United States Cricket League: United States could be witnessing the birth of a new T20 tournament

10 Dec 2020
Sridhar Bhamidi 10 Dec 2020
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  • Well-known businessmen are looking to invest in a IPL-style tournament in the US
  • Past attempts at building interest in the States have failed
  • Will this effort be successful in tapping the biggest sports market of the world?
United States Cricket Tournament
Will the glitz and excitement of IPL be taken to the shores of United States? (Getty Images)

Is the United States going to be the next big market for world cricket? A motley group of around 12 high-profile investors including Microsoft chief Satya Nadella and Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan is backing a nascent US T20 cricket tournament in an attempt to replicate the success of the Indian Premier League model in one of the largest sports markets of the world - the US.

There are some other interesting investors too in this Major League Cricket tournament, the first of its kind in these parts of the world and scheduled for a 2022 launch. Shantanu Narayen (Adobe Chief Executive), Vijay Shekhar Sharma (Paytm) and Ross Perot Jr (Texas property tycoon) are few of the names linked with this project.

Most of the investments are in a personal capacity in American Cricket Enterprises, which will be running the league. According to the same sources, Mr. Sharma is investing around $1m in this venture.

The biggest catch obviously is Shah Rukh Khan - one of India's biggest film stars and one of the easily marketed faces going around. He has announced an investment through his Knight Riders Group, which runs the IPL’s Kolkata franchise (Kolkata Knight Riders) and a team in the Caribbean Premier League (Trinbago Knight Riders). Shah Rukh is set to run one of an expected six Major League Cricket teams, the Los Angeles Knight Riders.

Venky Mysore, Knight Riders chief executive told the Financial Times, “It’s like Bollywood meets Hollywood. We’ve gone and been able to add a lot of value to different leagues . . . it made a lot of sense to be part of that.”

The inspiration for this league is the highly successful IPL, which has become a money spinner since its inception in 2008. It's success has already given rise to a number of similar leagues around the world from Australia's Big Bash to the Caribbean's Caribbean Premier League to England's soon-to-be-launched "The Hundred".

IPL's success has largely been down to the media rights deal with Star India, which is now owned by Disney. They paid $2.6 bn for five years and as per the latest numbers from Ernst & Young consultancy, they are close to the English Premier League's numbers on a per-game basis.

The challenge for this neo-league will, of course, come from the market. Cricket as a game has limited audience outside the former British colonies and that has stopped it from becoming a global sport like football. There have been attempts in the past to generate interest in the US - India vs Pakistan Sahara series in the 1990s, a series of exhibition matches in 2015 organised by Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne to name a few. Needless to say, nothing kickstarted a cricket revolution in the US.

However, the US Cricket executives are of the firm belief that the 4m-strong Indo-American community and the growing South Asian community in various cities will aid the project in places like Dallas, San Francisco, and New York.

The length of a T20 game - less than four hours - compared to the other cricket formats appeals to the US audiences.

According to Paraag Marathe, the USA Cricket chairman and football operations head at the San Francisco 49ers NFL team, this is a great chance for cricket to be a success here. He said: "The T20 format works really well for us . . . It’s obviously a more exciting version of the game. As we have a corollary with the IPL, It’s easy to see what success could look like."

None of the above mentioned investors came out with an official confirmation of interest. There is logic in their thought process, because cricket hasn't worked its charm in the US before. That was reiterated by Simon Hughes, a former cricketer and broadcaster who recently co-authored a book on the IPL and knows the ins and outs of the game. He said: "Cricket hasn’t really worked before in the [United] States. It won’t be easy, but there is potential. They will have seen the profit that the IPL has made."