Will India’s Biggest Sport Conquer America?

Will India’s Biggest Sport Conquer America?

Yuvraj Singh of India celebrates a win over Australia in the Twenty20 International match at Sydney Cricket Ground on Jan. 31, 2016.

SourceMark Nolan/Getty

Why you should care

Because this sport is an international pastime. 

Watch closely, and you might notice a new sport being played all across the United States. New to you, that is. The world’s second most popular sport (after soccer) has only recently begun making inroads in the U.S., but cricket and its adoring fans are already gaining ground on more established pastimes.

According to 2017 Neilsen Scarborough research:

More than 7 million Americans are cricket fans.

To be precise, 7.18 million. And that figure is on the rise. SportsDNA, Neilsen Scarborough’s international sports marketing tool, analyzed U.S. consumer behavior and found that in the past two years, cricket has added nearly 700,000 American fans to its base. Gina Katzmark, Nielsen’s senior director of communications, notes that the U.S. has jumped ahead of Australia (5.5 million fans) and is closing in on the United Kingdom (10.79 million).

The increase in American cricket engagement is further supported by vigorous website traffic. According to ESPN Communications Director Kristie Adler, ESPNcricinfo, America’s top cricket-centric online destination, shows a core audience of “low to mid-hundreds of thousands of daily active users,” which is roughly equivalent to the traffic driven to ESPN’s pro hockey–focused arm. With more than 1.2 million ESPNcricinfo monthly users, along with 438,000 at Cricbuzz and 144,000 at CricketNext, the other top U.S. sites, according to comScore, a clear user base exists for a sport largely viewed as an untapped marketing opportunity.

Chicago has a very rich cricket history. And Texas and California have seen a lot of promising growth.

Eric Parthen, U.S. project manager, International Cricket Council

And Eric Parthen, U.S. project manager at the International Cricket Council, says the ICC is working to add to that momentum. “We know that 4 million unique users in the United States logged on to the ICC website during the [2015] World Cup,” says Parthen. “The demand is there.… We’re building a database that can serve the 7 million fans in America while also organizing and providing resources for the 200,000 active players, coaches and officials throughout the country.”

Parthen’s acknowledgment that the ICC is only now building an American database may sound strange, but there’s a reason for his comment. In June, the council expelled the United States of America Cricket Association from the ICC board, disbanding any organizational structure that existed in American cricket. Essentially, Parthen says that USACA wasn’t doing a good job. “It was largely an East Coast organization that represented, at best, 20 percent of the U.S. landscape,” he tells OZY. “They just weren’t developing the sport.” Due to a high number of South Asian and Caribbean immigrants, the East Coast is one of the heavily populated cricket markets, but the ICC believed that other regions were underserved.

Parthen says that in addition to New York and South Florida, strongholds in Dallas, Houston, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles can form a solid foundation for a healthy national structure. “Chicago has a very rich cricket history,” he says. “And Texas and California have seen a lot of promising growth, largely due to tech and medical companies hiring many South Asians.” He adds, “All of this has been happening without the traditional leadership of a governing federation.”

The ICC is currently reorganizing U.S. cricket leagues, developing workshops for coaches and officials and providing a clear path to local, regional and national competitions. Most important — youth participation. At present, cricket is primarily an expat sport, an outlet for immigrant adults “who grew up with a bat in their hand,” says Parthen. “But that culture doesn’t exist here.” Unsurprisingly, many second-generation children follow their friends to more mainstream American sports. The first step to changing that — and converting all Americans — is to introduce cricket to schools and youth programs. From there, momentum will take the sport to the next level in the U.S. “We’re studying the MLS model and how soccer succeeded here over time,” Parthen says. “But we need to unify first.”

A generation of American children is about to have another option in the sports space. Keep an eye out the next time you pass an open field or blacktop. Please report back if someone is swinging underhand something that looks like a paddle.

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