USA news November 7, 2010

USA close to inking major funding deal

John Thickett, the treasurer of the USA Cricket Association (USACA), says the body is close to signing an agreement involving New Zealand Cricket that could create funding in excess of $10 million for cricket in the country. Speaking after a conference call with the USACA board to discuss commercial opportunities, Thickett said he believed the association's financial woes could become a thing of the past.

"I think we're getting pretty close to finalising it all," Thickett told ESPNcricinfo. "We're not talking about picking up the phone, calling a bank and asking them to sponsor us for $100,000. We're talking about an eight-figure deal."

The deal, he said, had involved more than a year's negotiations. "Don [Lockerbie, the CEO] has been the biggest driver. He's done a very good job of representing US cricket, as have the other directors who have worked on negotiating it."

The process of finding commercial partners began in August 2009, when submissions were received for the USACA's global request for tenders. "We've been working on looking at a number of these opportunities, having discussions, negotiating with these people. A prime reason of our recent call at the board level was to discuss where we're at with one major opportunity," Thickett said. "We're getting closer to finalising an agreement with a consortium including New Zealand [Cricket] to start an entity that will pay license fees to the USACA in order to kind of develop the sport over here.

"We hope to have an announcement on that in the next four to six weeks. We've taken the best part of a year now to negotiate, refine, and define what it is we want to do, but that entity is going to produce a very steady and significant cash-flow stream for US cricket, which we desperately need to fund all these events."

The USACA had to postpone its Under-19 national tournament, which was scheduled from November 12 to 14, because of funding problems. Thickett attributed the current cash shortage to the number of international commitments USA had this year. In 2009, the USA senior team did not have a single match but teams at all levels were engaged in competitions in 2010 and funds were used to support those endeavors.

"We're growing rapidly. If this were a kind of a start-up for-profit business, this is a very high rate of growth," Thickett said. "We're having a lot more costs." The USACA, he said, generated more than $1 million in revenue in 2010 through grants and sponsorships, but a large chunk of its finances was consumed in sending the U-19 team to New Zealand two weeks ahead of the U-19 World Cup, as well as supporting the senior team for extended periods of time overseas during the four ICC tournaments they participated in this year.

"We've spent on a lot of our teams, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars for allowances, for training camps, for travel," Thickett said. "You start sending the US team abroad for a month and you're looking at a couple of hundred thousand dollars for a full squad to go.

"What we're trying to do is build a machine that's going to generate a steady and stable cash flow for the USACA if we want to get to the $3-5 million a year that is needed to run US cricket like a top Associate, like an Ireland, a Scotland, a Canada. We can't lurch from cash-flow crisis to cash-flow crisis."

Thickett's revelations could ease some of the concerns over USACA funding expressed by Ahmed Jeddy, a board member from the Central West. "We hired the CEO, whose job was to bring the funds," Jeddy told ESPNcricinfo in an interview prior to the conference call. "Obviously, it is not a hidden fact that USACA has not been able to secure funds.

"How long can we keep telling people that we are going to get funding, we are going to get funding? Promises only last so long and after that people do start questioning. and obviously as a board member, it is my duty to tell my stakeholders and my regional people that we are having more talk and less results."

Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey