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Old September 3, 2004, 06:52 PM
Nasif's Avatar
Nasif Nasif is offline
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Default Big plan to spread cricket in USA

Big plan to spread cricket in USA:

Gary Hopkins: USA's man with the plan
Tony Munro
September 2, 2004

Welcome to the latest edition of our round-up of non-Test news. In this edition, we feature an interview with Gary Hopkins, the new chief executive of Project USA, the International Cricket Council's effort to popularise cricket in the United States. Hopkins's background includes eight years assisting the US Soccer Federation with their commercial development, as well as five years rebuilding the sponsorship, event and broadcast programmes for USA Track & Field:

Can you outline the goals of Project USA?
Well, Project USA is an initiative from the ICC to develop international world-class cricket in the United States. Our goal is to stage major one-day international cricket in the United States, to bring in the best teams in the world, and to use the revenue from those events to develop grass-roots cricket in the country.

Some US cricket followers may perceive Project USA as a top-to-bottom makeover of the administration of cricket in the United States. Is that correct?
My role is very clear. I have no involvement in the day-to-day governance of cricket in the United States. I have no involvement with state associations, or the day-to-day selection of teams. I have a very simple brief and a very simple job description, which is to sit outside the politics, and look at the commercial viability of staging major international games.

What sort of grass-roots activities would benefit from one-day cricket revenue?
At this stage I have not discussed how to use the funds with either the USACA or the ICC. It will be for them to decide the best way to utilise the funds - suffice to say the money is designated for projects in the United States.

What sort of assurance does the American cricket public have that the funds will be correctly used?
This is really something for ICC and USACA to discuss. They need to develop a plan that meets the desires of all parties. For cricket to expand in the USA, it is vitally important that all funds are utilised in a way that effectively channels all the money where it is most needed.

Will you be consulting with the people at grass-roots level?

Yes, one thing we learnt from our experiences with soccer is that you must provide a product that your core audience understands, appreciates and supports. It's a very niche audience, so you must satisfy them first, and then look to spread the game from there. We've already started talking with everybody at grass-roots level, and we've been getting some very good responses.

Does that include your average Joe who conducts coaching sessions on a Saturday morning?
You know, in soccer, I found they were critically important people - there's no-one making money in cricket in America currently. People are out there every day laying down wickets, running games etc. They are the people you really have to involve in what you're trying to do. They have to believe in it as much as you do and they have to help you go and do it. We will talk to everybody from the guy that rolls the fields to the president of the USACA - we want everyone involved.

Is the establishment of a professional league a goal of Project USA?
No, it's not actually part of Project USA's mandate. At this stage, I think its mandate is to take Step One in showing the American market world-class top-flight cricket, and showing the American market and giving cricket fans in the American market the chance to see the world's biggest stars in the States, very similar with what we followed with soccer. In 1990 when I got involved with soccer there was no pro league. Club teams would come over and draw very poorly, because there wasn't really an understanding of the quality of international soccer - they hadn't seen any major games. We started bringing over everyone from Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Russia ... and that started the core soccer fans seeing international soccer and we basically expect the same with cricket. Let's bring over the top sides ... and then build from there.

And there is a new league out there now - ProCricket ...
I met with these folk yesterday at length. My belief is people that are trying to make cricket work in this country are genuine, good solid cricket people and want to see it elevated. Yes, they're businessmen, because when it's all said and done, it's a sports business. They see a model which will hopefully work from a financial standpoint for them, and we hope they're successful. We have the issue of whether they have the support of the ICC and USACA, and that's all unclear. But I've met these people and they seem like decent people trying to build cricket in America. and I definitely think we should have communication with them and see where that goes.

So could you see ProCricket becoming part of the mainstream cricket structure?
Well, it's like everything else - one thing is very honest and true about the American sports market: it's brutally tough, it's hard, but usually very little room for everyone. There are no free rides to when it comes to launching leagues in America - many leagues have come and gone, including sports such as soccer. In the case of women's soccer they invested $US100million and had it not work. People, though, have done it successfully. Major League Soccer is well on its way to establishing itself, but equally it had a very major benefactor and cost a lot of money, but it's probably now well on its way to success. Cricket has taken its first steps towards developing its own professional league. Now the market will determine whether that's successful or not. My thoughts are that no-one likes to see a failure in any sport that you're not involved in, because it damages the sport as a whole, so we should look to see where ProCricket is, talk to them and, where we can help them, help them where it makes sense to help them do so. Just simply because we're not involved in it and we haven't necessarily sanctioned it, doesn't then mean we want this thing to fail. It's important that anything involved the cricket in the United States succeeds, from an individual game to a league.

What's your immediate focus?
Right now, it's finding suitable venues. The first week I visited 10-12 locations ranging from Los Angeles to Washington DC to Philadelphia to New York, and I'm off to Florida next week. By the time I return from the Champions Trophy I will have seen most of the potential locations, and I'm very heartened by what I've seen. With a bit of understanding and a bit of creativity we can create a true cricket environment. It may not be an environment you see at Lord's, but it will be a great wicket and a great outfield, and I believe we're on the way to finding these sorts of locations.

How pivotal is India's participation in these events?
It's important, as it is to get the support of all the major ICC members. In India, yes we have the largest growing immigrant population in the last ten years in the Asian community… Equally we have a large West Indian community. America's full of people who have English ancestry, third of fourth generation. All of our marketing and all of our focus at this stage will be on targeting niche demographics that are involved in cricket. I think at this stage its very optimistic to think we're going to spend a ton of money trying to find a general market that turns to on to cricket. In time, if we're successful it's what we do with the niche group.

Source: © CricInfo
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Old September 6, 2004, 02:18 PM
TigerFan TigerFan is offline
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Is it future super power of cricket?
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Old September 7, 2004, 07:08 PM
rafiq rafiq is offline
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I think they are on the right track. Sports in the US is based on markets - each city or region is an almost independent market and what may work in one city may not work in another. That's why they really need to do the homework on where the crowds will come. My guess is New York/New Jersey, LA, southern Florida for starters;
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Old September 7, 2004, 09:03 PM
Pundit Pundit is offline
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It sure will be nice to see BD take on the U.S. in the nations's capitol. Much better than FOBANA.
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Old September 8, 2004, 07:00 AM
amit(a huge BD fan)
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if cricket has to be spread, it has to be spread in countries like ireland, scotland, nepal where the local population plays cricket and is interested in the game as well. also these types of countries have a decent fan base.

spreading cricket in usa makes no sense. in sports like hockey and football, usa have done nothing great so far. even in basketball, despite having so much,usa flopped badly in the olympics.

cricket will never take off in the usa and only in countries like ireland, scotland, nepal will the game expand and there teams will be test/odi teams in the near future.
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Old September 8, 2004, 08:44 AM
rafiq rafiq is offline
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Pundit, lol, that could be the only time we can beat up on the US.

Amit, stop spamming the board with the same post on different threads. I just don't think you understand the spirit of sports otherwise you wouldn't have an issue with anyone trying to field a team. Cricket is not the exclusive birthright of the big test playing nations, please remember that. And your other comments are totally inaccurate. If you just want to talk soccer, you have no idea about where the US game is or what a major sport it has become for children. Bigger than in India or Bangladesh, sad to say for those countries. Try to find out, you will be surprised.
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Old September 10, 2004, 05:04 PM
ChrisM ChrisM is offline
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Seeing that soccer has made very little headway in the USA (even on the back of the 1994 World Cup), I don't give cricket much chance.

Their best player today was a 43 year who was barely good enough for the West Indies when they were declining.
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Old September 11, 2004, 04:10 AM
rafiq rafiq is offline
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I disagree about soccer not making headway inthe US. anyone who follows soccer at all levels here would know that.

Let me just qualify that, ChrisM. I have spent the last 20 years in the US being involved with youth soccer (which I play and love and understand more than cricket), first while playing in college and later in life as a coach for community teams. So having seen many kids play at many levels from pre-kindergarden to youth travel teams to high school to college, I have gotten a good look at how soccer has progressed since I got here. I think the kids in this country who are good players are as good as any in the world. Even if they aren't, they are not that far behind.

When it comes to professional soccer, yes, the leagues here are not that developed. But you have to look at the wave of immigration from soccer playing countries - the Hispanic population alone will ensure that soccer remains a major sport in the US. I don't think it has to surpass baseball, basketball, football to be viable.

But the main reason for my belief is the quality of play I see from pre teen and teenage kids week in and week out. This weekend, we are driving 90 miles one way for a match on Saturday, and then again for a second game on Sunday for my son's travel team - and these are just league matches. If there was no enthusiasm for the sport, no one would be crazy enough to do that.

ps I know one player here and there doesn't mean much, but have you seen the new Manchester United defender, Jonathan Specter? Well this kid was playing high school soccer in a chicago suburb last year - now he's at Old Trafford and from what i saw in the United/Bayern game in Chicago, he's ready to take over in that suspect United defense. If the Us had a farm system like they do in England or in Italy, there would be a phenomenal number of these kids going pro right after high school.

Edited on, September 11, 2004, 9:27 AM GMT, by rafiq.
Reason: mor clarification

Edited on, September 11, 2004, 9:39 AM GMT, by rafiq.
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Old September 11, 2004, 11:54 AM
ChrisM ChrisM is offline
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These are important points, but my impression is that football in the US (leaving aside immigrants for the moment) is still seen as a "nice" sport to play for the middle class and for women. You won't get the hunger you get from (mostly) black sportsmen in American Football, Basketball etc. Or even tennis. The problems the league has suggest that when it goes up a level of seriousness then it hits a wall. The people who care about football (in the way the English or, say, Bengalis in London do) doesn't seem to have grown much.

I agree completely that the white US players are remarkably good considering and that the Hispanic/immigrant players could make them even better in the next few years.
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Old March 5, 2005, 12:48 AM
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Nasif Nasif is offline
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And then ICC politics gets in the way?

An opportunity wasted?
March 2, 2005

In August, Gary Hopkins was appointed as the chief executive of Project USA, the ICC's far-reaching commitment to developing cricket Stateside. But a fortnight ago, after months of wrangling, the ICC suspended the initiative. Martin Williamson spoke to him:

How much notice did you get about the ICC decision?
While it was a decision made by Malcolm [Speed, the ICC's chief executive] and the ICC, I was aware they were concerned with current governance issues and was kept abreast of the course of action they were going to take.

Given the opportunities inside the USA, you must have been extremely disappointed?
It is disappointing both professionally and personally. I have worked in the US sports market for a long time, and it's a tough, often uncompromising marketplace. Yes, there is great opportunity, but you have to compete with some of the most powerful and professional sports and entertainment entities in the world for the consumer dollar, with an emphasis on professional. To grasp the opportunity in front of it, cricket in the USA has to adapt and evolve, and quickly.

Do you think that this is just a suspension and, if so, what needs to be done to get Project USA back on track?
I do not think this decision was taken lightly and clearly there are major reservations. I am very disappointed in how the relationship between the ICC and the USA Cricket Association has deteriorated, and its subsequent impact on Project USA, but clearly there is a political battle inside of USACA regarding the current elections and it appears to be very acrimonious. Equally much of this has taken place in full public view and through the media, which is never good. The current perception around the world is of an organisation out of control and riddled with incompetence and petty politics. Whether this is correct or not, this is the perception. This I would think needs fixing. Hopefully a correctly run, transparent and fully inclusive election will go a way towards this.

How much progress have you made in the five months in the role so far?
Project USA has made tremendous progress, and this only compounds the frustration for everyone concerned.

With hindsight, should your Prjoect USA role have included a role inside the USACA rather than being entirely separate from the politics?
There are two sides to this. Being able to keep a very clear focus on the commercial and business side of the venture ensured that I was able to move pretty quickly, and freely do all that was necessary to complete the feasibility plan. There was a great deal of time-consuming work to be done, with a lot of travel and research. The learning curve required to bring myself up to speed with the history, governance and personal politics of US cricket would certainly have detracted from this.

Gladstone Dainty, the USACA president, was apparently worried that Project USA could drain funds from the US market, and take them "off-shore". Is this fair?
I have seen the Memorandum of Understanding and it clearly states that all monies raised from the efforts of Project USA remain in the States for the development of cricket here. This was equally stated to me when I took on the role of CEO, and nothing I have seen or heard since makes me question this. The whole intention of the project is for the ICC full-member countries to give a financial jump-start to cricket in America, to help in its development with the hope that it becomes a vibrant new frontier that will benefit everyone. It's counter-intuitive to think that monies raised would not be used for that purpose.

In September, you said one of your first jobs was to identify suitable venues in the USA. Did you succeed?
We have a new $35million cricket stadium being built in Lauderhill, Florida. This stadium opens in 2006 and will be a tremendous resource for the USA. Quite remarkable really - it took us ten years to get our first purpose-built soccer stadium in the States. I am amazed and excited that cricket has this resource coming on line soon.

Is there life for cricket outside the expat community in the USA?
The real question to ask is will there be any cricket in the expat community in 20 years if cricket does not come to the States. Kids of first-generation immigrants will gravitate to the sports they can watch. As they assimilate into society they will grow up watching and playing baseball, basketball, American football and soccer. Cricket will be their dad's game. It will hold less and less relevance. I said in the beginning, the competition for the hearts and minds of young sports fans is massively competitive, with some of the most experienced, savvy and smartest marketing-driven leagues in the world desperate to steal our consumers. The passionate cricket-loving dad will not be swayed - the young "Americanised" son or daughter will be, and will be lost to cricket forever. Major League Baseball, NFL and the NBA have all identified emerging ethnic communities as being vital to the growth of their sports. For example, huge marketing campaigns have been initiated to turn Hispanics - naturally soccer fans - into fans of baseball, hockey and football. It's a running battle for the hearts and minds of young fans, particularly when the consumer entertainment dollar is tight. It's also a battle cricket has not turned up to yet.

Assuming Project USA continues, what will cricket look like there in ten years' time?
I am more worried about the next ten days and ten months. But if you ask me to look at a crystal ball, five years ahead I would say this is what I would hope it would be like: In one to two years we will have run two highly successful tri-nations series that establish the USA as an exciting, new, viable venue for international cricket - a place that teams and players are excited to come, and a place where millions of latent USA cricket fans can see the world's best. Project USA ends in two years - or next month - and cricket in the USA would need to stand on its own. Hopefully the money raised and exposure gained would be a catalyst for real growth.

And further ahead than that?
I would hope that US cricket would be able to find and develop turf facilities in San Francisco and New York to supplement existing ones in Los Angeles and Lauderhill. An international tour that featured Florida, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York should excite any cricket fan in the world, and deliver cricket to the hotbeds of US support. Hopefully, we would have established a successful summer professional league, and there would be a strong and vibrant well-funded club system that develops players from the age of six and up, feeding players into a organised, professional structure that can lead to a pro league and international honours. I don't believe that the USA cannot produce world-class cricketers. It's what this country is all about. They love competing and they love winning. If monies are used wisely in this area and the very best coaches and academies developed, the USA can be competitive with the full-member countries in seven to ten years, and challenging for trophies in 10 to 15 years. If you want an example, look at the US soccer team. In 1990 it was ranked 130th in the world, and yet in 2002 it reached the World Cup semi-finals. It can be done.

Source: CricInfo

Edited on, March 5, 2005, 5:49 AM GMT, by Nasif.
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