New USACA chief sets sights on development
Darren Beazley, the new chief executive officer of the USA Cricket Association, is hoping to turn around America's cricket fortunes by making grassroots development a high priority during his tenure. Beazley, who began in the role last month after moving from Perth, Australia, stated in an interview with ESPNcricinfo that cricket should be a sport "for all Americans."
"I'm keen to try and work really closely with a lot of the grassroots stakeholders. They've obviously been doing it around their clubs very well but it's now about helping them evolve, take the next step," Beazley said. "I want to work with people and particularly the USACA board to develop a strategic approach and plan for the sport over the next three years and part of that is going to be how we communicate broader than what we're apparently doing at the moment."
For Beazley, the job is an opportunity to show that he can grow the playing base among the local population in the United States that has been historically reliant on expats. Beazley previously lived in the USA in 2002 in Fairfax, Virginia where he met his American wife. Like most people, he says he didn't notice any cricket being played in the Washington, D.C. area a decade ago. Now based out of Florida, he says he's determined to raise the sport's profile nationwide.
"The reality is that cricket in the US right at the moment is very niche so therefore it makes sense that most people are not going to be aware of it," he said. "This is probably one of the most professional sports markets in the world and the big sports are obviously going to dominate mainstream media. There's no reason why with a coordinated and strategic approach that we can't start to get our messages out there.
"As we start to do things over the next few years, it's about using our money wisely and being strategic in how we get those messages out there, whether it's promoting a tournament or whether it's promoting to the community. 'Hey listen kids if you want to play cricket, here's how you can do it.' Schools are the first step but we have to see about making transition from schools to the local club."
Beazley says he has proven through his development work in South Africa for the Australian Football League's Fremantle Dockers as well as during his time as the CEO of the Perth 2011 ISAF World Sailing Championships that he can take an unknown sport in a local area and help build interest to gain exposure, something he feels makes him well suited for his role at the USACA.
"I really enjoy working in international business and international sport," Beazley said. "When I was at Dockers, the work I did in three years in South Africa developing a game was exactly the same scenario here, everyone telling us, 'You'll never get it off the ground. There's no one in South Africa playing Australian Rules Football.' All the rubbish that people do to try and cut you down and hold you back.
"We took it from 2,500 participants to 12,000 participants in our region alone, made some good money out of there and really developed the brand of football and in particular, the Dockers. I think this is a similar challenge where there'll be a lot of Doubting Thomas's and a lot of people telling, 'USACA, you can't do it,' and giving us a million reasons why not. I'm not saying that everything I've got in my mind will come to fruition but I can tell you now we're certainly going to give it our best shot."
One of Beazley's other aims is to establish a healthy relationship between the USACA and the general public in order to improve the organisation's reputation that has remained poor following last year's controversial elections. In his first month on the job, Beazley has attended local league matches in south Florida, met with various local, regional and national stakeholders, published multiple press releases and made himself readily accessible to speak with bloggers and journalists. Beazley plans to launch a new website soon and wants an effective social media presence for the organisation.
It would be a major turnaround from the problems experienced in October when former executive secretary Kenwyn Williams posted a string of messages on Facebook and Twitter that brought negative attention to the USACA and eventually caused him to be removed by the USACA board. Beazley says he doesn't want people to focus on the problems of the past. Rather, he hopes that those with an interest in cricket in the USA will look at his tenure as a clean slate for the organisation.
"I might be Australian so I might be from out of town, but I do have an American family who lives in Alabama and Tennessee so it's not like America is new and something strange to me," Beazley said. "The fact that I'm prepared to pick up my family and move from one side of the world to the other and make a commitment to help people develop the game here over the next three years and hopefully beyond that, I would hope that people would say this is a new start and this is an opportunity for us to develop the game of cricket."
Beazley acknowledges that there is no quick fix for many of the problems US cricket faces, such as lack of financial resources and infrastructure. However, he hopes people involved in cricket around the country are willing to work with him to get things going in the right direction.
"We're not all necessarily always going to agree. I'm not going to ride in on a white horse and wave a magic wand and all of the issues are going to go away because that's not how sport works anywhere in the world, but I am coming here saying that I'm here to help. I'm here to work with people and if we do that together then my experience has been over a long period of time that success becomes inevitable."
Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey