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Nurturing cricket naturally in America
by Jamie Harrison
May 18, 2009
Reader Comments

A very nice, committed cricket fan recently emailed me his idea for a successful American professional cricket league.

The plausibility of his idea rested upon the American league being financed by marketing the game to fans in the subcontinent. He believes that so much revenue could be generated by selling television rights and sponsorships that USACA, the league's host, would then be able to bankroll youth cricket with the proceeds. Naturally, I raised a few points in response:

  • If the revenue is to be primarily generated by selling television rights in the subcontinent, and soliciting sponsorships for that market, why should the promoters go through the expense of hosting it here? The overhead would be higher here, because of the venue/grounds issues and the travel/housing expenses for the sub continental players that would be brought in for the home audience.

  • Because of the small and scattered cricket market in this country, the matches would no doubt be played in largely empty stadiums, which would make for a very dull television atmosphere (not to mention dismal gate receipts and game-day food/merchandise sales).

  • In addition, why would the sub continental market watch? I doubt that the level of talent in this league would be anything greater than county cricket there, due to international commitments and scheduling issues, so it's not as if any big stars would be playing. This league would end up being very expensive second-tier cricket, played in mostly empty stadiums, being broadcast tape-delayed (because of the time-zone difference) to people who think of the IPL when they think of pro cricket.

  • This would be akin to trying to create a market for American football in France by starting a French pro football league with American castoff players, playing in converted soccer stadiums, trying to sell tickets to disinterested Frenchmen and then wanting to broadcast this delightful spectacle back to the U.S. Brilliant!

    I'm not sure what companies would be willing to pay a lot of money to advertise in that environment, and I doubt that the television rights will be high, either. In the end, either Americans will have to support the league through attendance, merchandising and television viewership or USACA will have to subsidize the league as a marketing expense. Either way, I just don't see it right now, and I worry that such a project will end up diverting resources (both human and capital) from better uses.

    The difficulty here is that many well-meaning cricket fans, and many profit-minded cricket promoters, want to begin cricket's journey in America at its final destination, rather than its natural starting point. This approach is doomed, because this is not the way sports naturally develop among populations.

    Here's what I mean by the "natural development" of a sport:
    • Kids play a game spontaneously on their own, in their yards and in any open spaces they can find.
    • Adults get involved, organizing them into teams & leagues, adding formalized coaching and the beginnings of infrastructure.
    • Of the kids playing, some are better than others, and their parents want the chance for them to play at a higher level, so "travel" teams playing across community lines are formed. A higher level of coaching develops, and more infrastructure is added to manage a countywide league.
    • Of the kids playing travel ball, some are better than others, and their parents want the chance for them to play at a higher level, so "travel" teams playing across regional lines are formed. A higher level of coaching develops, and more infrastructure is added to manage regional tournaments.
    • Of the kids playing, some are better than others, and their parents want the chance for them to play at a higher level, so "elite" teams playing across international borders are formed. A higher level of coaching develops, and more infrastructure is added to manage a national program.
    • The best of the players continue as adults, on professional "travel" teams playing across the country. A professional level of coaching develops, and more infrastructure is added to manage a professional franchise.
    • These professional teams come together to create a league. Lawyers, marketing types and sports entrepreneurs develop a concrete business plan that will ensure the future of the investors, owners and players.

    • Ta-Dah! A pro league is born.


    • Unfortunately, some people want cricket's development to proceed in this fashion:

    • A small percentage of people follow a sport.
    • Professional teams come together to create a league.
    • Lawyers, marketing types and sports entrepreneurs develop a concrete business plan that will ensure the future of the investors, owners and players.

    • Ta-Dah! A pro league is born.


    • This kind of 'inverted pyramid' is unnatural and doomed form the outset, no matter how cleverly it is conceived. The market for cricket must be created first, and this happens slowly, from the bottom up with children adopting the game first. If we are wise, our patience and hard work will one day be rewarded, but to think that there is a shortcut, a quick way to success, is absurd.

      Only through a detailed, well-managed program to nurture youth cricket can we establish the sport in America, and USACA must take control of this project if it is to have a chance of success. After individuals have been identified who will be involved in the program, an organizational structure can be created to manage it. Once this is done, the persons responsible for administering the project can begin the process of determining the program's final design, including but not restricted to: a recruitment campaign for local leaders, a budget, funding mechanisms, publicity management, accounting and oversight controls and follow-up/support networks.

      As of this moment, there is no program, nor is any in the works. It is my hope that a national discussion will take place that eventually results in such a program being adopted by USACA. It is imperative that this task be organized at the highest levels of American cricket in order to be successful. And the sooner, the better. Planning must begin now as schools reopen in just three months. Time is of the essence.

     
    More Views by Jamie Harrison
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