Major League Cricket could potentially bring about a new era for cricket in the USA, propelling it to unprecedented levels of success. Despite cricket’s introduction to North America through British colonies as early as the 18th century, the United States never witnessed the sport’s significant expansion.
While cricket rapidly grew in countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, it remained far from being a top-tier sport in the USA.
It couldn’t rival the popularity of soccer, basketball, tennis, and especially baseball – America’s own version of bat-and-ball games. Nonetheless, the arrival of Major League Cricket (MLC) might bring about a transformation in this scenario.
The debut season featured six teams: Seattle Orcas, MI New York, Texas Super Kings, Washington Freedom, San Francisco Unicorns, and Los Angeles Knight Riders. It attracted large crowds, immense interest, and increased viewership, motivating organizers to think bigger.
It was anticipated that the final would have a packed audience, but the substantial crowd that assembled at Texas’s Grand Prairie Stadium during the league matches was astonishing. Throughout the nine-match days at the venue, it reached 80% capacity on average each day, while Morrisville, North Carolina’s Church Street Park experienced a sold-out scenario across its six match days.
This signifies that over 70,000 attendees witnessed the first MLC season, generating $2.8 million in ticket sales earnings. This sum is remarkable for any game held on American turf, barring India’s frequent visits to Lauderhill for T20 Internationals against the West Indies.
The global appeal of cricket
In his podcast, ‘The Joe Pomp Show,’ sports entrepreneur Joe Pompliano labelled cricket as the world’s second most followed sport, boasting 2.5 billion fans globally. He compared Indian cricketer Virat Kohli’s Instagram followers with those of other top athletes to illustrate his point.
“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 favourite of American baseball enthusiasts, has a mere 6 million followers.
Cricket holds a substantial market potential in the USA
Citing information from a report, Pompliano included that India stands as the largest cricket market, with nearly 550 million individuals participating in the sport annually. Interestingly, among the top five, only India holds full member status. According to the data, China holds the second spot with 408 million people showing interest in cricket every year, while the USA ranks third on the list, with 63 million individuals interested in cricket annually.
Despite limited participation in ICC tournaments, the USA’s strong cricket demand largely comes from immigrants of cricket-loving countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Singapore. This keen interest drove the creation of MLC, as investors spotted a chance to profit from this enthusiasm.
“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.
According to reports, this might just mark the start of what could evolve into the USA’s most significant sports league. The impressive triumph of the inaugural MLC season has already led organizers to contemplate larger arenas in New York and Los Angeles. As per an ESPNCricinfo article, MLC is exploring a potential partnership with the International Cricket Council (ICC) to construct a 34,000-seat temporary venue in New York City’s Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.
If the suggestion is approved, it might become one of the three locations for the next year’s ICC T20 World Cup, which is set to be jointly hosted by the USA and the West Indies. Another significant advantage for MLC is that the USA Cricket Association has exclusively granted MLC the authority to organize professional cricket events within the country.
This grants MLC organizers a monopoly, positioning them as the primary link between USACA and ICC, facilitating the game’s advancement to greater levels.