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US city aims to become top center for cricket

July 4, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Midwestern U.S. city best known for one of the world’s highest profile auto races is preparing for a proper game of cricket — the sport most Americans know only from British films.

Indianapolis is spending $6 million to equip one of its parks with a premier cricket field, known as a pitch, and space for Gaelic football, rugby, hurling and other sports mainly popular overseas.

Mayor Greg Ballard hopes his World Sports Park project brings international exposure and helps local companies attract talented overseas workers by offering them a home for their favorite games.

“These are global sports and they’ll give us more visibility in the global marketplace,” he said.

Cities across the U.S. are jockeying for any advantage to boost economic development, and sports is an easy target. Professional sports teams pump millions into local economies in the cities that host them.

But can a sport that most Americans are unfamiliar with have the same payoff? It’s a gamble, said Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert at San Francisco’s Baker Street Advertising.

“How do you sell it to a public who really doesn’t understand it? To me cricket is a fairly mystifying sport,” Dorfman said.

The mayor isn’t daunted. Indianapolis has already signed a three-year deal to host a U.S. amateur cricket tournament and championship, starting in August 2014.

“When people around the world think of cricket, I want them to think of Indianapolis,” he told media in India during a trade visit in April.

Some local politicians have criticized Ballard for the project at a time when the city faces a $50 million budget deficit.

Cricket supporters insist Ballard’s vision can become a reality.

Darren Beazley, the chief executive of the United States of America Cricket Association, said there are currently 50 cricket leagues with 1,108 teams in the U.S. and that about 30,000 Americans — mostly immigrants from former British colonies — play cricket, which he said is the world’s second-most popular sport after soccer.

Beazley said his group hopes to double the nation’s pool of cricket players within five years, in part by demonstrating the sport to schoolchildren, much as soccer was popularized a few decades ago.

Jatin Patel, Indian-born president of the Indiana Youth Cricket Association, said students in about 240 Indiana schools have been shown the basics of the sport since his Indianapolis-based group began an outreach program in 2010.

Indianapolis isn’t the first U.S. city to try to tap into the sport’s overseas popularity. Lauderhill, Florida, opened a $5 million cricket stadium in 2007 that’s the only U.S. cricket venue certified by the International Cricket Council. Indianapolis hopes its cricket field will become the nation’s second certified by the Dubai-based group.

Although Lauderhill’s venue has attracted international games, it’s been plagued by a lack of income and marquee events.

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