How far can cricket go in the USA?
Back in the ICC fold with a new governing body
by Andy Roberts
When you think of European sports finding their way into the USA, football (or soccer) is probably the most prevalent. In fact, with 4.1 million registered players it’s now the country’s third most popular participant sport behind American football and baseball. What’s more surprising, however, is that cricket is also starting to gain a foothold in the land of the free.
The gradual, yet undeniable, rise of cricket in the USA, driven largely by an influx of migrants from cricket-loving nations in South Asia, is exemplified by current proposals for a $500m cricket stadium in Dallas, Texas.
USA Cricket gains ICC membership
While the history of the USA as a member of the ICC goes back to 1965, it has been a case of one step forward, two steps back ever since, and it’s only in 2019 that the game seems to finally be coming of age with the launch of USA Cricket, a new national governing body for the game.
The board of USA Cricket is chaired by Paraag Marathe, an executive vice-president of the San Francisco 49ers, and also includes an NBA executive, plus the managing director of the Boston Consulting Group. This signifies a serious intent to grow the game and raise its profile among a wider demographic, not just the South Asia and Caribbean communities who tend to follow it now.
Their challenge will be to take the relative success of the grassroots game, which has some 200,000 registered players, and bring it to a wider audience, A game between the US and Canadian national teams last year, held in Raleigh, North Carolina, attracted only 2,000 people.
College sports as the route to cricket growth
USA Cricket are doing a lot of things right, including speaking to the all-powerful National Collegiate Athletic Association (NACA) on the possibility of making cricket an intramural sport. This would allow the game to be played in schools and colleges across the country and, although it’s not a rapid process, it will make a huge difference.
The growth of cricket in the USA is interesting because, while soccer has been driven by international dominance and then growth of Latino communities in the country, cricket has no such strength in depth. In fact, with only 10 countries featuring in the next cricket world cup, it’s a relative minnow on the international scene.
The world's second most popular sport
America is a very traditional country when it comes to its sports and tends to go its own way in terms of the games it follows, so It’s entirely possible that reaching out to a wider audience will be one step too far for cricket. At the same time, it’s going to be very interesting to see if the world’s second most popular spectator sport – 2.5 billion fans and counting – can make an impression in the complex US marketplace.
Finally, we could hardly talk about any US sport without addressing the sports betting elephant in the room. If unofficial sportsbooks in India are accounted for, cricket is said to be firmly in the top five sports internationally for betting volumes, and this could help to boost the game as the US betting market opens up.
In many way, the new 15,000-seater stadium in Dallas, if it happens, will be a physical representation of the challenge facing US cricket as a while. If you build it, will they come?