December 4, 2010

Big ideas, little results

The USA Cricket Association's recently ousted chief executive Don Lockerbie set his sights too high and lost sight of the most important objectives

On October 18 a press release was put up on the ICC website that was both totally irrelevant and completely relevant to US cricket. It announced that a company named Imperial Woodpecker had decided to extend its sponsorship of the Japan men's national team through the end of 2011.

"What on earth is Imperial Woodpecker?" might be one's immediate question. The answer is not a lumber company based in Tokyo. Rather, it is a television production company that was formed in 2009 and is headquartered in New York City. While the Japan Cricket Association was tapping into American corporate dollars to support its cricket programmes, USA Cricket's chief executive, Don Lockerbie, was presumably still searching for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow to finance the same for USACA. One month later he began searching for a new job.

Lockerbie arrived as USACA's CEO in April of 2009 and instilled Obama-esque feelings of hope and change in everyone involved with US cricket. His resume included summer Olympics and FIFA World Cup experience. Such leadership credentials added instant credibility to an organisation long maligned as a rudderless ship, one that had meandered through two ICC suspensions with Gladstone Dainty in charge. It was refreshing to see an American cricket administrator actively engaging with the media and full of big ideas from outside the box.

However, if you're going to talk the talk, you'd better walk the walk too, and there was nothing that Lockerbie loved more than talking about bringing big sponsors and big money to US cricket. He would name-drop from his Rolodex of contacts at will, as if all he had to do was snap his fingers to get his choice of sponsors lining up outside his office door. Lockerbie was like Jimmy Stewart from It's A Wonderful Life, gazing into the eyes of USA cricket players, fans and administrators, wooing them by telling them that if they wanted the moon, "just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down".

Lockerbie certainly was reaching for the moon when he declared that a US$10 million annual budget was the minimum amount he needed to make the United States competitive in world cricket. That's a big step up for an organisation whose annual budget has typically ranged from $200,000-$400,000 in ICC grants, not to mention the fact that USACA never demonstrated sound fiscal management with those meagre resources in the past. Imagine Manny Pacquiao trying to go from featherweight to heavyweight in the span of two fights and picture what the result would be.

Instead of trying to build by attracting stepping stone, incremental sponsorships like Japan, Canada, or Ireland had successfully done, it appeared that Lockerbie's strategy was all or nothing. It wasn't worth his time to negotiate a three-year $650,000 deal like Cricket Canada had done with Scotiabank in 2008, or the three-year deal they signed in November with Reebok. RSA Insurance's sponsorship of Ireland, including a €100,000 boost before the World Twenty20 in April, was chump change. Such hubris contributed to Lockerbie's downfall. He didn't just want millions. He wanted tens of millions, and wound up getting nothing.

Lockerbie was reaching for the moon when he declared that a US$10 million annual budget was the minimum amount he needed to make the United States competitive in world cricket. That's a big step up for an organisation whose annual budget has typically ranged from $200,000 to $400,000 in ICC grants

Another problem along these same lines was his reverse pyramid approach to development. Instead of focusing on grassroots and infrastructure as essential to sparking interest from sponsors hoping to invest in American cricket, his plan was to dazzle them by bringing in Test nations to play on US soil in order to whip up a frenzy of excitement among the expat fan population. That's not really investing in American cricket, that's investing in other countries to bring their brand of cricket to America. Judging by the lukewarm interest for May's pair of Twenty20s between New Zealand and Sri Lanka in Florida, sponsors didn't get behind the latter option like Lockerbie had envisioned.

He also failed to exploit the unprecedented success USA has experienced on the field during the last two years, success that many sponsors would be thrilled to be associated with. In November of 2008, the men's team romped their way to the ICC Americas Division One title. In 2010 they advanced from Division Five to Division Three of the World Cricket League and won the first-ever ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 title. The women's team beat Canada in July to earn a spot in the Women's World Cup Qualifer in 2011. Most importantly the U-19 team turned in remarkable efforts in 2009 to qualify and play in the 2010 U-19 World Cup in New Zealand.

He could have packaged this as the future of US cricket to sell investors on the idea of getting in on the ground floor to ride the elevator all the way to the penthouse. But he frittered away his time trying to convince people to shell out their money for an IPL-style Twenty20 league that would include more foreign stars playing on American soil. Rather than get USA's players the central contracts and professional coaching staff he had promised, his mission became one of finding money for other countries' players - ones who already had plenty of money - to come and play here, hoping for a trickle-down effect. It didn't happen.

Whoever replaces Lockerbie as the next CEO won't have as much pressure to succeed but won't be cut the same amount of slack as his predecessor either. Lockerbie's lack of accomplishments means that he hasn't left very big shoes to fill. He was a white-collar outsider who had trouble connecting with people on the ground, preferring to use his time to cultivate a slick public-relations persona. USACA would probably be better served by someone with sharp business acumen, who is also prepared every now and then to do a little bit of grunt work with some substance behind it in order to get development on the right track.

As for what Dainty's USACA board wants, nobody knows, but if their solution is to bring in another person to keep chasing rainbows, stakeholders could be kept standing in the rain instead of basking in sunshine on the other side.

Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • fk2000 on December 7, 2010, 18:15 GMT

    Here's my opinion on the subject. Cricket has potential in the US as long as the plans are REALISTIC. it will never ever ever be in the top 3 or top 5 sports in the US but it does not need to be. it can be a success as a number 10 or so sport as well. the US public does not learn sports by playing them much, except for school children. they gain interest in sports from watching them on TV. if the ICC is serious about promoting the sport in the US, they must broadcast a few matches on ESPN in the US, but this would involve losing out on TV rights money from Willow, Dish and Direct TV.

    if a few competitive matches are shown on ESPN or ESPN2, there will be a few people who will watch it. then eventually more people will watch and this will lead to people taking up the sport in local cricket clubs etc. before you assume that espn would not show any matches, they showed the stanford "allstars" vs england match a few years ago on espn 2 in the US and even AFL is shown on tv here

  • dummy4fb on December 6, 2010, 18:31 GMT

    Baby steps. Developing cricket in the US will not happen overnight. There needs to be an exhibition tournament to garner interest at first. One that features national teams. Pit nations against one another and Americans will be more likely to watch. Americans in general will not identify with a random, "nameless" IPL or other club or county side. Marketing is key too. NZ vs. SL in a 20/20 series on American soil had potential. How many Americans knew about it, though? I didn't. Secondly, infrastructure should be set up so that actual Americans can get out there and play the game. There will not be any legit, long-term interest if Americans don't have the opportunity to play. Americans will not really be interested in watching a team full of expats playing the game just because they're wearing the United States shirt.

  • TRINIFAN on December 5, 2010, 9:30 GMT

    Where is Mr. Lockerbie? Has anyone tried to reach him for a comment as to why he was let go? Is there a reason no one in the media is willing to reach out to Mr. Lockerbie? Is this the good old boy network of cricket in action? Protecting its friends and providing USA fans a side bar conversation on "reasons" as to why Mr. Lockerbie is not around USACA anymore?

    We want cricket to succeed in the USA however not base on ICC dreams of gold but USA reality.

    Let's hear from Mr. Lockerbie as to what really happen and the real reason he is no longer CEO of USACA.

  • dummy4fb on December 5, 2010, 4:39 GMT

    I think the grassroots approach is the way to go. This will give the expat community a reason to care about cricket and encourage their kids to play cricket. The expat kids wont be labelled as "weirdos" and eventually their very american friends will join them in playing cricket. This is how soccer has gained popularity and although MLS games are played in front of very small crowds unless the LA Galaxy or NY Red Bulls come to town, the US Soccer team and junior teams have been very competitive on the world stage. They are far better coached than many other football mad nations and this is mainly because of some very good grassroots level coaching.

    Anyone who thinks that bringing the cricket teams of India, Pakistan, or Australia to stage a bunch of exhibition matches will increase cricket's popularity in the US is dreaming. If kids want to feel cool playing cricket they need their friends and classmates to play along as well.

  • fission_chips on December 5, 2010, 2:11 GMT

    I agree with Perera - Lockerbie's approach was about going after cricket "success" in American fashion. Other incremental approaches have failed. While I could see where it was (and most definitely NOT) going, I knew that what Lockerbie was trying was a valuable lesson. See, it's tough getting eleven people in America to play cricket, much less creating a successful cricket team. Sure, we boast a few nifty talents from the West Indies on the national side . . . Thing is, really,when you work your tail off to promote your club, folks in a position to help, won't. When you contact one of the few cricket writers in America to share your valiant efforts at orgainizing cricket in your state and get a bit of encouragement - and instead, you get blown-off, it's more good data, Peter. In my case, Cricket Australia gave me more encouragement than anyone here in America. Take your shots at Lockerbie - but think a little about what YOU did for cricket - not just your writing career. Geez

  • dummy4fb on December 5, 2010, 2:03 GMT

    This is the problem with journalists, ready to pounce on someone because something they tried and din't workout, how many people tried something and it didn't workout, but they tried again and succeeded. The good journalist always is full of this and that should be done yet he does absolutely none of it except for writing, Why don't you try some your fantastic ideas and see how they workout before blaming somebody.

  • NashRambler on December 4, 2010, 18:23 GMT

    Michael Perera,

    "A grassroots approach" is flawed if the goal is to covince Americans to pay money to WATCH cricket, whether it is a team of expats or native born Americans. The grassroots goal should be to encourage Americans outside of the expat communities to become intersted in PLAYING cricket. The goal should be to promote youth and adult participation in playing cricket because it is a fun game for kids and a fun and challenging game for adults who grew up playing baseball and are interested in moving up from playing rec-league softball. This kind of grassroots approach will also require the insular expat cricket communities to convinced of the need to promote participation for the greater good of growing the game in the USA.

  • tfjones1978 on December 4, 2010, 16:12 GMT

    Like the article writer I am disappointed that another 18 months has passed and dispite US team doing well there has been not much from USACA inc from its now former CEO.

    I think that Lockerbie should have been focusing on a domestic competition which is more realistic like Ireland or Canada. Perhaps USACA should look at having a domestic competition with Canada (3 teams each) and look to share the costs with Canada.

    USA need to look at a 5 year plan with achieving more of a financial plan like NZ or Pak have in 5 years instead of India, Eng or Aust whom are way above them in financial capability and marketing.

  • desibabu90 on December 4, 2010, 14:03 GMT

    I agree with Peter on this one. The only way you can grow cricket in the United States is to get the local public playing. Cricket will not develop and no one is going to watch if your entire national team is a group of expats (most of them old - avg age of USA team is 31) who are considered a minority. There is no racism but its just the american way. They want a national hero, someone they can idolize, someone they wouldn't mind buying a $70-80 jersey of. If you look back at FIFA world cup, Landon Donovan became close to a national hero, because he was a local and soccer is gradually picking up because there are little leagues, high school teams, and college teams that play the game before moving to club and nationals. There are certain people who have managed to start introducing cricket to the youth but they need full support of USACA and everyone involved.

    BTW Good article Peter. nice to know whats going on here.

  • dummy4fb on December 4, 2010, 4:05 GMT

    I'm not sure that Lockerbie's approach was entirely flawed. Yes, he definitely wanted too much too soon (and promised far too much too soon), but I think if the USACA wants to establish cricket in the United States, a grassroots approach would end up going nowhere - who, among the average American public, would pay to see a group of expats (who wouldn't even qualify for their own national teams) playing? Staging an IPL-like tournament in the US wouldn't work, either, for obvious reasons, but I think a yearly Twenty20 exhibition series, with world-class players who can play entertaining cricket, would be a good sell to a skeptical and unknowing American audience. If the USACA really does want to increase cricket's profile in America, it will have to think big, purely because world cricket and America won't wait.

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