MS Dhoni, Anil Kumble, and everyone else who walked into the Central Broward Regional Park Stadium Turf Ground in Lauderhill before the start of the Twenty20 International series between West Indies and Indiawere more than impressed with the facilities on offer.
A major part of the credit for the swank stadium goes to Richard Kaplan, mayor of the city of Lauderhill, Florida, who dreamt of cricket in the city and facilitated the construction of the venue.
Wisden India caught up with Kaplan on the sidelines of the first T20I. Excerpts:
How did the idea of building a cricket ground here come about, given that it’s a niche sport?
That’s an interesting story. We started off 15 years ago. A lot of local Caribbean people who live here wanted to develop cricket. They taught me to play the game; I have played the game and immensely enjoyed it. They wanted to set up a sister city to Chaguanas, Trinidad. When I was there back in 2002, I spoke to one of the West Indies Cricket Board representatives, who recommended that Lauderhill bid on hosting the 2007 World Cup. I was puzzled and asked him how that was possible. He said to go ahead since stadiums in the Caribbean needed to be rebuilt or improved to meet ICC recommendations for the World Cup anyway. We came back here, residents and the community came together, and the funds were there and they agreed to build a stadium that would meet ICC standards. We went through everything necessary and unfortunately we did not get an opportunity to host a game with the understanding that there would be opportunity for international games later on.
We started off in 2010 with the New Zealand-Sri Lanka series, then in 2012 West Indies played New Zealand, which was a huge success. Then we were planning to host a Pakistan–West Indies series, but the US national sanctioning organisation shut us down. So that’s where we were lingering and in the middle ICC suspended United states of America Cricket Association (USACA). However, everything bloomed last November, when the Caribbean Premier League expressed an interest and they staged six games earlier in July successfully. During that CPL tournament I was informed that BCCI and WICB are interested in playing here and I was told that this could potentially be watched by half-million people on TV worldwide, which is quite impressive considering the biggest here in the States is the Super Bowl, which probably reaches maybe 100-200 million and that’s only once a year. So here we are staging to date the biggest event the facility has seen.
What are the long-term plans for the facility and what is in the pipeline?
I would like to see at least three to four international games conducted per year here. Of course it depends on the timing, because we don’t want to host games during the hurricane season and essentially ICC has to sanction and approve it. The number one request I’m getting is to organise India-Pakistan matches and I hope the authorities take heed and host a series between these two nations. I’m sure that will bring packed crowds and there won’t be any lack of entertainment.
What are the plans to make the facility better – there is no proper press box and there are a lot of open areas, which could be used as stands?
The facility was built for the World Cup. We could expand the facility to hold up to 30,000 people. No one ever asked us to fill that capacity. This series was the highest requested amounting to 15-20,000 people. We did not go high here on those temporary bleachers for this series, but we could. The VIP tents took up a lot of space, which amounted to a lot of revenues. I spoke to the manager of the facility and he said he is going to put out money for improvement of the facility. Now that we are showing that there is some global interest and as long as we get these games sanctioned here it will happen. It’s our money we invest. CPL had media housed inside the clubhouse but BCCI wanted the clubhouse for VVIP’s. I’m sure a proper media facility would be the first thing they would want to address when the expansion planning starts.
What happens here when there is no cricket?
This is the home of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, an American professional soccer team based in Fort Lauderdale. Founded in 2006, they play in the North American Soccer League, the second tier of the American soccer pyramid. We also host some football games and lacrosse games, there is the US Cricket Open, a local cricket tournament and the American colleges cricket. Rugby associations have been requesting to use this facility but we could not accommodate them since that could damage the wicket for cricket.
What was the feedback from BCCI about the facilities?
They are extraordinarily happy other than they did not win the game today. They said it was a great event, great turnout – I have heard nothing negative so far. They were even happy about the Indian restaurant that served the food and they felt the food was terrific too. So we are very happy and there is no doubt that there is scope to conduct mores games and this ground is what I would like to call it the field of dreams, like the movie for the baseball field.