Living the American dream
Martin Williamson speaks to Bernard Cameron, the man behind Major League Cricket in the USA
Major League Cricket Incorporated (MLC) is a cricket development, management, and promotion company based in New York City. The organization was established in 2000 in New Jersey. Its mission is the education, strategic development and promotion of cricket throughout the United States.
Given the shambles at the top of US cricket, this tournament appears to have become the de facto national competition. Do you agree and are you happy with that?
In the context of the question we certainly agree, and are happy that it is seen as the de facto national tournament. However; we are absolutely unhappy about the "shambles at the top of US cricket."
In the unlikely event that the USACA mess is sorted, will MLC still have a role?
Absolutely! In the United States of America there are several sporting entities operating at various levels of any particular sport. Anyone who is willing to roll up their sleeves, deal with the clear business processes of sports marketing, apply them to the game of cricket while creating the necessary equilibrium between the American sports market and the requirements of international cricket, will definitely have a role.
Why have you invited non-US sides such as Toronto?
It is our goal to make this tournament a North American tournament thereby creating a cricketing bridge between Canada and America, acquiring a strategic partner, while at the same time restoring our historic rivalry dating back to the 1800s.
How widespread has support for the venture been at the grass-roots level?
We have received an enormous amount of telephone calls and emails on the National Interstate Cricket Tournament. The cricketers' desire to participate, encouragement and well wishes personally touch my heart deeply and fan our flames of positive aggression and our ultimate desire to put in place the necessary mechanisms for success.
How is this event funded and what major sponsors are on board?
MLC Real Estate LLC has invested the necessary funds into Major League Cricket for the smooth running of the National Interstate Cricket Tournament. Presently, our main sponsor is LSPORTO DISP, though we are presently in talks with others.
ProCricket launched last summer in a balze of publicity but lost millions and failed to reappear. How can people be sure MLC will not be a similar venture?
We have carefully studied the reasons behind ProCricket's failure to follow through on their successes in 2004. Our considered opinion is that this was not due to the failure of their concepts, but deficiencies in their operational management and execution. We are proceeding to carefully lay a groundwork for our plan, and this is one reason we do not intend to launch our Professional league until mid- or late 2006. Our reason for announcing it at this stage is to show how this professional league will dovetail into the Interstate Tournament, and how we intend to provide salaries to pay for those US players who will distinguish themselves at the Interstate tournament and are selected into the squads for the two-year intensive training program to begin in 2006.
You first submitted plans to the USACA in 2001. What has happened since then?
We received no formal response from the USACA on this matter. Thereafter, we did bring Hunts Construction Group, HOK, along with a top marketing and public relations company to a high level meeting in Disney. Disney agreed to pledge 30 to 40 acres of land to build a cricket stadium that would be used also for soccer. At that time I was able to sell the Merchant Bank Division of Bear Stearns & Co our business plan, which they would support only if Disney was on board (which they were). My next task was to sell this to USACA, which I attempted to do by e-mail, phone calls, and requests for action. Well, here we are today, and as of this writing there has been no formal response from USACA.
Has USACA done anything to try to block or support the tournament?
Major League Cricket does not have any formal indication that the USACA as an organization has done anything to try to block the National Interstate Cricket Tournament. However, all members of the board of directors that represent the various cricketing regions under the USACA structure were personally written to by me encouraging them to support the tournament. As of this writing there has been no response to those letters.
Is there a fear that players who participate could be barred from the national side by the USACA?
It is our understanding that this did happen last year with players that participated in the ProCricket League. We have received many calls in this regard from concerned players. As a result, this led to some states not taking a part in the tournament.
Were you surprised at the negative response from the Council of League Presidents?
No! Disappointed, perhaps, but not surprised.
Do you regret getting involved - albeit briefly - with the CLP in June?
No! However, my advisors did caution me. Sir Clive Lloyd has always said to me, "Bernard, it is easier to achieve if we all come together." I have always tried this approach first with USACA and more recently with the CLP. Writing their resolutions and giving strategic advice at their dinner table in New York was done in the name of US cricket and I do not regret it for a second.
What drives those inside US cricket who seem hell-bent on bad-mouthing MLC?
I wish I could put this question to those responsible for these actions. .
And what drives you to continue despite the many obstacles?
Faith ... and I am a cricketer at heart. Ask Sheldon or Larry Gomes. We played against each other in first and second division in Trinidad. I was taught by my parents that in order to succeed one must have goal orientated behavior. I remember when I was called for trials and had to have that "chat" with my parents concerning the choice of a future in cricket or furthering my education. I chose to further my education. However, heavy on my heart was the realistic statement by my parents that, "there was no future in cricket." They were right at that time. Today, I see the same challenge existing in America. Only the most ardent cricket supporting parents will encourage their children into the sport. MLC's goal is to change that. We must then interconnect the public school systems, YMCA, boys and girls clubs, colleges and universities along with the existing league system, national tournament and professional league structure to create a foundation upon which our high school cricketers will be receiving cricket Scholarships to the University of Michigan. They will then have the opportunity to play professional cricket with a degree in hand with a life after cricket. Call me a dreamer, but so was Dr Martin Luther King and today we - all immigrants - have earned the rewards of his dream.
Have you had support internationally - have, for example, the ICC and its development offices been helpful to you?
We have had several communications with various international cricketing entities around the world including the ICC, PCA, ECB etc all of whom have been very helpful to us in our mission.
What is your medium to long-term strategy?
At present we're operating on a 10-year plan. Within that, there are goals to be accomplished within realistic established timeframes. We intend to create National Cricket Centers, MLC coaching Certification Levels, a National Cricket Academy, Umpire's Certifications, and introduce technology, and biomechanics to US cricket.
We are also focused on the 2011 World Cup, and are trying to put in place the business processes and infrastructure beginning now to meet that challenge. MLC's National Interstate Cricket Tournament is a first step towards that 2011 goal. Then, the introduction of the MLC 20/20 will create a platform for the national players to compete consistently with professional players from around the world and learn from their experiences.
Our long-term strategy is simple: give America access to cricket. America must know the who, what, why, when and where to get involved with the game of cricket on a national scale. The physiological, psychological, educational, and financial benefits to the game must be communicated to the American public. And, this means we must establish professional relationships with marketing, public relations and commercial partners along with sports investors who can see the potential benefits from partnering with American cricket.
Given the stalemate in the battle for control of the national game, can you see a situation where MLC is in a position to fill the void?
MLC will continue to implement its strategies regardless of the battles existing with other local cricketing entities. Our mission is clearly stated; the education, strategic development and promotion of cricket throughout the United States. As a result - based on our mid and long-term goals - we believe that we will be doing more than just filling a present void; we will be defining new horizons, and new challenges.
What do you think the future holds for cricket in the USA?
There is a 500 megawatt bulb at the end of this American cricket tunnel. Though there may be a dark cloud hanging over US cricket at the moment, MLC feels that it is acquiring, and will acquire, the commercial partners and intellectual resources that will allow us to execute our business development process. It is no easy task. However, my mother always said that the race is not for the swiftest but for those who can endure to the end. And, I learned from George Bernard Shaw that, "You see things; and you say `why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say `why not?'"
Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo