July 5, 2012

New Zealand's American dream

They have a lot riding on promoting cricket in the US, but you wouldn't know that going by the team's recent performances in Florida

New Zealand Cricket can thank West Indies for providing a reason why the sport might be a show worth watching (and paying for) in the United States. Cricket Holdings America, a company formed by the United States cricket governing body and NZC, is planning a US-based T20 league next year, but the New Zealand team did little to advertise cricket over the weekend in Florida. In two skewed contests West Indies secured 61-run and 56-run victories; trouncings in T20 terms. The batting of Chris Gayle and spin bowling of Sunil Narine were highlighted in front of reasonably healthy crowds.

New Zealand's performances gave fans little confidence, especially on a pitch that had improved from NZC's first American experiment, when New Zealand played Sri Lanka in May 2010. Mark Perham, the groundsman at Auckland's Eden Park, helped monitor the wicket's progress after being seconded to Fort Lauderdale while on a recent American holiday.

New Zealand's lack of nous playing spin and their ineffectual bowling to the likes of Gayle means hopes must be tempered of their surpassing West Indies in the one-day and Test rankings as the series continues in the Caribbean. In addition, an injury crisis beckons with the loss of Ross Taylor, Jacob Oram and Roneel Hira, and Mark Gillespie (before he even travelled).

The absence of four of New Zealand's better T20 players - Daniel Vettori, Brendon McCullum, Jesse Ryder and James Franklin - further impacted on showcasing the game to an American audience. Still, all is not lost. Twenty-five West Indian sixes, a token ten from New Zealand, and a class in spin subtlety from Narine ensured the audience got a slice of entertainment. Compare that to the lifeless pitch, 375 runs and four sixes in the two matches of the 2010 New Zealand-Sri Lanka vintage at the same venue.

Promoting cricket as a spectacle in the United States was the aim behind the matches. NZC is set to to invest intellectual property and playing stocks in the proposed six-team US league over three weeks midway through each year. Whether the spectacle convinced possible franchise investors in the league's host cities of Fort Lauderdale, Toronto, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia remains to be seen.

A shareholding in the rights to cricket matches in America remains a potentially smart business strategy for New Zealand. Future revenue could be earned from negotiating broadcast deals within the US market. The alternative is NZC continuing to be restricted to selling matches within its home market and struggling to match the established high-rollers India, Australia, England and South Africa.

The stakes of the NZC gambit are upped by cricket's lack of credibility in the US. The loss-making failure of the first international foray against Sri Lanka didn't help. The lopsided nature of this weekend's results might have exacerbated that effect.

Research suggests there are approximately 15 million cricket "supporters" in the US. Many are part of expatriate Indian subcontinent and Caribbean populations, meaning a wider market exists. There is some way to go. New Zealand's players and management generally mouthed the right things about supposed local interest and the responsibility of putting on a spectacle. Yet Andrew Ellis may have been closer to the truth when he said "there is no reference to cricket anywhere around this part of the world" in a recent newspaper column. His comments may have come in the wake of Miami Heat winning the NBA basketball crown, but the US cricket experiment remains a work in progress.

Andrew Alderson is cricket writer at New Zealand's Herald on Sunday

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  • Dummy4 on July 7, 2012, 4:00 GMT

    "A professional cricket league will NEVER work here." - Angus Bell

    Twenty years ago millions of people said and thought the same about a soccer league in the US.

  • Dummy4 on July 7, 2012, 3:45 GMT

    Cricket doesn't need to overtake baseball to be successful. This market is so big and rich cricket can be the 8th or 9th most popular sport in the US and still have more revenues than some countries where cricket is number 1 or 2. We already have millions of ex-pat fans living in the country. That's a solid base to build on. We just need to grow a casual fan base over time.

    Cricket being on TV, especially during the world cup, will intrigue many people. Hardcore or casual baseball fans will not stop following their sport but you can count on some of them to start learning the rules and watching cricket casually, IN ADDITION to the sports they follow. If this new T-20 league can average as few as 200,000 viewers per game it can still get a TV deal worth tens of millions of dollars annually, enough to make the league work. It will not be the IPL, of course, but a decent league any cricket fan would be proud to support as their domestic league.

  • Bhavesh on July 6, 2012, 22:06 GMT

    As an Indian born residing in America for over 20 years now I have followed CRICKET as a religion. you bring an international game near my hometown and I would definitely go see the game. Its about love of the game for fans and money for the investors.

  • Dummy4 on July 6, 2012, 3:15 GMT

    @angusbell: "space, time, expertise, money, fans..." is a non issue. You are not a business minded individual so you do not understand how money works. If the single idea appeals to investors, they will use other people's money....trillions.. to build the stadiums, find the fans, and do everything that is required to make money. It is not about cricket, or recession, nor boards. It is about money. Lalit Modi knows how to do it.

  • Dummy4 on July 6, 2012, 2:53 GMT

    I cannot understand this obsession with televising cricket in America as well as this pursuit of an "American" audience in order for cricket to be successful in this country. Cricket can be played at the ODI, T20 and Test level in America without this so called American audience. Think about this: Gayle, Narine, Cooper, Russell, Bravo, and Pollard played IPL and are very liked in India. You can sell lots of ads in India based on these guys from the WI. Bring Afridi, Sangakara, Malinga etc and you sell ads in Sri lanka and Pakistan. Lastly, in the USA Asians is now the largest immigrant population, thus they have millions of professionals in executive positions that can influence their companies to advertise. The West Indian, Indian, pakistan, Sri lankan business community will also want to spend advertising dollars on a venture like this. You will never get the tobacco chewing, middle American, bible belt, type of individual to switch to cricket.

  • Andrew on July 6, 2012, 2:11 GMT

    @Angus Bell - I dunno about the big cities, but I previously read a report where they were indicating focussing on 2nd tier cities. I do think distance will be prohibitive for a pro-league in the US, but if they take slightly smaller steps (say East Coast, focussing on the Sth East) - I would imagine they could get some traction. As for Boards not releasing players, who's to say Rahul Dravid wouldn't play? (probably has too much money to bother but that's beside the point). I could imagine quality T20 specialists like Nannes & Hodge would be up for it, Lara put in for the last IPL auction, so a sojurn to the US could be palitable. Add players from NZ & say Bangladesh & Pakistan & a few Irishmen & you could get a decent LITTLE comp.

  • Dummy4 on July 6, 2012, 1:53 GMT

    I was over in Florida covering the match and I was surprised by the profile that the match had. I stayed in a hotel in Miami and drove up, so I might have had a different impression if I'd stayed in Lauderhill or Ft Lauderdale, but the doorman in my hotel knew about the games, and was interested in them (due to his wife being from Trinidad), there was a feature on them on the morning news on TV, with the show's anchor getting a lesson from a couple of players. The crowd was around 14000 for the first game, and about 12000 for the second match (playing on a Sunday is not a good idea when a large quantity of your target market are quite religious). Then when checking in for my flight out, the man who was checking me in was from Dominica and very excited about having been to the matches. It was mostly ex-pat supporters, but there were a lot of them, and they made a fantastic atmosphere.

  • Brian on July 5, 2012, 22:54 GMT

    Bring intl cricket to New York. I'll go to see it. You got to start somewhere, sometime.

  • Alex on July 5, 2012, 22:43 GMT

    there certainly is a huge potential audience in the US, can you really blame people for trying to make it work when they see how much can be earned through sport in the US? might not be a good idea but there are cricket communities in the US, they are an associate team and this will only boost it's popularity. franchises in major cities is a great idea, think of how this will motivate local players and if a good amount of money can be made for the players then it will bring in new people to the sport in the US. the potential is huge here, not only to make money but it could push the US cricket team to better results and the next level. the hard part will be to get fans at the beginning, once it gets going it will do fine i'm sure and there are always investors. i'm sure there are more than a few people from Aus, Eng, RSA, Ind who live in the US and are willing to put in some money for cricket to take off.

  • Dummy4 on July 5, 2012, 11:56 GMT

    Please! Stop this madness. Take it from someone who lives (and plays cricket) in North America. A professional cricket league will NEVER work here. To talk casually of having franchises in Las Vegas, Philadelphia, LA, etc is utterly ridiculous. You might as well say St Petersburg, Sao Paolo and Bangkok. It's like planning a professional ice hockey league in Australia this winter, with franchises in every major city plus Uluru. ''For the first season, in the absence of ice rinks, we plan to play on greased tennis courts.'' Where are they going to find the space, time, money and expertise to build these fields and stadia? Where are they going to find the fans? Where, in a recession, are they going to find so many people with hundreds of millions of dollars to burn? After the recent fiasco in Toronto (an entire XI not showing up, no players paid), packed international and domestic schedules, and refusal of major boards to release players, who is going to play in this? Very, very silly

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