Florida: The first ever Caribbean Premier League games in Florida could be the launchpad for the United States to have its own T20 cricket franchise, organisers of the tournament said.
The six games being held at Lauderhill in South Florida from Thursday to Sunday are the first time that the CPL has branched out from its island bases to the United States.
The games will be played at the Central Broward Regional Park, which has the only purpose built cricket stadium in the United States and which held the first full international matches on American soil, two Twenty20 games between New Zealand and Sri Lanka in 2010.
Lauderhill is an area with a large population of people of Jamaican heritage while South Florida itself has communities from across the cricket-loving Caribbean region
"There are lots of hoops you have to jump through but if you look at the way America embraces its sport, having a local franchise here makes a lot of sense," CPL`s chief operating officer Pete Russell said.
"It ties you into the local community and makes it a lot more relevant. That would make a lot of sense. There is no issue with putting it into our schedule. But its one step at a time we have to see how these games go, but so far, so good," he said.
Some prospective investors in the league have already shown interest in a US franchise, said Russell.
"A lot of potential owners have talked to us about it (but) we are mindful of the politics involved here and also in terms of cricket generally. We wouldn`t be so presumptuous as to say `We are having a franchise here` - there are a lot of things you have to consider before you do that. We have had preliminary conversations but no more than saying `Wouldn`t it be a good idea in the future`," he added.The CPL features franchises from Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, St.Lucia and St.Kitts and Nevis and includes international players as well as those drawn from the T20 World Cup winning West Indies team.
The progress of cricket in the US has been hampered by administrative problems with the USA Cricket Association (USACA) having been suspended by the International Cricket Council (ICC) in December.
The ICC is currently running affairs in the US directly.
There have been previous attempts to popularise the sport through games involving retired international stars, playing at baseball venues, but Russell believes the demographics mean there is no real need to convert Americans to the sport.
"As well as the Caribbean diaspora, you have the Asian population here who are cricket-starved," he added.
While no plans for the future have been announced it is unlikely that this week`s games, featuring all six franchises, will be the last time that the CPL features at Lauderhill.
"We have invested well over a million dollars in coming to Florida. The stadium is great but to bring it up to international standard with the screens, the lights and the hospitality areas, we have had to invest," said CPL chief executive Damien O`Donohoe.
"We are bringing that Caribbean flavour and feel and it is going to be a very special atmosphere come Saturday and Sunday," he added.
Lauderhill mayor Richard Kaplan said he is delighted that the games are likely to be well attended with a large contingent of fans travelling down from New York as well as from across the Sunshine State.
"I do see the possibility of a franchise, I do see the possibility of numerous long-term relationships in the development of the sport. But we need to resolve the issues around sanctioning of the games," he said.