A story coming out of London via the Associated Press and ESPN.com is that the USA Cricket Association is looking to launch an elite professional league akin to India’s Premier League. Sure, this is barely a blip on the sporting public’s radar as a whole; with the start of baseball’s second half, anticipation of NFL training camps and the PGA’s British Open taking all of the glory these days. Yet, there’s something fascinating about trying to bring in a sport whose matches can make a Red Sox-Yankees game seem quick.
To be fair, this league would play the Twenty20 form, which is a shorter game and considered television-friendly. You wouldn’t see five-day tests in this league in a country where attention spans are shorter than the Spice Girls’ comeback.
Save for golf and NASCAR, for decades, sports that weren’t played by the Four Majors (NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL) were by large mocked and completely ignored by fans and media alike. There are plenty of reasons for this, but it boils down to the fact that except for golf’s birth in Scotland, every other sport that dominates the American conscious today was created, culled and mastered on North American soil.
Of the non-majors, soccer/football has gained momentum over the past few years and has a greater youth participation rate than any other game. However, it still lags behind the big boys in terms of prominence. It is still perceived by many of its detractors as, for the lack of a better term; a ‘sissy’ sport full of foreigners with unpronounceable names and little action to whet the appetites of those who want to see absurd amounts of scoring and ridiculous hits.
Regardless of anyone’s perceptions of the sport, it’s hard to deny that soccer/football is the one truly international sport that has carved a niche in a country full of entertainment options. You can’t help but to wonder if cricket looks to the so-called ‘beautiful game’ as a model of how to tap into a crowded American market that continues to be tested by the global recession.
The reason why this report stuck out was because you have to wonder what sort of blueprint the USACA may draw up to strum up interest in cricket.
It seems that any organization that wants to be considered a major player in sports wants some wide-reaching television deal to attract potential fans. A broadcasting deal is one of the many factors that the USACA wants potential developers to consider and they feel that these facts support a need for an agreement:
The existing passion for cricket in the United States currently lies largely in ex-patriot communities from the Caribbean, Sub-Continent and other traditional cricket playing nations and regions.
Their hunger for cricket and willingness to watch cricket on Pay-Per-View television has made the USA the second highest pay television earner in the world, behind India.
The USA is also the world’s second biggest Internet cricket market. The ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 attracted 1.15 billion hits within the USA, only fractionally behind India.
For all of the flaws of the broadcast and cable channels, TV is limited in how much programming can be scheduled each day. Television executives rather stick with proven commodities and spinoffs – or in the sports arena, the Majors and any show that can be built around them – than take chances with the unknown, even if there can be an audience. The internet can certainly help, but even if the hits (a largely debated metric within the tech world) show some interest, no one is exactly scorching the ‘net with mass live viewership.
A more important issue for the USACA: space. If anyone can find a cricket-only field in their area, take a picture and send it this was because they are few and far between. Here in New York City, there are two dedicated fields; both in Brooklyn and the fact that they exist shocked this Scribe for sure. There are bound to be more as the Association has found a way to thrive in all corners of the country. Yet, urban planners and parks departments across the land may already be spent by having to upkeep and grow baseball, soccer and (American) football fields; many being combined to save costs. How cricket falls into this would certainly be an enlightening conversation.
Just as soccer/football has here with many immigrant populations, there are communities here that support the sport and follow their favorite teams from all around the world. Yet, what soccer/football has that cricket has not shown just yet is a following of born and bred Americans. The question for the USACA and this future pro league: can it develop an audience with us patriots?