    Looks like Indians have got a bit worried, maybe thinking this might take over IPL. You can relax. it wont happen. At least not for now. but eventually it will die off. Just like American Idol. and something new will be the thing.

  • Dummy4 on September 2, 2012, 22:13 GMT

    It should be American T20 NOT cricket and Audience won't be Cricket fans.

  • Harvey on September 2, 2012, 20:02 GMT

    @Meety - I agree there is a market for cricket in the US (and Canada). However, as the organisers themselves admit, in order to make this project feasible they will need to drastically increase the size of that market. That's something that even Stanford with his saturation advertising funded by many millions of dollars of other people's money failed to do. That's where it falls down. In any case, T20 tournaments so far (even the IPL) have depended mainly on domestic players plus a handful of imports. That keeps the cost down to manageable levels. A US based tournament would depend pretty much entirely on imports because neither the grass roots organisation nor the infrastructure exist to enable North American-based players to reach a high enough standard. Cricket in the US can prosper and grow, as other minority sports manage to, but this plan is simply pie in the sky. I'll be surprised if it happens at all, let alone successfully.

  • Jon on September 2, 2012, 19:12 GMT

    The ICC should be insting money in countries where there is a passion for the sport such as Afghanistan and East Africa and bringing Bangladesh (and other countries) up to Test standard.

  • Jon on September 2, 2012, 19:06 GMT

    Good luck to them - but it'll have to be a TV event only, IMHO.

    I used to live in America, there is a very small (and spread out) ingenious audience for cricket. Trying to sell it as a completely new sport called"T20" doesn't alter that fact.

    That atmosphere there is likely to be as dismal as it is in the UAE, largely empty stadiums because there is no tradition of cricket/T20 in the Middle East.

  • Dummy4 on September 2, 2012, 16:44 GMT

    Did anyone else scroll to the bottom of this article, to see if there was an "all 'facts' contained within this article are made up" disclaimer, a la Page 2?

    No? Just me? Cricket will never be more than a minority sport in the USA in my opinion. Hockey, basketball, baseball and American Football have most sporting tastes covered between them.

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