Sport

The day the Mound died

Sabina’s all-inclusive rocking, wild party-stand remembered

Friday, February 21, 2014    

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For almost two decades the Mound at Sabina Park could with ample justification claim to be the world's best party-stand.

It is a phenomenon that survived the initial negativity of the traditional cricket world to become the accepted norm at cricket globally. It was the precursor to the dancing girls, frolic and entertainment we see in T20 cricket today. But the creators of The Mound, Chris Dehring, Peter Green, Philip Martin and Jason Sharp are calling it a day, having accomplished what they wanted to do, make a contribution to the revival of West Indies cricket, by attracting younger audiences to the game.

To many, now accustomed to music being played at cricket, the Mound might seem just like every other party stand — a norm as they watch T20, ODIs and Test matches played around the world. But the Mound is not like them. It was the pioneer of a unique and exciting concept that 20 years ago was met with open hostility from cricket administrators, even while being fully embraced by fans and cricketers globally.

It is a unique brand that was conceived and nourished, with a cherished and emotional history. It is a brand representing a revolutionary movement that has defied all the objections, naysayers and obstacles. It is a brand, the spirit of which, means so much more than what the uninitiated might see and it is important that we officially record its history and all that it achieved.

The world famous Mound at Sabina Park was conceptualised 20 years ago by five "pals" who were ardent West Indies cricket supporters — Dehring (aka CD), Green (aka 'Skele'), Sharp (aka 'J-Bird'), Martin (aka 'Uncle Phil') and Sharp (aka 'Deego'), collectively called "the Moundmaniacs", who had become concerned with the dwindling attendance at cricket by young people.

Indeed, they were having difficulty getting their own friends to accompany them to matches at Sabina Park. The seed was planted and germinated on the third floor of the Kingston Cricket Club (KCC) during a Test match against England in 1994, as they enthusiastically, and perhaps a little too boisterously, cheered on the West Indies team in a manner that did not find favour with the more conservative nature of other attending KCC members.

In addition, women were not exactly "welcomed" by either the KCC (female membership was not permitted) or Sabina Park (where even female bathrooms were an afterthought and were appalling) — a position they did not support since they also enjoyed female companionship, even while watching cricket.

As "youngsters" themselves then, they resolved to find a way to bring back young people and women to cricket, by giving them a place where they could express themselves more freely as modern, enthusiastic Jamaican and West Indian cricket fans.

Respect to Chickie and Double Decker

'CD', 'Deego' and 'Skele' had been to Antigua, where a local sound system, Chickie's HiFi, played music in the Double Decker stand during Test matches and they saw the opportunity to perhaps regain the attention of younger audiences in Jamaica in a similar fashion. That Antiguan experience was merged with the popularity of "all-inclusive" parties in Jamaica, plus a unique twist advanced by J-Bird, to incorporate more natural, aesthetic elements (grass, palm trees and landscaping), introducing a more "environmentally friendly" approach to a cricket stand — crystalising the brand they would use to encapsulate their vision. Thus, the idea of establishing the world's first all-inclusive party stand — The Mound was conceived, gestated, and ultimately born.

The construction of a new media centre and the Air Jamaica Stand at the north/northwestern end of Sabina had left the north-eastern corner of the ground unusable by the Jamaica Cricket Association (JCA) and WICB for the upcoming 1995 series against Australia, as it had been used as the dumping site for all the concrete rubble and debris after the demolition of the old buildings and stands.

Jamaica and West Indies fast bowling legend Michael Holding (aka 'Mikey') initially joined the Moundmaniacs in their efforts as a director, but eventually his overseas travel and commitments made it untenable for him to continue; but the Moundmaniacs will always be extremely grateful for his guidance, steadfast support and inspiration that truly helped to establish the Mound.

The fifth Test match against Australia in 1995 saw the debut of the Mound, not without tremendous controversy. Indeed, the Moundmaniacs, and in particular CD (who was initially the Moundmaniac most publicly identifiable with the project), were lambasted by the media and many members of the public and cricketing fraternity for what they deemed as an activity "inappropriate for the sport".

"We were called 'indecent' and 'disrespectful' and accused of 'dragging cricket into the gutter'," recalls Dehring.

"A live radio broadcast by a well-known journalist was abruptly suspended when his scathing rant about the Mound became so vicious, that the station itself considered them unfit for airplay and cut him off mid-sentence and started playing music," Dehring continued.

Indeed, in the face of unbridled objections from most members of the JCA/WICB, the idea might well have been stillborn had it not been for the "backative" of individuals like Pat Rousseau, Mike Fennell and Dr Wayne Reid, and the symbolic, but not insignificant gesture of West Indies captain Ritchie Richardson leading members of his team across the field and on up into the Mound during a tea break in that 1995 Test match, establishing its legitimacy and right to belong in Sabina Park.

One wonders if this might not be the only time in cricket history that a team went up into a public stand in the middle of an ongoing Test match. For the record, the team did not come into the Mound to party, not this time. Ritchie and the players, which included Brian Lara, had come over to make a presentation to former WI player Roy Gilchrist to whom the Mound was gifting part of their gate proceeds in collaboration with WIPA.

It is important to note that only some years could the Mound generate surpluses, as several years were loss makers. That would depend on factors totally outside of the Mound's control, such as the number of days of international cricket that were scheduled in Jamaica (example while Jamaica had all five days of a Test in 1995 against Australia, this was followed by only one cricket day in 1996 vs New Zealand); the attractiveness of the touring team (England for instance would draw a larger crowd than say, Zimbabwe); weather (rain washed out an entire weekend of cricket once when India toured) and even the performance of the West Indies team (in 2004 they were infamously bowled out for 47 runs in one morning session against England, depriving the Mound of two days ticket sales).

Infamously in 1998, a scheduled five-day Test match against England was abandoned after only one hour of play on the first day because of a sub-standard pitch.

Good financial years were used to offset the bad, even while continuing the refurbishment, building out and ongoing year-round maintenance totally funded by the Mound during the period.

The secret of the Mound's success

It is important to understand the primary factors that made the original Mound successful in those halcyon days.

First, the financial arrangements for the operation of the Mound was simple, stable and above all, reasonable. JCA/WICB and Moundmaniacs recognised the venture as a partnership with all the necessary developmental and operational costs being undertaken by the Moundmaniacs out of revenues they could generate from sponsorship and ticket sales. The share of the revenues to JCA/WICB was reasonable as it was considered all incremental, without financial risk or investment required by the JCA/WICB. It was structured as an annual "lease" in order to facilitate CSM being able to build out the necessary leasehold improvements required to make the Mound usable to house patrons.

Second, JCA/WICB understood and supported the various marketing initiatives undertaken by the Moundmaniacs, which were necessary to drive attendance by the younger audiences they were trying to lure back to cricket. For instance, the Moundmaniacs used to "seed" the Mound with 25-50 young ladies each day using special 'Moundmaiden Only' tickets which allowed free entry only to females as it was discovered very early through surveys conducted, that the easiest way to attract young men to cricket, was to ensure young women were also going.

Third, a more robust sponsorship market existed then that helped to offset the considerable developmental and operating costs of running an all-inclusive party stand. These days given the drastic decline in the popularity of cricket, sponsorship has been harder to come by, with more and more "value in kind" being offered as opposed to the more useful and flexible cash contribution of prior years.

In 2005, the original Mound was demolished in order to build the new North Stand in time for the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2007, which Dehring incidentall was the CEO. Indeed, in a highly emotional, tear-filled and totally unscripted ceremony on the final day of cricket, over 1,200 Mound patrons signed their names and left heartfelt messages on one of the walls that was scheduled for demolition — a spontaneous demonstration of appreciation for the great times they had enjoyed on the Mound over the years. Indeed, it was also a very special and tear-filled recognition for the Moundmaniacs, because for most of the patrons, it was the Mound that had first introduced them to cricket and it had remained their one and only experience of the glorious game.

A new eastern stand had also been built for CWC 2007, and was subsequently offered by JCA/WICB/SDL to CSM to try and establish a new Mound. But this new area was going to be a tremendous challenge.

The Moundmaniacs undertook considerable time, research and expense, including professional fees paid to the same international architects that Jamaica used to redevelop Sabina Park for CWC 2007, and trips abroad to research other venues, as they explored every idea to create the new Mound.

They finally settled their collective imaginations and presented the new Mound theme of a 'Tropical Paradise', which once again received the blessing of the JCA/SDL. And so they embarked on yet another journey to rebuild the Mound in Jamaica, to restore it to what they felt was its rightful place, as the best party-stand in the Caribbean and the world.

Sadly that year, one of the lifelong friends, Deego, passed away and as a tribute to his spirit and work on the Mound, the Moundmaniacs dedicated the new waterfall and swimming pool to his everlasting memory. The Mound was a very special place for Deego, and he volunteered more time and effort than anybody in running and maintaining it.

And so, after rebuilding the brand, and once again personally investing heavily into the physical development of the Mound at Sabina Park, the original Moundmaniacs are saying goodbye. But they are doing so with heads held high knowing what was achieved over the past 20 years, as they volunteered their time and resources to the cause of West Indies cricket.

And what was achieved should hopefully illuminate the need for the JCA/WICB to rethink the marketing and promotion of the game, something the Mound and concepts like it have accomplished. Indeed, the success of last year's CPL and the prominence of the party atmosphere pioneered by the Mound, only serve to underscore the important role the Mound and party stands generally can play in the future of the sport

But it will only be achieved through real partnership.

Finally, it is most important to recognise and thank all the wonderful patrons from all around the world who graced the Mound and who collectively truly made the Mound the best in the world.

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