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A Palm Tree Grows in Bemidji

2018 Apr 19 by DreamCricket USA

The eminent cricket historian Tom Melville offers an alternative viewpoint to a piece on a potential roadmap for cricket written by DreamCricket.com's Venu Palaparthi.   We have always appreciated counterpoints, and so here it is.... 

By Tom Melville

Cricket in America has always been a queer animal.  A sport that's always been in America, but seldom of America. A sport that lives, thrives, and functions almost entirely by looking beyond America.  Its supporters look beyond its shores for models,for inspiration, for opportunities.  Its fans find heroes outside America, they follow cricket events outside America.  They even name grounds, leagues, competitions after people outside America.

This cricket community is "knowledgeable", "sophisticated" about their game, and, we are told "affluent", with more cricket internet hits than almost any other country (a claim that must be taken with a grain of salt since with no cricket on American TV, radio, newspapers, or magazines, the internet is virtually the only medium for the game in America)

And herein lies the very problem for American cricket.  This cricket "savvy", this cricket "starved", community is acclimated to only the best in cricket, have only known the best in cricket, and only want the best in cricket: the best teams, the best players playing on "proper" cricket grounds.  This brings about the bizarre and paradoxical, but inevitable, scenario where the
very expectations of this cricket community undermine, even, perhaps, doom, any possibility of viable cricket ventures  in America.

This becomes all to evident with the USA national cricket teams.  With all other fringe sports in America--rugby, lacrosse, even soccer--the national teams are the marque attractions. They attract the largest, the most intense, following, draw the most revenue.  But with American cricket it's, amazingly, just the reverse.  The cricket community has shown virtually no interest in what should be the apogee of their sort, a community that will put thousands into the stands to watch retired, over-the-hill, foreign cricketers while the stands are completely empty for national team matches (if there are any stands at all!).

It's this bizarre, inverted, economic model that makes first class cricket in this country virtually impossible:  with a clientelle  that demands a high value product but with a market base that makes it unworkable for anything except a low value product.  Any first class cricket venture would, from financial necessity, almost have to start with "tier one," $10-20K, talent, but such a product would be immediately rejected by an American cricket community that would not turn out for anything less than "tier three", $100K talent, an unworkable scenario for a business that can only exist with the largest possible, and consistent, consumer base.

Contrast this with the model of American football in Europe.  When the NFL made its initial venture into London it started out under conditions not much different from Lauderhill.   Its first games in the 1980s were sparsely attended by spectators some of whom were there with give-a-way tickets.   But the NFL did not come to Europe to provide entertainment for,  nor did it rely on the support of, the American ex-pat community.   It was there to sell football to the British public, and sixteen games later they were playing to packed stadia with a healthy bottom line.   Sixteen matchers in and Lauderhill, where event organizers have banked solely on the ex-pat market to carry their cause, has become the graveyard of great cricket expectations, still playing to half empty grounds and awash in red ink.

Yet the cricket community still continues to believe in this inversion of economic reality, and we continue to witness a seemingly endless parade of otherwise savvy ex-pat businessmen who would outright reject as "a terrible business decision" the idea of putting a line of their favorite Indian cuisine on the menu of the McDonald's or Pizza Hut they own/operate knowing full well it would be financial suicide to market a product that would be rejected by 97% of the populace, yet these same ex-pat businessmen will rush headlong into investing  in a favorite sport that will be rejected by 97% of the American public!

The "mobilization" of the American cricket community may well be nigh, but mobilization is not the same as growth, and unless the horizons  of American cricket can extend beyond these 5, 10, 15, or  however many millions, to the 300 million than surround them on all sides, any and every scheme for expanding the game will remain the chimeras of
mice and men.

A palm tree grows in Bemidji.  It looks out from behind its protective glass case in the corner of the arboretum, where it's artificially kept warm and well-watered, alone and apart from its surroundings.  It looks out and sees the vast forests of pine, maple and oak that cover the land.  It longs to become such a vast forest!  But it cannot, because it's not like them, and cannot become them unless it can thrive and live in their environment, their world.  And so it lives on, sheltered, protected, and dreaming...but alone, apart and isolated.