Experiments with cricket have taken the game to quite a few non-traditional venues --- UAE, Singapore, Nairobi, Toronto and Malaysia, to name a few.
But none of those matched the level of planning that has gone into the two-match India-West Indies T20 series coming up in Florida. The BCCI came up with the idea of having the series only after India landed in St Kitts but unlike previous hastily arranged tournaments, this one has a lot riding on it for the BCCI particularly. If the two T20s at Fort Lauderdale turn out to be a huge success, it could prompt the BCCI to plan more tournaments in the US.
The modus operandi hasn’t changed much over the decades though --- tap the interest of the expatriate Indians and sell cricket as a sustainable medium of entertainment. Sharjah led the way three decades back but then the cricket boards were not investing. “The US has always been a sports loving country. If we successfully introduce cricket as another option, especially to the Indians, it could open many avenues,” said a BCCI official who is involved with the organisation of the two matches but requested anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
Even before the action moves from West Indies to the US, the BCCI has already seemed to rake in the moolah. “Both matches have been sold out. The ground has a capacity of around 16,000 which means around 30,000 tickets have been sold out in just under seven days,” the official claimed.
The number of tickets may not be eye-popping but the price sure is. Tickets to a basic ground seat costs $75 but it goes up to $250 for a VIP stand seat that includes meals and drinks as well. Combo tickets for both matches range from $150 to $450. To put into perspective, the cheapest ticket during the Caribbean Premier League matches held in Fort Lauderdale in July was $23, less than one third of the cost of the basic ticket sold for the India-West Indies T20s.
“From the day we announced the series, we have been flooded with calls for tickets so we knew people won’t hesitate to pay. But we didn’t anticipate tickets would be sold off so quickly,” said the official. Organising the series wasn’t as easy though. “Event rules in the US are far strict than any other venue. We had to be particular about the documents that were to be submitted to get permission in time. A US based event management company too was hired through tender to manage the two matches,” he said.
Biggest hurdle however was the visa approval. If visiting the US for sports related activity, one has to apply for P1 visa, an athletic performance permission that normally takes at least a month to process. To make it further complicated, US visa can’t be given off-shore. It took some persuasion from BCCI president Anurag Thakur through diplomatic channels to ensure an exception was made. “The players applied for visa in Jamaica and got it after arriving in Port of Spain,” said the BCCI official.
The US has a history of hosting few unofficial matches and the recent All Stars league but in terms of profile, nothing gets bigger than this. After a one-sided Test rubber, this T20 series promises to be a spectacle. Flying a huge entourage of BCCI’s member associations’ representatives can also be interpreted as a move to show them that investing and playing in the US can only benefit the BCCI. In the process, cricket too might get a new international venue.