By John L. Aaron
My cricket club/team is…Great! Strong! Fantastic! Unbeatable! Those are just a few of the adjectives a cricketer may use to describe the club or team with which he or she is associated. However, can the club or team be described by those same adjectives with regard its role off the field of play and within its community?
Perhaps, the difference between a club and a team should be defined here first. A club by definition is a group of like-minded individuals pursuing a common purpose and operating under a set of democratic principles and guidelines, whereas a team may be a group of individuals with a similar passionate interest and operating under an established structure, but more conventionally as an ad hoc group in pursuit of “glory” and a championship title.
So what’s the difference, and why a need for a finite definition? The two words – club and team are used interchangeably when describing the same activity with which both are engaged. In this case the sport of cricket. One may say my club is participating in such and such a league, just as readily as, our team plays in such and such a league. Both statements would be correct, however, we need to peel away the layers a bit further and clearly define the two nouns, and the involvement of the playing and non-playing associated members.
According to a recent ICC Americas assessment, there are more than 10,000 clubs within the USA. Assuming that number is an accurate picture of the number of active groups at the grassroots level, then USA cricket has a fantastic future ahead. The enormous number of people involved at that level is a tremendous assessment of the passion for the sport in this country. However, if all of those groups, many of which are teams of individuals listed as clubs; were to organize themselves into more contemporary cricket clubs, and engage each of their communities, it would no doubt auger well for the future of cricket in the USA.
MARYLEBONE CRICKET CLUB
Ironically, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) established more than 230 years ago and located at the iconic Lord’s cricket ground in London, has no representative formal cricket team(s) competing in the English County Championships or similar competitive tournaments. They do, however, sponsor ad hoc teams that play more than 500 matches every year in the United Kingdom and around the world. More than half of those matches involve MCC youth teams vs. public and private schools in the United Kingdom.
The club promotes the sport through friendly fixtures, and against other clubs at home and abroad, contributing more than USD$4,000,000 annually to the evangelism of the sport and community engagement. In addition to cricket, MCC’s strategic community engagement program benefits more than 9,000 persons in and around communities close to Lord’s and involves some 200 volunteers. The strategic development program involves collaboration with local community organizations, government agencies, and other partners in the public and private sectors.
The community engagement initiatives involve programs in the areas of education, employment, health and well-being, as well as inclusion and cohesion. The question you may very well be asking yourself at this point is, “What does this have to do with my small club now struggling to maintain a membership roster of players and limited finances?” Well, the answer lies within reach of each of us.
Cassius, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, said to his friend Brutus, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” Although Cassius was advocating stopping Julius Caesar from becoming the monarch of Rome, the parallel can be drawn to mimic the involvement of some cricket administrators and the governance of cricket in this country, and involving the community-at-large.
Many teams in the USA are managed by individuals in a monarchial-type structure, i.e. someone with deep financial pockets and a passion for the sport forms an ad hoc group of players aka “team” under the pseudonym “club,” and proceeds to engage said players for the sole purpose of competing in a cricket league(s) and/or one-off invitational tournaments. Such actions blur the lines between autocracy and democracy, with many players not stopping long enough to be bothered, and thereby missing so many opportunities for self-governance, democratic principles, and community engagement. The latter can pay significantly more dividends than a monarch may contribute.
With the upcoming election of a new national governing body for cricket in the USA; all clubs and teams have an opportunity to unite in their effort to bring about much-needed change to US cricket, by looking inwards at their own faults and determining the path forward. Simply put, a relaunch effort at independence and community engagement. Such an approach would undoubtedly raise the pride profile of the club and team members while helping to spread the sport as being…more than just about cricket!
The USD$4,000,000 social undertaking of the MCC may be intimidating, and the iconic British administrative cricket body does have much deeper pockets than the average cricket club in the USA, however, the same principles on community engagement should apply to clubs in the USA.
The MCC brand is known worldwide, and yet the club does not have a team competing in tournaments like the England Cricket Board’s NatWest T20 Blast, or Australia’s KFC Big Bash Leagues, or the widely respected English County league championships. Nonetheless, the MCC plays an awful lot of cricket and could easily field a team to compete in any of the aforementioned leagues, if it so desired.
Although best known for their authorship of the Laws of Cricket, the MCC continues to be involved in the sport on so many levels from community youth cricket coaching programs to sponsoring international goodwill cricket tours, and everything charitable in between.
There’s no doubt that the MCC has and continues to make a valid contribution to the growth and development of cricket while partnering with communities.
On the USA domestic cricket level, teams are better served when they become cricket clubs; and cricket clubs make a greater contribution to the sport when they become part of a league, and by extension an integral part of the national cricket body and the community-at-large.
ESTABLISHING A PRESENCE
Cricket playing members of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) represent more than the iconic British administrative cricket body; they are seen as ambassadors of the sport, whether they are playing at Lord’s, named after its founder Thomas Lord, or some 3,500 miles away from the Home of Cricket. The spirit of the game is carried with them, as well as the overwhelming opportunities for kinship, camaraderie, and growth of the sport; all of which can be achieved when looking at the sport and the potential for its growth outside of the proverbial box.
Communications and marketing, and establishing a presence while building a brand identity may sound like lofty ideals to the average cricketer, however, it is done every day a cricketer wears his club’s uniform, walks out to the middle, or simply chats about his or her club at the office, dinner table, or in school. Optics and information play big parts in communicating a message as much as establishing a physical presence.
STARTING AT THE BEGINNING
There are simple things a team can do to establish itself as a club, in the traditional sense of having a governing body that establishes policy, goals, budgets, and initiatives that enrich the experience of its members; both playing and non-playing.
Establishing a governing body takes the responsibility out of the hands of an individual monarch and places it firmly at the feet of those entrusted with the confidence of the majority. Ideally, such a governing body should be a visionary one with big ideas beyond winning the next league championship, while not excluding the ideas of those on the other side of the floor – the playing and non-playing members.
A group of players or like-minded passionate individuals need not start off with all the trappings of a Constitution and By-Laws to form a club, but simply a list of desired accomplishments beyond capturing the next piece of championship hardware that’s up for grabs. No doubt, the bigger picture will include such attainable goals, however, that’s simply a destination. The journey and the views along the way would be far more rewarding than a title that lasts for just one year or even shorter.
A Constitution and set of By-Laws may come later after the group agrees with a Mission Statement. Boilerplate Constitutions and By-Laws are easily obtained and can be custom-tailored to the specific objectives of the club.
Cricket in the USA is now at the crossroads and poised to make a quantum leap ahead when all the pieces for a new national governing body are in place. It is the perfect opportunity for teams and clubs to recommit to the furtherance of the sport, and highlighted by community engagement.
GIVING TO RECEIVE
Having established a trustworthy group at the helm, the next step is to embrace reasonable ideals and goals that would attract playing and non-playing members. In most cases, both groups are equally important to support the club’s mission, even a talented group of players that wreaks havoc on the playing field against its opponents, need leadership off the field.
Such leadership can help guide the club’s community engagement efforts and solicitation of sponsorship. Community engagement need not be extravagant social initiatives that involve the enormous expenditure of funds. It may be as simple as helping out at a soup kitchen during Thanksgiving, the collection of slightly used coats for donation to a shelter for the homeless during the winter, or the collection of toys for underprivileged children at Christmas. Such inexpensive community engagement events, though not new ideas, help to attract attention to the club, especially if properly planned and executed, and with the maximum public relations exposure.
Many cricket clubs and teams fret about the paucity of financial sponsorship, while every cricketer dreams of being the recipient of individual kit sponsorships and financial stipends, based purely on the individual player’s “star” output. Therein lies the fault, albeit within us. Much more can be accomplished if the effort is a collective one and reflects a commitment to the community. I am reminded of John F. Kennedy’s oratorical appeal of more than a half-century ago – “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” In doing so, a club should not look to its community only for help, but rather how it can help that community. It is in the abundance of giving that we may receive abundantly.
BUILDING A BRAND
It is much easier to establish one’s independence when one shows a willingness to help others. In doing so, a positive attraction is made and it should be easier to petition sponsors – having already given something to the community, from which you are now asking.
A club can host a Community Fun-day for kids and adults, by asking community businesses to provide inexpensive prizes. Activities may not be cricket-centered, but have cricket as just another included sport. The idea would be to draw persons to cricket by arousing their interest in the sport.
Forming partnerships and alliances within the community helps to build a club’s brand, while strengthening its ties to the community, and increasing its chances of quality sponsorship. In addition, it helps to create a greater awareness of the sport, making it less intimidating for the uninitiated skeptics.
The engagement of the adult community can be as rewarding as engaging the younger generation. This latter type of engagement requires a bit more planning and preparation, because of the inherent interaction of adults with minors. In the areas of education and/or sport, the proper certification is required and may vary from State to State. Certifications such as the necessary coaching credentials and local authority background clearance checks. Activities may include but are not limited to cricket coaching of a boys or girls youth team, or after-school cricket programs. On the educational front, some school districts or community-based organizations would require proper certification or academic subject-matter degrees or diplomas before allowing the mentoring or tutoring of young students.
Community engagement activities involving children and adults creates awareness and builds confidence and trust within the club’s community. Such confidence and trust creates leverage and opens doors for sponsorship opportunities and other tangible contributions to the club. Every opportunity no matter how small helps to advance the “street creds” of the club and positions the club as a member of the wider community, and not just a part of the sports community.
Former Speaker of the US House of Representatives Tip O’Neil, once said, “All politics is local.” That statement has proven true throughout the years, more so in recent times. Cricket, as in politics, depend largely on its grassroots elements and a ground-level organizing strategy.
Every cricket club in the USA has a core set of players and supporters, around which a movement can be established to not only advance cricket in a sports-heavy environment but to establish a unique approach to fan and market development. Every one of its members becomes a goodwill ambassador for the sport. It’s a good place to start to help build a brand identity.
By creating and pursuing philanthropic opportunities within the community, the club would be establishing a brand identity that’s synonymous with its mission and goals. Such branding must, however, be consistent and visual, so as to maximize the benefits. By offering tangible consumer satisfying products in the “marketplace,” or perceived benefits, the club may be providing through its efforts; an emotional satisfaction that’s appreciated by the general public, and seen as a valuable contribution to the community of which those “consumers” are members.
The more unique the community engagement initiative is, the more attention garnered and dividends derived from the effort. The more unique the initiative and the more robust planning required, the greater the benefits that can be expected. A well thought out branding strategy gives your club a greater all-around advantage, including attracting quality players and non-players. Everyone likes to be associated with a winner, and winning attracts winners.
Clubs can create diversity awareness outdoor events, complete with flags from various countries – highlighting the number of countries that play cricket, and demonstrating that as humans we are not that different from each other. Invite non-cricket groups to not only buy into the diversity-awareness idea but also to participate or to contribute culturally. Multiculturalism can play a significant role in developing cricket at the grassroots level.
Engaging local politicians, community and business leaders in a fun-match could raise money – not for your club, but for a local charity or disadvantaged group that’s embraced by one of the politicians or community leaders. Each community is unique, so it’s important that clubs research how best to maximize their involvement and benefits. Share the credit with the community and its leaders, and hopefully, they will share that goodwill with your club.
In most urban American communities cricket competes with other sports for outdoor real estate and most outdoor real estate is controlled by local city councils and county boards. Therefore, it is important that cricket demonstrates to those gatekeepers the importance of integrating the sport as a vehicle for inclusion and cohesion, given the diversity of the American population. One way of doing so is to be proactive in the community, by leading from the front with initiatives aimed at community engagement.
Clubs are encouraged to take advantage of social media, by creating an immediacy of the dissemination of information, an eco-system aimed at developing the sport, accessibility, and most importantly, the engagement of millennials, as they represent the future and sustainability of any grassroots cricket organization.
MY CLUB IS…
As stated at the beginning, you must establish whether your group is a club or a team within the cricket community, as well as how integrated it is in the community, before developing a comprehensive strategy to take the group to the next level.
If you are satisfied with the status quo of your group, then none of the above need apply. However, if you wish to add proud adjectives after My Club Is…, then now is a perfect time to closely examine your group’s involvement in the community, and plan how best to impact it, while contributing to the unification of all involved in cricket in the USA. A strong and involved club can help accomplish such an objective.
With stronger clubs, comes stronger leagues, a stronger cricket demographic, and by extension a stronger national cricket body. With a stronger national cricket body comes respect, recognition and success, but each group of players, individuals and cricket entities must play a meaningful role in helping the sport we love and support in the USA, emerge from the past and into a bright and prosperous future.
John L. Aaron is an urban university Higher Education Officer and communications and marketing director. He has been voluntarily involved in the administration of cricket in the USA for the past three decades, serving as club secretary, club president, club trustee, league secretary, league president, regional cricket chairman, national cricket secretary, and successful women’s cricket manager. He was inducted into the Cricket Hall of Fame in 2012 and currently serves on a USA national fan and market development advisory cricket committee.