Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey
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Two Twenty20s between the West Indies and New Zealand in Florida will be the first opportunity for Cricket Holdings America (CHA) to help promote cricket in the USA since the LLC - a joint entity headed by the USA Cricket Association (USACA) and New Zealand Cricket (NZC) - was founded in December 2010. The matches, to be played on June 30 and July 1 in Fort Lauderdale, will be the second time that two Test nations play full internationals on American soil following a pair of Twenty20s at the same venue between New Zealand and Sri Lanka in May 2010.
Discussions to stage a series between Full Members in New York last summer never materialized but the West Indies Cricket Board's willingness to schedule games against New Zealand in Florida is the first step towards building a platform for CHA's planned launch of a professional Twenty20 league in the USA in 2013. It's also a chance to bounce back from the largely unsuccessful Twenty20 series experiment hosted two years ago by USACA.
The matches between New Zealand and Sri Lanka in 2010 were rumored to be a financial disaster. There was minimal sponsorship support and a low spectator turnout - an average attendance of 4,300 fans came to the two matches in a 20,000 capacity stadium - but that may turn out differently with the West Indies on the line-up card.
There is a sizable Jamaican expatriate population in Lauderhill, the suburb of Fort Lauderdale where the Central Broward Regional Park Stadium lies, that organizers will be looking to exploit for ticket sales. The stadium was originally approved with the goal in mind to bid for hosting matches for the 2007 Cricket World Cup, an indication of the amount of expatriate fans living in the surrounding area, but the facility couldn't be finished in time and instead opened in 2008.
Getting the word out early will also be vital towards making the matches a financial success. For the event two years ago, tickets were only put on sale 18 days before the first match. The series was originally scheduled for three matches but was reduced to two when the curtain-raiser planned for a Thursday wound up being canceled after only 200 tickets were sold, despite claims from organizers that the cancellation had to do with bad weather in the forecast and inadequate stadium lights.
One of the other hurdles to overcome will be the nature of the pitch. The CBRP Stadium has a reputation for a low and slow wicket which was reinforced by the two New Zealand-Sri Lanka matches. One of the selling points - high scoring, fast-paced action with plenty of sixes - used to try to recruit mainstream Americans wound up falling flat. A total of 375 runs were scored in four innings and just four sixes were hit over the course of the two matches.
A definite plus is that cricket will only be competing with the Miami Marlins major league baseball team for local spectator support that weekend because the NBA Finals are due to finish the previous week. The event also has the advantage in that it comes a few days ahead of Independence Day, so fans from outside of south Florida may be more inclined to make the trip if they can package it as part of a holiday.
Ultimately, the success of this event will depend on support from the West Indian community. While NZC pushed for these matches to be held in Florida to help boost CHA's profile, there is scarce support for New Zealand locally. If there are not at least 10,000 fans in the ground for each match, it will not bode well for the prospects of the league CHA hopes to get underway next year.
Edited by Kanishkaa Balachandran