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Last month’s announcement by USACA that they are entering into a partnership with New Zealand Cricket was a big step in helping to get US cricket onto the international radar. According to USACA CEO Don Lockerbie, NZC is going to be involved in myriad ways to develop cricket in America as well as raise the profile of the game in the country and USA’s cricket profile around the world. While the announcement was made in November, the seeds were planted last June in London.
“It all started with a breakfast in June in which the board treasurer, John Thickett, and myself met with Justin during the ICC annual conference in London,” said Lockerbie during an interview last week. “We had been given Justin’s name, we certainly knew who he was, but Matthew Kennedy of the ICC who is responsible for managing the Associate members thought it would be very wise for me personally to meet up with Justin because I think it’s widely known that New Zealand runs a very good board, a very good program for such a small country, is consistently one of the top teams and successful.
“We just hit it off at that breakfast for sure. Justin has been an international businessman who has had dealings and has lived and worked in the United States. He understands our culture. He understands our diverse culture and he also had a good feel for where cricket was in the United States and what it could be. That was part and parcel our discussion and what we basically agreed to was that down the road we should look at how New Zealand could assist USACA.””
A month later, USACA issued their commercial program request for proprosals. According to Lockerbie, USACA received 102 expressions of interest from companies in 16 different countries. By the August 7 deadline, they had received 42 official proposals from businesses in nine different countries.
Photo (Right): Don Lockerbie, CEO , USACA
“Much to our happy surprise, New Zealand was one of them, and the only Full Member that put together a consortium of Full Member services and sports management company partners to put what they call a collaboration of USACA with this New Zealand Cricket consortium,” said Lockerbie. This consortium gives USACA the potential to make more announcements in the near future for other partnerships. “The consortium is certainly New Zealand Cricket proper and then essentially some Australian partners who are already involved in sports management. We’re going to keep them private for the moment because we still have some other negotiations to reach together but we’re very pleased with the consortium and their immediate ability to help US cricket.”
Lockerbie is particularly excited at the coaching and development resources that will be made available by NZC to help fast-track the US back up the Associate ranks.
“First of all, it’s a great day for American cricket in the sense that one of the things New Zealand wants to do is help us focus on developing the game in the United States,” said Lockerbie. “Now to that end, they’re going to share with us all of the programs that seem to make sense in the United States. That’s everything from of course coaching programs, player development programs, umpiring clinics and certification programs. Helping clubs manage their programs, their training, their competitions, their growth. Helping us understand what New Zealand is doing to develop cricket in schools. Helping with the women’s and girl’s programs that New Zealand has. Working with my offices to help mentor USACA’s management on how to do things within the specter of being a well governed, well oiled cricket board, working on our budgets, on our staffing, on our priorities. Helping our board of directors, maybe by consulting with them on the programs the board might want to create policies for. We’ve got everything.
“It’s almost as if New Zealand will be mentoring but they’re almost like a library resource of information. The ability to look at their player contracts for example, or their constitution or how they budget or the type of staff that they have in their offices and as we grow and we start hiring more staff, what might be the right plan, job description. When we start contracting players for professional contracts, to be able to use whatever’s working for New Zealand, it’s just a great instant resource for us. But they really want to help us grow the game. They want to help us of course grow it within the body that already exists and improve the game here in the United States and help us improve the game. But they are nothing more than consultants and advisors to us. They’re not here in any way to manage cricket in the United States. They’re here to be a resource, an active resource.”
The first utilization of these resources will be later this month when the Under-19 and senior teams have a training camp that is being planned for the weekend before Christmas to take place in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. According to Lockerbie, NZC will be sending over coaches to help assist the Under-19 team’s preparation before they leave for the ICC U-19 World Cup in January. The coaches will also be there to help the senior team get ready for their two ICC tournaments in February. The Under-19 team will also be the beneficiary of more assistance in New Zealand as they are scheduled to arrive a week early to train in preparation for the 16-team event.
“They’ve already set up training camps for us in New Zealand for the Under-19 World Cup… people there to help make sure that our experience replicates the experience that a Full Member would normally have because of these extra resources,” said Lockerbie. “In a sense, they’re almost adopting our Under-19 team to make sure we have a special experience within the guidelines of the World Cup. So that’s a perfect partnership to kick off. I mean the Under-19 team is gonna have as close to a Full Member World Cup experience as anybody could have and that’s just brilliant I think. We’re gonna go in early and have eight or nine days before our first warm-up match against India. And to have the New Zealand team walk us through and get us used to the wickets and the weather and the jet lag and the food and all of the things that they can help us do will just be a better managed team and our coaching staff and players are very excited about that.”
While USACA stands to gain a tremendous amount from this deal, New Zealand is also looking to create more opportunities for itself. As was previously reported, New Zealand is looking to stage matches in the northern hemisphere summer while their stadiums are occupied by rugby teams during the southern hemisphere winter. Lockerbie believes that international matches can be staged here with New Zealand as early as next year.
“The whole idea that New Zealand needs a place to play from May to October means that New Zealand will be an annual fixture playing other Full Members in the United States year after year as we continue to develop our relationship,” said Lockerbie. “So already we have some potential matches in the works and we’re very excited about that as well.”
With the ICC World Twenty20 happening in the West Indies next year, Lockerbie is also trying to convince teams to come and play matches in the USA as a form of warm-up before the tournament starts on April 30, 2010 in Guyana. His aim is to get teams to play matches from April 21-24. However, this will be a difficult task to pull off since the third season of the IPL doesn’t finish until April 25 and a good chunk of international talent will be unavailable.
Speaking of the West Indies, Lockerbie wants people to know that the agreement with New Zealand Cricket does not mean that USACA is no longer interested in having a relationship with the WICB.
“There’s a lot of interest as to why this hasn’t been with the West Indies Cricket Board who is the Full Member in our region,” said Lockerbie. “Let me make it clear that I’ve been a part of the West Indies Cricket Board since 2002. My regard is very high. My respect is very high. As Chief Operating Officer of the West Indies World Cup, I know pretty much everybody there and we’re going to be working closely with them as well. We’ve made an official relationship with New Zealand because they’re from far away and they’ve been outsiders but we’ll continue to do more than ever with the West Indies.
“Dr. Ernest Hilaire, the new CEO, and I were very close colleagues at the World Cup. Robert Bryant, who is now the CEO of the World T20, has reached out to me for some assistance. I personally am offering some assistance to the Trinidad government to assist in finishing a stadium project that didn’t get finished in time for the World Cup, that’s the Brian Lara Stadium in Trinidad. That stadium will be finally finished in the spring of 2010 and I’m providing some personal assistance so we’re absolutely closer than ever with the West Indies Cricket Board and we’ll continue to work on bringing the West Indies team to the United States.”
Speaking about the potential for growth in the sport across America, Lockerbie pointed to the success of the NYPD T20 league and the NY PSAL high school initiative as proof that there is a vast market that needs to be tapped into.
“There are other cities that I’m now aware of who want to emulate what the New York Police Department has done with their league. So if you think about the fact that in New York, the New York Police Department started their league and the PSAL has a league and now you look at some other cities around the country are looking to develop leagues both in their schools and in police departments as initiatives, these are exciting times,” said Lockerbie. “What we’re looking to do is watch the balance of cricket grow because estimates that we have is that there’s anywhere between 30 and 40,000 registered players in the United States in USACA. It’s also been estimated that on a given weekend, there’s 200,000 people playing cricket in the United States, they’re just not registered as part of USACA. Then it’s estimated that there’s 15 million fans of the game in the country. To only have 30 or 40,000 registered players out of 15 million fans isn’t good enough. Even with 200,000 people playing, it isn’t good enough.
“We’ve just got to continue to build USACA as a worthy organization that people can trust to caretake for the game and grow the game and I’m very pleased to see that there’s plenty of collaboration and entrepreneurs, good initiatives that are popping up all over the country where people want to see the game grow and then corporations are wanting to invest in the game. We hope to have some very big announcements in the next month or two regarding other international play and commercial endorsements and commercial program partnerships. Early in the new year, or certainly by the first quarter of the new year, we should have a lot of very positive announcements and it will all go with the goal of developing the game at the grass roots level because that’s the future. The future of the game is to make sure the youth of this country are learning it so that we can continue to create a pool of players that enjoy the game and then also support the game so that we can send our national and international players to play the game at a worthy level.”
Regarding the commercial endorsements and sponsorships that have been absent from USA cricket, Lockerbie has declared that America will not be able to become a force in international cricket without them and that a steady source of revenue is necessary if the United States wants to compete with the big boys. It won’t happen overnight, but consistent progress will be key.
“Cricket Australia probably has a budget north of $100 million dollars annually and so would the top three or four teams who you could name. Probably middle road Full Members are in the $20-50 million dollar a year expenditure. When you look at Associates, the history of Associates, are probably in the $1-3 million dollar a year capability,” said Lockerbie. “So I can tell you that USA Cricket is looking at making sure that we’re at the top of the Associates level, but that’s not going to be good enough and over the next few years, our budgets will be headed north of that and so we have to find sponsors and events and other revenue streams to get us there. Because we’re the United States, because we’re a very large country, our teams can’t just drive and play together every Saturday afternoon so it’s a very expansive place to have to try and grow cricket. But in the next five years, we’ll need $10-20 million dollars a year to be competitive with the teams around the world at a minimum. We’re coming from budgets that were certainly nowhere near anything like that to get back in the ballgame with the top associates.
“We have to do everything in stride. Let’s just make sure we’re equal to the Canadas, the Scotlands, the Irelands, the Hollands and do what they’re doing and equal what they’re doing financially and on the field as well as development in schools, development in grass roots programs. Then when we get there, we look north again and we try to take on Full Members both financially, commercially and on the field because we’ve gotta develop the American cricket game so that we’re constantly improving our players. All I’ll say is that by landing the New Zealand deal, we’re more than on our way to meeting all these goals.”