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ESPN experiments cricket on Americans

Most Americans who play or follow baseball and also understand cricket a bit, find latter similar but slower, and boring. ESPN believes that can be changed.

cricket Updated: Apr 09, 2014 10:37 IST
Yashwant Raj

Most Americans who play or follow baseball and also understand cricket a bit, find latter similar but slower and boring. ESPN believes that can be changed.

The premier sports network telecast the T20 final live last Sunday, at no cost and without ads. The whole tournament was shown live, however, online. Again free.

"We think cricket has the chance to get out to a broader audience and be on a bigger platform," Russell Wolff, ESPN International's executive vice president, told Reuters last week.

It will know Wednesday how many people actually tuned in.

ESPN executives told Reuters that a decision was taken to try it after they noticed that the 10 most popular streams on its internet-only ESPN3 were of cricket matches.

The India-Australia match on March 30 — that Dhoni & Co won quite comfortably — was watched live by 100,000 viewers (full disclosure: including this reporter).

There is a sizable population of immigrants from traditionally cricket playing nations in the US who play or follow the game, specially around the two World Cups — 50 and 20 overs.

ESPN may, however, be on to something here — after 25 teams participated in the American College Cricket (ACC) national championship 2014 recently.

ESPN telecast the tournament live, which, according to tournament organisers, was a major feat as the first cricket tournament played on American soil to be telecast live.

University of South Florida (USF Bulls) won the tournament, with a team of players all from India — half of them from Hyderabad — but one, who was from Pakistan.

The championship started in 2009, with five founding college teams: from the USF, Boston University, Montgomery College, Carnegie Mellon and University of Miami.

Cricket remains a long shot in a country where football (not soccer), baseball, auto racing, basketball and ice hockey continuously poll as most popular sports.

Soccer has lagged despite, perhaps, the longest-lasting hype which billed it as the fastest growing sport, going back, for instance, to the time secretary of state John Kerry was growing up.

ESPN is known for trying out new and obscure sports such as competitive fishing.

It may be an insult to cricket to speak of them in the same breath, but anything for a start.