American dream of T20 league could hit English game
A new franchise cricket league to be launched in the United States next summer has led to fears that English counties will miss out on signing leading overseas players.
Big-hitters: West Indies stars are in demand after their World Twenty20 triumph Photo: GETTY IMAGES By Nick Hoult
10:58PM BST 17 Oct 2012
The England and Wales Cricket Board is monitoring the progress of the American league and Telegraph Sport understands counties have already reported overseas players are holding off committing themselves to county contracts in case they get a more lucrative offer from the United States.
The recent boom in Twenty20 leagues - the American model will be at least the fourth to be launched in two years - has prompted the International Cricket Council to form a working party to examine how the leagues impact on world cricket. It will meet for the first time in December with a view to potential regulation of the leagues.
Cricket Holdings America is backed by the New Zealand Cricket Board and United States Cricket with the aim of building an Indian Premier League-style Twenty20 tournament in North America. Negotiations have taken place with potential investors over the sale of six franchises for $40 million (£24 million) each which will be based in cities across the United States.
This week CHA contracted three international public-relations firms to help with a launch scheduled for next summer with a tournament New York before the league kicks in properly in 2014, the same year the ECB hopes to relaunch the Twenty20 Cup in England.
“It will need local players and that will grow in time but we see New Zealand players and first-class players from around the world in each team,” said Neil Maxwell, the chief executive of CHA. “We have asked for an expression of interest and they have been quite strong. Around 200 players, or their representatives of those players, have been extremely supportive of it.”
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Officials from CHA are in talks with celebrity backers - actor Russell Crowe has been linked with the league – and hope to make an announcement over a broadcast contract before Christmas.
The long-term aim of the league is to promote local talent but in its first few years will rely on up to 80 overseas players to fill its six teams which will each have a wage budget of $1 million (£620,000).
The league still requires official sanction from the ICC because players will need international clearance to appear in it.
The American league is of particular interest to the ECB because it will be scheduled for June-July, the height of the English summer. The next two summers will be key for the ECB, with tours by Australia and India. Australia tours are the most popular with the public while India attracts the biggest overseas broadcast revenue.
“We have had debates at chief executives’ committee level and the full board about the impact of T20 leagues on international cricket,” said Dave Richardson, the chief executive of the ICC. “With the proliferation of the leagues it is becoming more important to determine what role each has and should they be regulated in terms of anti-corruption and how they fit into the international schedule.”
The American league is unlikely to attract English players because of their county commitments but will appeal to West Indian cricketers in particular. Many have US visas and thanks to their performances in the IPL and while winning the recent World Twenty20 title, players such as Chris Gayle, Sunil Narine and Kieron Pollard are in high demand and are wanted by English counties.
The progress of the American venture will need recognisable names to attract sponsorship and the broadcast deal which will underpin the business, but does have the advantage of launching in a market used to the concept of sports franchises.
“The franchises will have an appeal to a number of US corporations looking to expose themselves and build a profile in the subcontinent,” said Maxwell. “We call it a commercial and cultural bridge between the USA and the cricket world. It is an inexpensive marketing platform to engage with a new, large audience. We have interest from a number of agencies and broadcasters. That is something that will grow in time. It will be crucial to show them what is on offer and what players are playing in the league.”
Cricket has failed many times to crack the American market. One of Allen Stanford’s many hollow promises was to sell his $20 million jackpot match to the American cable networks but it never materialised.
“We have been trying for a number of years to get cricket off the ground in the United States and if it happens it will probably be on the back of the T20 format,” said Richardson. “If this is successful in improving cricket in the US then that would be great.”
America pulls in the biggest television audiences for ICC events outside India and the large Australian, Asian and British expat population, as well as migrant workers from the Caribbean, provide an existing cricket audience.
“Nobody is underestimating this,” said Maxwell. “It is a huge task but you have to make the first step. Cricket is the second biggest sport in the world. But it has no position in the biggest sponsorship market in the world.”
There is a problem with cricket facilities. The league are planning to erect a purpose-built temporary facility for the first tournament and have three sites in mind in New York before spreading across the country. New Zealand played the West Indies in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, earlier this year on the only ground which meets international standards. “These things need time,” said Maxwell. “We are not blessed with a cricket infrastructure but that is all part of creating something new.”