On this side of the pond, "cricket" is associated
with backyard chirping or Disney’s Jiminy. But in a suburb of Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, the term is quickly becoming part of the everyday sports vocabulary.
"The Central Broward Stadium is the only International Cricket Council-certified cricket stadium in North America," says Duncan Finch, park manager, Broward County Parks and Recreation Division.
Cricket, a bat-and-ball game with origins dating back to 16th
century England, is the world's second-most popular sport behind soccer. In the nations where it's played, cricket is more popular than
baseball, football and basketball combined. Some credit cricket with being the “mother” of American baseball, yet it has long been underrepresented in the U.S.
In South Florida, however, cricket mania is in full swing. The denizens of
Lauderhill -- home to a
large Caribbean immigrant population -- are ardent fans. Their
for the sport spurred the opening of Central Broward Stadium in 2007. Over the years, the $70 million venue has hosted the inaugural U.S. Cricket Open, the first professional world
cricket match held on American soil, and several other high-profile matches.
The stadium held its first organized cricket tournament in January 2008. In 2010, an exhibition game between top-tier teams New Zealand and Sri Lanka drew a big crowd. And on a warm Saturday evening in June 2012, 16,000 fans packed the stands to catch a glimpse of superstars like Dwayne Bravo and Chris Gayle of the West Indies team and Doug Bracewell and Dean Brownlie of New Zealand. The two-match Twenty20 series event attracted cricket diehards from near and far.
The hours leading up to a cricket match are somewhat a marriage of traditional U.S. fandom and international cultural fun. Much like the fans who pack college and professional football team parking lots, tailgaters gather in the Broward parking lot. However, instead of toting beer, grills and burgers, cricket lovers prepare for a match with single-barrel rum and pelou with rice, peas and smoked turkey.
The stadium consists of a main field with a large circular grass pitch, roughly 167
yards in diameter, with 5,000 covered seats and additional seating
for 15,000 spectators.
Since the venue has three cricket fields, Finch says it hosts many large cricket tournaments. "Last December, the U.S. Open attracted 42 teams from around the country with players from many cricket-playing countries," he said. Earlier this month, 24 college teams competed in the American College Cricket Championship.
Expanding the Stadium's Reach
Finch says the venue may be used for concerts and sporting and special events. In fact, the main event field was the home of the Fort Lauderdale Fighting Squids of the U.S. Australian Football League in 2008. It also hosted the United States national rugby union team's home leg in their 2011 Rugby World Cup qualifier against Uruguay in 2009.
"There were more than 660,000 visitors to the facility last year, and it is used daily by local residents and becomes a destination on weekends for others in the tri-county area," says Finch.
Yet despite generating plenty of excitement, the stadium isn’t the money-maker the area hoped it would be. So far, it has produced less than $100,000 a year in rental and parking revenues, mostly by hosting lower-level competitions, local cultural events and various sporting attractions. Tourism officials say cricket generated $3 million last year.
But that hasn’t dampened enthusiasm. A first-ever business plan prepared by Indianapolis-based PROS Consulting highlights cricket as an essential component for the park. As a result, stadium officials are exploring an anchor team that will fill seats on a regular basis while staying focused on being the premier cricket destination in the U.S.