With the announced postponement of the long-in-the-works USA T20 league doubts again arise over the perennial claims of the "great market potential" for cricket in North America.
By Tom Melville
With the announced postponement of the long-in-the-works USA T20 league doubts again arise over the perennial claims of the “great market potential” for cricket in North America.
With three years having passed without a ball yet being bowled these doubts are certainly justified and, collectively, they point, with each passing month of inactivity, to the conclusion that CHALLC has squarely run into the (to date) impenetrable wall that has derailed every other effort, in every form or fashion, whether it’s Kwik Cricket for kids or multi-million dollar cricket leagues, from its self-proclaimed objective of bringing cricket to the American public: namely, coming to terms with the brutal reality that they are not operating in a cricket playing culture.
And despite its reassuring intent to “get things right” with its operations, CHALLC, even at this preliminary stage, has given plenty of evidence it has not done this.
Investors have been promised “top class players”, “ICC support”, and “international standard turf pitches”, all to be packaged as a fully “world class event” second to none in the cricket world.
And, at least on the drawing board, all this may play well with the most discriminating cricket fans from Mumbai to Sydney, and meet the highest ICC standards and expectations. But it doesn’t promise investors the only thing they really need to know; will any of this ever “play in Peoria.”
Not for one moment should it ever be underestimated that one, and only one, thing matters for any cricket venture with pretensions of profitability in America: can a revenue stream be generated for cricket from the mainstream American public, and this means building a business plan firmly on the tastes and customs of America’s own bat & ball culture, not the standards of the wider cricket world. But, to date, CHALLC only seems to be able to dangle before investors little more than reruns of the Lauderhill matches that never resonated with the American public, and, in all probability, matches that will be played without the international caliber players or ICC approved grounds of Lauderhill.
One has to simply wonder: what does CHALLC really have to sell? Anyone buying into a T20 franchise in a cricket playing culture knows they’re guaranteed fans will be in the stands of first class cricket facilities, in front of their TVs, etc. With its home grown T20 competition CHALLC can’t guarantee its investors much more than the “good old college try” since the hoards of anticipated American cricket fans exist, right now, only in imagination (unless CHALLC views as its “core constituency”--in the words of Gary Hopkins--the North American ex-pat community, in which case it would have to scale back its revenue projections from millions to thousands of dollars).
Personally, I believe the whole IPL “business model”—a full blown, multi-team, competition concentrated over a very short time span—is the wrong one for promoting cricket to Americans. Much preferable, and certainly more time tested, would be the course followed by the NFL in Europe; single, highly-focused, carefully planned, games with their public response scrupulously evaluated and monitored before moving forward in careful, incremental, steps. The NFL didn’t take the plunge of setting up a full-blown European league until it showed it could sell out Wembley Stadium. CHALLC is basically turning all this on its head, jumping headlong into a full-fledged league before it has shown it can sell a single ticket to Americans.
Looking at it this way, CHALLC, at its present stage of operation, is hardly more than a crapshoot, with potential investors being asked to pony up millions for franchises and grounds backed solely by the unverified collateral that organizers somehow, someway, have the wherewithal to sell cricket to the American public in a big, big, way.
(Tom Melville is an American cricket player, teacher, and author of Cricket For Americans and The Tented Field: A History of Cricket in America. He’s been working with Americans at cricket for over thirty years. Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.)