USACA plans to resume national tournaments
The USA Cricket Association (USACA) announced on Friday its intention to stage a Men's National Tournament at a newly developed cricket facility in the city of Indianapolis, Indiana beginning in 2014. A joint press release by USACA and Indy Parks stated that USACA will host a four-day national championship involving eight regional teams in Indianapolis every summer from 2014-2016.
"The 2014 USACA National Men's Cricket Championship will provide the most talented cricketers in this country with the opportunity to compete in a first class facility against the best in the nation," said USACA chief executive Darren Beazley. "It will be an important component in USACA's mission to develop cricket at all levels, from youth to adult, and it will create an occasion to showcase our sport to a non-traditional cricket audience."
Last month, the city of Indianapolis approved plans for a $6 million multi-sport facility to be built on the east side of the city at the site of Post Road Community Park. Plans for the cricket facility were first reported by ESPNcricinfo in 2009. In addition to cricket, the facility will also have sports fields designed for soccer, rugby and lacrosse among other sports. According to a source, the cricket fields will have artificial pitches in order to make the facility easier to maintain for multi-sport purposes.
"For over 30 years, Indianapolis has billed itself as the amateur sports capital of the world," said Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. "This facility and this tournament puts Indianapolis in a leadership position as the second most popular sport in the world grows in this country."
Despite the mayor's eagerness over the plan, it has not been met with unanimous approval. "If we're dependent on them, I'm worried," Indianapolis City Councilor Christine Scales was quoted as saying about USACA in the Indianapolis Business Journal. Scales is leading a counter proposal in city government to use the $6 million in funds designated for the stadium to pay for more police officers on the city's streets instead.
Various Indianapolis media outlets reported on Friday that some city officials expect thousands of spectators to attend from across the country for the USACA tournaments. City officials also reportedly are anticipating that USACA's domestic championships will generate revenue for both the city and USACA through ticket sales and broadcast rights fees.
Such ambitious targets would be a giant leap forward from the overall lack of community support shown during the course of recent history in domestic and international tournaments involving the United States regional and national teams. USACA has no scheduled domestic tournaments for 2013 and has not held a 50-over national championship since 2010.
The last domestic tournaments USACA held of any kind were in 2011. That year, the inaugural USACA Twenty20 national tournament was shifted from Dallas, Texas to Newark, New Jersey just weeks before the scheduled starting date. Despite Twenty20 routinely billed as a format perfectly suited to the American audience, only a handful of spectators attended. The tournament was infamous for its shoddy organization, treacherous field conditions and administrators who had to be separated outside the boundary after nearly coming to blows.
Poor spectator turnout for domestic events has been a routine problem for tournaments staged in Lauderhill, Florida at the $70 million Central Broward Regional Park. After opening in 2008, USACA held their Men's 50-over National Championship at the 5000 seat stadium in Florida in 2009 and 2010, during which not more than a few dozen people attended. Roughly the same amount of spectators turned out this March for the 2013 ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 tournament, which USA won 8-0 to clinch a spot at the 2013 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier. None of the matches were broadcast on TV or radio.
"Not one of those events puts anybody in the stands," said Lauderhill Mayor Richard J Kaplan in an interview with ESPNcricinfo in April. "It doesn't sell one ticket. I don't need a multi-million dollar stadium with 5000 permanent seats to sit there with nobody using it."
The decision to host national tournaments at a facility with an artificial wicket rather than the natural turf facility offered at the Central Broward Regional Park may drive a bigger wedge between Kaplan and USACA, pushing Kaplan and Lauderhill officials towards carrying out a plan to redevelop the stadium for sports other than cricket in an effort to generate revenue.
Kaplan detailed his frustrations over the lack of revenue generating cricket events at the Central Broward Regional Park in a letter to ICC chief executive David Richardson in April. In that letter and a subsequent interview with ESPNcricinfo, Kaplan placed the blame squarely on USACA for not doing enough to promote the sport. He had been pushing for more events with Full Members to be held at the stadium, such as last year's successful Twenty20 series between West Indies and New Zealand, but said that two revenue generating matches a year are not enough to sustain the facility's operating costs.
"From those games we believe it is [commercially sound], but you can't have games unless they're sanctioned," Kaplan said. "You can't survive on putting on one event a year, and waiting a few weeks before the event before you even get permission to put it on. That just does not work."
Rumors have been circulating since May that the West Indies and Pakistan have agreed to play a pair of T20 matches in Florida next month following Pakistan's scheduled ODI tour to the Caribbean, but a USACA official would not confirm that any matches have been agreed to be staged in Florida. No formal announcement has been made by the PCB or WICB either.
Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey