Why Cricket will Succeed in the USA

by Jun 11, 2024Diaspora0 comments

The BCCI should use the American Major League Cricket (MLC) franchise to give talented but unproven young players the chance to hone their skills in foreign conditions


Americans are not fans of cricket. They do not understand it and see it as slow, complicated (how do you score again?), and somewhat effete (so what is it with the preppy sweaters). So the game has been confined to purely amateur cricket leagues in cities as far flung as Los Angeles, Birmingham Alabama, and of course New York. Yet America is a globalized nation with large Diasporas from the cricket playing world. Also, the clever marketing of the International Cricket Conference (ICC) has led to the creation of a domestic T20 League that is backed by wealthy Indians like Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and has teams owned by franchises in the IPL as well as a team owned by the Australians. While this is promising, the question is can the league succeed and the answer is an unqualified yes! There are several reasons for this.

First, the success of cricket lies in the fact that the Indian diaspora, much like the nation of India, could drive it to being a financial success. The cricket crazy Indian diaspora has the highest median household income of $126,000 in the USA while the median American household income is $74,580. This gives the Indian diaspora both purchasing power and consuming power and this used to be reflected in the way Bollywood stars were generously feted in the USA or in the way Narendrabhai Modi was greeted in the lavish Howdy Modi event. Indians have never had a sporting event to call their own but with the T20 league they do.

They are also good at organization. In Toronto, the Indians took over the local city league from the West Indians—who ran it as a social event—and professionalized it to the extent that Canada now has a team in the T20 World Cup. The Indian diaspora will effectively market the matches, make sure facilities are up to par, and provide both the players and the local fan base to support the game. Players like Saurabh Netravalkar, who works at Oracle and moonlights as a cricketer for the USA, are good examples of the ability to bring in local talent.

Secondly, cricket will never be the multi-million Dollar sport American football, baseball, and basketball are but it could provide a semi-amateurish wage potential for players who are most likely playing for the love of the game. In this sense, Major League Soccer (MLS) is instructive since the lowest salaries in the league are around $60,000, a far cry from the multi-million Dollar packages athletes in the traditionally “American” sports receive. Yet, despite the lower wages, soccer is now wildly popular in the US and games are played to packed stadiums.

A league that starts off modestly and systematically builds up a fan base and local traditions—where fans support their city team much in the way an older generation of Indians supported Mumbai, Delhi, and Karnataka—has a good chance of happening. But what will primarily drive the success of the new league is the ability to bring in marquee players who have name recognition across the cricketing world. Again the MLS is the guide for this because it brought in aging stars like Kaka, Thierry Henry, David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to boost attendances. Henry, Beckham, and Ibrahimovic in the off-season continued to play for premier European clubs. Thus aging draws like Chris Gayle and Andre Russell would boost attendance and viewership in the US. But the most important tool for success will be the cooperation of the BCCI.

The BCCI has jealously guarded its properties and the value of the IPL by not allowing marquee Indian players like Kohli, Bumrah, and Sharma to play in foreign leagues like the Australian Big Bash. But sending second tier players and even famous retired players to play in the US would be a great hit with the crowds and jump start the league. If, for example, Mahendra Singh Dhoni finally retires from the IPL, he would be a hugely popular draw playing for the Texas Super Knights who are partly owned by the Chennai Super Kings. And if the way Sachin Tendulkar was mobbed by adoring fans at the India-Pakistan game in New York is any indication, Mumbai Indians should ask the great man to play a few games for their New York franchise (for the record, Sachin, while long retired, would still be among the best players in the league).

To put this in perspective, MLS brought in Lionel Messi and it was a masterstroke for all the games he plays in are sold out and you cannot buy a ticket under $200. Tendulkar, Dhoni, Sehwag (if interested) would draw large crowds and seal the future of the game. Nor do they need to play for the entire season but, instead, show up for a few games to whet the appetite of the fans.

Further, the BCCI should use the American Major League Cricket (MLC) franchise to give talented but unproven young players the chance to hone their skills in foreign conditions. Bob Woolmer used to say that South Asian cricketers are flat track bullies who do not perform as well in foreign conditions. While not strictly true, the fact remains that both Indian bowlers and batsmen could benefit from playing in different conditions and on a tricky wicket like the one in New York. Sending maybe two young cricketers to each team in the MLC would both help the league and improve the skills of these players.

To sum up, this is a great chance to bring the game to the US, provide joy to cricket crazy fans, and to create a sporting league that is integrated into the IPL. Moreover, the advertising opportunities for Indian firms cannot be overlooked since this would be a cheap venue and way to attract eyeballs in the United States. Put simply, this is not an opportunity to pass up.

(Amit Gupta is a Senior Advisor on Peace and Conflict Resolution to the Forum of Federations, Ottawa. He has written extensively on international security issues and on the intersection between sports and politics. He may be contacted at agupta1856@gmail.com)

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