USA news September 17, 2013

USACA targets massive player growth

USA Cricket Association (USACA) chief executive Darren Beazley has announced a goal of increasing the number of recreational players in the country to 50,000. The target is the chief aim of USACA's strategic plan for 2014-16, which was unveiled over the weekend.

According to 2012 ICC Development Programme data, USA has 32,066 players, including 17,820 registered in hardball leagues. USA had 26,935 amateur players in 2009 according to ICC data, meaning that there was a 19% increase in playing numbers over the last three years. For comparison at the Associate level, Ireland had a 113% increase from 18,969 to 40,414 players in the last three years according to ICC data. Achieving the 50,000 target in USACA's three-year strategic plan would require a 56% rise in participants, but Beazley says it can be done through recruiting more women and junior players.

"US cricket has really been crying out for a plan," Beazley told ESPNcricinfo. "This is not going to be the panacea, that's for sure. It's only really a road map for the next step. I wanted to make sure it was collaborative, clear and gave people a direction and I think it does that.

"I think it's achievable. That's going to come from a real focus on getting more girls and women playing, and getting more kids eight-years-and-up playing, and really trying to ensure over the next three years that the standard of competition that the seniors play in is a good quality and is split into grades, so you have an A grade, a B grade and a premier league."

Currently, USA has only 930 junior players registered in hardball leagues with about half of those playing in the NY Public Schools Athletic League, the only high-school cricket league in America. Beazley would not elaborate on how many junior players he wants as part of the 50,000-target, but said that more must be done to produce similar style programmes and structures as opposed to introductory clinics. From that standpoint, Beazley's plan differs greatly from the work done by the US Youth Cricket Association (USYCA), which has focused on donating startup cricket sets mainly for use in gym classes to get children exposed to cricket for the first time.

"It's one thing to get lots of people tasting the game. It's another thing to get them playing competitions week in-week out," Beazley said. "We want kids to experience in a school or in a camp environment, but the big push is then how do we get them to play in a six-to-eight-week competition because that's where you learn your cricket. On that basis, we're probably forgoing huge amounts of numbers just going out and doing lots of one-day and two-hour clinics because that's not sustainable long term. It's good and it gets kids exposed to the game but it doesn't have any sustainable or observable outcome at the end. What we're doing is forgoing huge amounts of numbers to make sure that we put in place structures."

Beazley indicated that high performance manager Andy Pick and other staff that may come on board will be crucial in executing the plan. He said increasing sponsorship and corporate support will enable more staff to be hired and hopefully will also allow USACA to establish funding pools for facilities development and a high performance center.

"It's great to have the plan, but on the next phase - and it's why we've been working on it so long - we're going to start to roll out the resourcing plan, which will look at human resources and financial resources to make sure that we can actually deliver on the plan," Beazley said "USACA as an organisation has to grow. We can't do it with two or three staff.

"If cricket in this country is going to be around in 20 years, then we need to go out and commercialise it. In order to do that, when a commercial company wants to have a good look at you, they're going to say, 'What do you stand for? What are your values? What are you trying to achieve?' That's what 2013 has been all about. It's been trying to define what USACA is all about. It's about trying to, as an organization, work out what it is that we want to achieve and then communicating that to our members and to the broader cricket community."

Beazley believes USACA will be able to develop revenue streams by, among other things, selling broadcast rights to next year's USACA National Championship, set to be held at a new facility in Indianapolis. An increase in funding is identified as an important part of the strategic plan, which states that USACA should have a "commercial plan developed that reduces current reliance on ICC funding". About 75% of USACA's annual revenue comes from the ICC. At the same time though, Beazley doesn't want stakeholders to be entirely dependent on USACA to alleviate funding issues locally.

"What we don't want is USACA to be seen as a big cash cow or the bank because we're not," Beazley said. "We're a charitable organisation. We're here to help and guide. We don't have massive pots of money but what we do have is expertise."

Ultimately though, Beazley said in order for USACA's strategic plan for 2014-16 to succeed, it will be up to local volunteers to buy into it and contribute the manpower necessary to pull it off.

"The people that are on the ground are going to be critical in doing this," Beazley said. "We're not going to be able to have 500 people on the payroll to deliver this. We just couldn't do it. Some volunteers work massive hours and are prepared to give that and that's the sort of people we want."

Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey

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