Interview with Jamie Harrison, CEO-American Cricket – Part TwoGaneshbabu Venkat |
CW: Recently ACF inducted former cricketers Ian Chappell and Michael Holding to be part of your advisory board; what benefits are they going to bring to the table and what plans do you have for them? Do you foresee more cricketers joining the ACF?
JH: Our honorary advisory board is basically a think tank that we can turn to. We apprise them of some of our ideas and our plans, and we get their feedback and the benefit of their experience and their association with the ICC. The fact that they are so deeply tied to the international game is a perspective that we wouldn’t ordinarily have inside domestic cricket in the US. The guys involved in cricket in the US are generally not people who are active participants in the international game. So basically it just gives us an extra set of heads more experienced than us and with unique perspectives that helps us in our decision making process. I do expect in the future there will be more people added to the board.
CW: As the CEO of a cricket organization in an associate nation, what are your thoughts on ICC? What do you think ICC is doing or not doing to promote cricket in an associate nation with a large market potential?
JH: I don’t want to lecture the ICC, every associate country is different. There is no “one size fits all” solution to associate cricket, I think the important thing is that you have to get boots on the ground, find people in the country who you can trust and who are people of integrity, who are absolutely committed to the game as opposed to their own self-promotion, and work with those people in a way that works in that country to promote cricket; in different countries, it will be different solutions.
I do think it’s important for every country to know well in advance what steps need to be taken and the benchmarks which need to be hit in order to advance to the next level. If I am an affiliate, what are the targets that we need to achieve to become an associate? If we are an associate but do not have ODI status, we need to know exactly what numbers we need to achieve to get ODI status. If we have ODI status, now we need to know exactly what we have to do to become a Test playing nation. I think it needs to be an objective of the ICC to have as many Test playing nations as possible because the Test game is the game that matters.
T20 is exciting, it’s commercial, it’s fun, it’s razzmatazz and fireworks but at the end of the day everyone measures their cricket by Test cricket and if a country doesn’t see a path between where it is at now and the Test game, it can be very disheartening, it can be very discouraging and can feel like wandering in the desert with no map. I think there needs to be a map to lead us from where we are today and Test cricket, what are the intermediate steps and then we can plan how we are going to achieve those goals.
CW: Talking about market potential and performance measures, what would you say is a benchmark for cricket as a sport to reach the US audiences at home to compete against the big four (MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL); when would you say that cricket can be recognized as a sport that has reached the people in the US?
JH: That’s a great thing about the United States – because of the size and the wealth and the disposable income; we don’t have to compete with the big four in order to be a success. There are 330 million people in the United States, if 1% of those people were cricket fans willing to spend their money on cricket, that would be a quarter of the population of New Zealand.
That’s an amazing number to have to play with, and Americans have disposable income and will spend that money on sports. So we have the resources, we have the population; we don’t need to compete with the established sports. We just have to develop a cut of the market that is ours and we need to do a better job of marketing and promoting the game. Taking the game into schools, taking the game into the neighborhoods, the parks and the communities, and then basically the game sells itself.
I have never gone into a school to introduce cricket and not had the kids fall in love with the game. The game is fun, we just need to do a better job selling it and our target need not be 50,000 people in a stadium like you are going to have in India. I look at the grounds in New Zealand as perfect grounds for American cricket. I think 5000 seats and then grass banks around the boundaries where people can lay out blankets and sit, to me that’s a wonderful atmosphere for cricket, I would love to see 20 or 30 of those scattered throughout the United States.
CW: Can you please elaborate a little bit about the US Youth Cricket organization?
JH: I am still the President of US Youth Cricket and we have a great partnership with the ACF. Basically US Youth Cricket manages the Under 13’s and the ACF takes it from 14 and over. And this partnership, the synergy, allows us to take children from the ages of 5 through a complete process all the way to adulthood. US Youth Cricket has so far donated over 1500 cricket kits to schools all over the United States.
That’s part of the way that we start cricket where there is none right now. We go into the schools; we provide equipment, teach them how to use it and then the local volunteers can follow up by starting youth programs in the communities and introduce kids to playing cricket properly. However you have to work it on both ends; you have to introduce cricket at the grassroots with very young children and you also have to provide opportunities for adult cricketers to play more and more competitive cricket at a higher level with better coaching and better facilities, so those kids can grow up and have something to look forward to instead of being out of the game by the time they are 13.
CW: Is ACF making any efforts to bring any kind of international cricket to the United States?
JH: There is a caveat with that. Every March we are going to have the Northern American Cricket Championship, which is where our champion league plays Toronto Cricket Club, and that’s sort of international. We are not really interested in playing international cricket, we see that there is a lot of work to be done within our own borders and that’s where our focus is. Last year, somewhere in the mid 80% of our expenses were directly spent on promoting domestic cricket in the United States. So we are very domestic focused.
CW: Given the proximity of the US to the Caribbean, can you can talk to the West Indies Cricket Board, a full member of ICC and develop some synergy which could help in the long run?
JH: There is nothing in the plans right now mainly because we are not the ICC representative at the moment, which keeps most of those organizations from having a direct contact with us. Having said that, I would love to see a day where coaches are freely exchanged between countries and players get the opportunity to play higher quality cricket in other places. So I definitely would love to see that exchange.
CW: Do you believe that there is hope in the future that US cricket would be governed by one single body?
JH: I think it’s inevitable. I don’t think that a house divided can long stand; I think that the cream will rise to the top. American cricketers are already rushing en masse to join the ACF because they see the ACF as being the future of the game. There are some holdouts that have investments with USACA and they are holding on to the very end and I understand that. I know there are practical considerations for some people where they can’t leave right now, but everyone sees the writing on the wall.