America, cricket’s sleeping giant?

Can USA Cricket make cricket a mainstream sport in the US?

Last month USA Cricket launched an ambitious foundational plan, outlining its vision to become a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) by 2030.  Along the way USA Cricket also want to build five international standard stadiums, set up a T20 competition with global reach and appeal, and push for the sport’s inclusion at the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games.  Lofty ideals if ever there were.

Cricket in America has a chequered recent history.  The current national governing body was only established in 2017 following an acrimonious legal battle which ended in the expulsion of the USA Cricket Association from the ICC after more than 50 years.  USA Cricket elected an executive from baseball’s San Francisco 49ers, Paraag Marathe, as chairman and recruited the ICC’s former chief operating officer, Iain Higgins, as CEO.  The head office was also moved to San Francisco.

Predictively USA Cricket is banking on the T20 format to popularise the sport across America and accelerate the development of its national teams,  For this job USA Cricket called in the help of American Cricket Enterprises (ACE), which in May 2019 committed to investing US$1 billion towards the creation of a US-based T20 competition, Major League Cricket (MLC). 

Set to begin in 2022, ACE has been given the brief to make MLC a fully professional competition that will attract cricket’s biggest names and eventually be spoken of in the same breath as the Big Bash League and Caribbean Premier League.  Preceding MLC in 2021 will be Minor League Cricket, a nationwide developmental tournament consisting of 28 teams based in the major cities.  In addition, ACE must also develop more turf pitches (at the moment there are only 30 in the entire country), build international standard venues (at the moment there is only one in Lauderhill, Florida) and start cricket programmes in high schools and communities around the country.  

ACE is backed by the founders of Willow TV, Sameer Mehta and Vijay Srinivasan.  Willow TV is the largest cricket broadcaster in North America.  The data insights of Willow TV have helped USA Cricket to identify New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington and Dallas as key markets.  MLC teams will come from these cities.   

In the euphoria of the announcement and ACE’s cash injection, one part of the foundational plan received little attention.  USA Cricket also declared it their vision “to make cricket a mainstream sport in the US”.  This could prove to be more difficult than getting full-member ICC status. 

America is the most mature sports market in the world, dominated by its four major leagues (baseball, basketball, American football and ice hockey) and where the likes of golf, tennis and soccer also command substantial attention.  Since the 1800’s cricket has consistently failed to capture the imagination of Americans.

But USA Cricket and ACE believe this time it will be different.  According to them, there are already as many as 20 million cricket fans in America.  Their data apparently also tell them that the sport’s fanbase in the country (largely comprising immigrants from South Asia and the Caribbean) is “relatively affluent” and “very well digitally connected”.  USA Cricket believe this will give them the opportunity to engage new fans with cricket from an early age.    

On a positive note, all the ICC’s full members have offered their support and expressed a willingness to help USA Cricket on its journey.  With the backing of the Indian and English powerhouses, who knows, USA Cricket’s ambitions might not be so far-fetched after all… 

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