Plans for Florida's stadium to be redeveloped
In a move that could strike a devastating blow to the development of cricket in America, the city of Lauderhill, Florida is in the process of initiating a business plan to redevelop the cricket stadium inside the Central Broward Regional Park into a facility more suitable for other sports and activities that will generate enough revenue to sustain the operating costs of the facility. In a sternly worded letter by Lauderhill Mayor Richard J Kaplan addressed to ICC chief executive David Richardson dated April 9 and obtained by ESPNcricinfo, Kaplan blames the USA Cricket Association for the facility's lack of revenue from marquee cricket events mainly due to the governing body's failure to facilitate such events.
"After several years of under utilization by our sanctioning cricket body USACA, the City of Lauderhill and Broward County have had to look at other alternative uses for the stadium that will sell tickets to fill seats," Kaplan wrote. "As a result, Broward County is about to release an independent business plan which will advise government officials that it is time to consider a reconfiguration of the stadium to a sport that can better sustain the facility and provide an economic return."
The 20,000 capacity stadium opened in November 2007 as part of a $70 million county park complex. It is the only ICC approved ODI stadium facility in North America. Since it opened though, the stadium has been a lightning rod for criticism among local media and taxpayers in south Florida. An article in August 2009 in the South Florida Sun Sentinel titled, "Broward Built It, But Cricket Hasn't Come" detailed frustrations from the local community at the paltry attendance figures drawn for cricket matches in the stadium. An editorial in the same newspaper in August 2011 about the Central Broward Regional Park referred to the facility as "a legendary example of Broward officials setting taxpayer money on fire."
The stadium has rarely been used for cricket over the last five and a half years but has seen many other sports use the cricket pitch. Among the matches staged on the stadium turf have been flag football tournaments, MLS exhibition matches, FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup warm-up matches, a semi-pro gridiron league and a 2011 IRB Rugby World Cup qualifying match between USA and Uruguay. 2012 ICC World Cricket League Division Four was tentatively scheduled to be held in Florida last May with the stadium serving as one of three tournament venues, but USACA's governance issues, including repeatedly postponed elections, resulted in the event shifting to Malaysia later in the year.
Kaplan's letter to Richardson is particularly stinging in his summary of USACA's credentials and reputation stating that the organization "is still suffering from management issues" and that its "long sordid history of suspensions and poor governance has plagued a territory with the greatest potential." The mayor goes on to state that the pair of Twenty20 matches staged at the stadium in Lauderhill last year between the West Indies and New Zealand proved that the city and county were capable of staging world class events, but despite encouragement from local government officials and business leaders, USACA has failed to help make similar events happen.
"Our pleas to USACA to sanction additional games in the USA have fallen on deaf ears. Affiliate, Associate, and even Full body members of your organization have asked for our assistance in order to hold matches here knowing the major hurdle is and continues to be USACA's sanctioning," Kaplan wrote to Richardson. "Therefore opportunity after opportunity has been lost. Cricket, with all of its potential, continuously has disappointed this community and as such may not be able to continue."
"The stadium, if left as it is today, is likely to be converted to something that would make even the ICC developmental tournaments for other ICC Associates countries in the region impossible. Such action will probably occur sometime in the next few months, so time is of the essence. This is of course unless something is done to guarantee its use on a regular, long-term basis. We implore you to assist us with either considering some other means of holding international games without being held hostage by one uninterested and incapable governing body, or guarantee us some long term plan whereby we can establish a calendar of international events that would help us sustain the facility as it is now."
When contacted by ESPNcricinfo, USACA chief executive Darren Beazley acknowledged receiving a copy of the letter from Mayor Kaplan. Beazley stated that USACA and Cricket Holdings America (CHALLC), the partnership between USACA and New Zealand Cricket which holds the commercial rights to stage cricket matches in the USA, are committed to having cricket matches at the stadium once suitable proposals are put forward.
"USACA is aware of the letter from the Mayor," Beazley stated in an email to ESPNcricinfo. "After several meetings and numerous conversations with the City and the Friends of Broward County, neither USACA nor CHALLC (who controls the rights to international fixtures on USACA's behalf) have yet to receive a proposal to consider. No fewer than 4 requests for such a proposal have been made."
"USACA wants as much cricket in the US as possible at venues right across the nation, including Lauderhill. As we move to a more professional management structure, we'll continue to work with groups such as the City of Lauderhill, but always with the best interests of cricket foremost in mind. I am confident that should a professional proposal be received, CHALLC will consider it carefully, and if it makes commercial sense, an excellent result for our game will be achieved."
There were rumors circulating last month that CHALLC was attempting to lure Sri Lanka and Pakistan for a series of T20 or ODI matches at the stadium in late June or July. Sri Lanka is touring the West Indies for an ODI tri-series that begins at the conclusion of the ICC Champions Trophy and runs until July 11. Pakistan was due to tour the West Indies later that month ahead of the start of the Caribbean T20 on July 29.
It was hoped that Sri Lanka and Pakistan's respective tours to the Caribbean would dovetail into a series in Florida. However, ESPNcricinfo sources have indicated that both the Pakistan Cricket Board and Sri Lanka Cricket were approached about coming to Florida for a short series, but neither board showed much interest. Meanwhile, ESPNcricinfo reported on April 5 that Pakistan's tour to the West Indies is already in doubt and as a result so would the chances of packaging a trip to Florida alongside it.
Prior plans by CHALLC to launch a professional Twenty20 league in the USA this summer were pushed back to the summer of 2014. Lauderhill had originally been viewed as a host site for some teams, particularly as it is the only stadium turf venue in the country. However, CHALLC chief executive Neil Maxwell has expressed plans to play on artificial wickets in New York and San Francisco in order to seize the market potential in both cities, a move which would further undermine Lauderhill's status in the US cricket landscape.
Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey