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Feature

CPL games a chance to revive cricket in Lauderhill

A white elephant at one time, the Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill has a chance this weekend to show it has not been entirely lost to soccer

The $70 million Central Broward Regional Park was purpose-built for cricket when it first opened, in 2008. It was US cricket's crown jewel, an oasis in a land starved of turf-pitch stadium facilities.
Before long, though, the venue took the shape of a "white elephant", in the words of a hit piece in the area's major newspaper, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. After it hosted only two revenue-generating cricket events featuring Full Members in its first seven years, restlessness from Broward County management understandably set in, and as a result the facility has begun creeping towards repurposing itself for other sporting tenants, chiefly soccer.
At the entrance to the park there are signs hawking sign-ups for FCB Escola, the summer soccer school run by FC Barcelona that has been the chief provider of rental revenue at the stadium for the last several years. Inside the pavilion there are no posters of cricketing icons who have graced the CBRP but framed images of Messi, Neymar, Iniesta and Suarez.
Most recently the second-division soccer franchise Fort Lauderdale Strikers announced their relocation from Lockhart Stadium on the north side of Fort Lauderdale to the CBRP, which offers them a more central and upgraded location. They are the main tenant at the ground now. The cricket square was dug up in 2013 and moved 20 yards north to accommodate soccer, not the other way around. All signs point to the realisation that cricket is no longer what the facility is for.
Much work had to be done on the pitch and outfield just to get it in shape to host cricket matches for the CPL this weekend. Auckland-based pitch consultant Mark Perham was brought in from Auckland to oversee the preparation of the pitch. A weed-filled outfield also needed to be worked on significantly after recent soccer use to get it back to looking green and clean.
This weekend is an opportunity to show fans the CBRP has not been lost to soccer. CPL organisers have made it known that they want to play at the venue every year, and it will take a regular commitment such as that to deter a complete repurposing of the facility for soccer. CPL chief executive Damien O'Donohoe has made it perfectly clear, though, that he wants a series of sell-out crowds to make return visits worthwhile.
CPL administrators are also confident that the product they're putting out will be better than that offered by last year's Cricket All-Stars roadshow. The cheapest ticket in Lauderhill can be bought for US$23, with two-thirds of tickets priced at $30 or less. The cheapest Cricket All-Stars ticket was $50, though more than 75% of seats were priced at $100 or higher. Tom Moody, the CPL's international director of cricket, says not only is the event more affordable than the All-Stars, but it will be a better product.
"With all due respect to the Masters competition, you're really looking down memory lane and enjoying the spectacle but from a different position in the seat," Moody said. "You're sitting back and admiring some of the greats of the game that have played over the last couple of decades.
"You see one form where you're looking back and admiring some past greats in a different generation, played in a different gear. Over the next few days you're going to see the game played that's current, with the best players in the world, playing in overdrive. From an entertainment standpoint, you'll be on the edge of your seat for the next week."
Whether or not fans hold up their end of the bargain is to be determined. The overwhelming majority of ticket sales online have been purchased by out-of-towners. A ticket sales manager at the main Florida CPL box-office location at the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center said a week out from the event that the word was "about 100" walk-up tickets were sold in the month and a half since tickets went on sale.
Yet there was more success achieved at other satellite sales locations, where tickets were offered by local West Indian expat merchants. Sheila Sawh Gowkaran, owner of Joy's Roti Delight - a cult restaurant located across the street from the stadium - said she sold out of her batch of 500 tickets more than two weeks ago. "I could have sold 1000 if they gave me that many," Gowkaran said.
In terms of local competition from other sports, Miami Marlins are home at the moment and commence with a four-game series against St Louis Cardinals, which directly clashes with the CPL start times. However, CPL chairman Richard Bevan doesn't feel they'll be affected by traffic that could have gone to the CPL games had Marlins been away.
"I think we're only in competition with ourselves in terms of putting on the very best product and making sure the cricket in Florida is played lighter and better," Bevan said. "We'll communicate that to a world audience over the next few days." Pulling out all the stops, Tridents part-owner Mark Wahlberg tweeted his support for the event, encouraging people to show up in Lauderhill.
Barring a dramatic surge in walk-up sales, the expectation is that Thursday night's curtain-raiser may be played in front of a half-full stadium, which may be a disappointment to O'Donohoe. The crowd is expected to be better on Friday night, while Saturday and Sunday are projected to be sold out, with few tickets remaining for both days. Time will tell if better success at the gate on the weekend double-header days outweighs less than optimal attendances at the start.
The last obstacle is the temperamental Florida weather in the summertime, which is also tropical storm season. The weekend prior to the CPL saw heavy rains each day. Some training sessions for the early-arriving teams were cancelled. However, since Monday there has been glorious sunshine every day. Organisers have their fingers crossed the rain will hold off through the weekend, and the current forecast is for good weather on the first three days, with only Sunday in some doubt.
If the scene in Lauderhill is anything like the last visit made by West Indies in 2012, the atmosphere should be thriving. Instead of having to wait four more years, good support in Lauderhill for the CPL might not only encourage the league to come back next year, but a visit by India and West Indies could be in store even sooner.

Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna