How MLC can make cricket the most popular sport in the USA | Crickit

How MLC can make cricket the most popular sport in the USA

Aug 15, 2023 05:05 PM IST

Cricket may see a new dawn in the USA through the hands of Major League Cricket and reach never-before-seen heights.

Despite its long association with cricket - it entered North America as early as the 18th century through British colonies - the United States of America never quite saw the sport spread its wings. At a time cricket saw rapid growth in countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, it was nowhere near an A-listed sport in the USA. Its popularity was no match for soccer, basketball, tennis and of course, baseball, which was America's simpler and indigenous version of the game of bat and ball. All this, however, may change soon with the advent of Major League Cricket (MLC).

The captains gather around the Major League Cricket trophy(MLC)
The captains gather around the Major League Cricket trophy(MLC)

The inaugural edition, which featured six teams - Seattle Orcas, MI New York, Texas Super Kings, Washington Freedom, Sanfrancisco Unicorns, and Los Angeles Knight Riders - saw packed houses, huge interests and swelled-up viewership, prompting the organisers to dream bigger.

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That the final will be played in front of a full house was expected but the kind of crowd that gathered in Grand Prairie Stadium in Texas during the league games, took everyone by surprise. Over the course of the nine match days at the venue, it was 80% to its capacity on average every day, while the Church Street Park in Morrisville, North Carolina saw a sell-out in its six match days.

It means that more than 70,000 spectators saw season one of MLC, bringing in $2.8 million in ticket sales revenue. This is an astounding amount for any match played on US soil, excluding India's regular trips to Lauderhill to play T20 Internationals against the West Indies.

Cricket's popularity in the world

Sports entrepreneur and investor, Joe Pompliano in his podcast ‘The Joe Pomp Show’, termed cricket as the second-most followed sport in the world. Pompliano said cricket, with 2.5 billion fans worldwide, is only behind football in terms of global popularity. To add more context to his numbers, he compared the Instagram followers of star India batter Virat Kohli with leading sportspersons across the globe.

"For context on how big cricket is outside the US: Virat Kohli has 256 million Instagram followers, which is more than LeBron James, Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Shohei Ohtani, Patrick Mahomes, and Tiger Woods....combined," he said.

Shohei Ohtani, the current heartthrob of USA baseball fans, has only 6 million followers.

Big market for cricket in the USA

Quoting data from a report, Pompliano added that India is the biggest market for cricket with close to 550 million people engaging with the sport annually. As astonishing as this may sound, there are no other full member nations in the top five apart from India. The data says China is the second-biggest market for cricket with 408 million people showing interest in cricket annually while the USA is third on the list with 63 million interested in cricket per year.

Despite near-zero participation in ICC tournaments, such a high demand for cricket in the USA comes largely from its immigration population mainly from cricket-crazy countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Singapore. This huge interest was one of the primary reasons behind MLC's birth. Big investors saw an opportunity to cash in on the craze.

"A group of investors that includes the CEOs of Microsoft and Adobe has raised $120 million to build Major League Cricket in the United States," said Pompliano.

Reports state that this could just be the beginning of what could turn out to be the biggest sporting league in the USA. The rousing success of the first edition of the MLC has already given rise to the organisers considering bigger stadiums in New York and Los Angeles. According to an ESPNCricinfo report, MLC could collaborate with the International Cricket Council (ICC) to build a 34,000-seat pop-up venue in New York City at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bron.

If that proposal gets the greenlight then It could be one of the three venues for next year's ICC T20 World Cup to be co-hosted by USA and West Indies.

Another major factor going in MLC's favour is the fact that the USA Cricket Association has given sole rights to MLC to host professional cricket tournaments in the country. That means MLC organisers have a monopoly and they can be the biggest channel between USACA and ICC to take the game to new heights.

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