USA Cricket: The Next NFL Or NBA — Trillion Dollar Bet? | Broken Cricket Dreams
USA Cricket -two terms that do not go together, BUT did you know:
The first international cricket match was played between the United States of America and Canada way back in 1844?
In fact, it was the first modern international sports match. That’s right. Even before the first official Ashes Test match between England and Australia in 1877, and before the first international soccer game between England and Scotland in 1872.
Interesting piece of trivia, isn’t it?
Cricket was played in the US for several decades after independence from Great Britain with Philadelphia as its major center. Even George Washington is said to have played a game of cricket at Valley Forge.
Well, cricket in the US has been downhill ever since. After the Civil War in 1865, cricket lost its steam in the U.S. By the time World War I ended, the decline was complete with baseball & The World Series taking over. The detail history of Cricket in the United States can be found here from USA cricket’s website. Quite fascinating actually. Anyway…
Today we will discuss:
- Recent developments that have suddenly propelled USA Cricket in the news.
- Status of cricket in America & Major League Cricket.
- The Money Factor: Sports business & major leagues in US-NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and MLS.
- The Broken Dream: Leagues that have failed in America
- Where I think USA cricket will go and how you can participate & watch the games.
Fasten on your seatbelts! Here we go — will answer all your questions on the way!
Note: Videos are linked & bolded. Sources & Articles are just linked.
1. Recent Development: Heavy Investments In USA Cricket
Recently USA Cricket has been in the news for various reasons.
- AirHogs stadium, a former minor league baseball stadium, in Grand Prairie, Texas (outskirts of Dallas) is being converted to a cricket stadium. It has support and funding from the local authorities as well as USA cricket.
- Knight Riders group, the group that owns highly successful franchises of Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and Trinbago Knight Riders (TKR), buys stake in the Major League Cricket league.
- Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, and other high profile names interested in investing in Major League Cricket, a $1 billion investment.
- Ex-cricketers from other nations recruited. South Africa, Pakistan, New Zealand internationals Dane Piedt, Sami Aslam, and Corey Anderson respectively have already confirmed their moves (retirement from home country and signing of a 3 year Major League Cricket deal), while World Cup winner Liam Plunkett and other South African expatriates are targeted.
Corey Anderson, a new American recruit, once hit the world record for the fastest ODI hundred
2. So, Where Is American Cricket At the Moment?
In order to understand prospect of cricket in America, we first need to understand where Team USA sits in the cricket world rankings.
ICC* Cricket rankings consists of (1) Full Members and (2) Associate Members. As of 2019, 12 countries had Full Member status while 92 were Associate Members. The 12 full members consists of (mostly) former British colonies:
*ICC — International Cricket Council
USA Cricket — The Administration
After the decline of US cricket in the 20th century, USA Cricket Association (USACA) was created in 1965 as an Associate Member. For the next few decades, USA hovered around qualification tournaments, even qualifying for the 2004 Champions Trophy. However, the downhill spiral started once again, and the organization was expelled in 2017 due to financial and administrative trouble.
Under a new governing body, USA Cricket (USAC), the US was finally re-inducted as a new Associate member 2019. The progress continued as US achieved ODI status after qualifying for World Cup League Division 2.
It looks like USA Cricket has finally found its feet after years of turmoil.
- Rankings: 19/20 (ODI), 34/104* (T20I)
- Current Captain: Saurabh Netravalkar (replaced Ibrahim Khaleel, ex Indian first class player)
- Newly Prominent Recruited Players: Xavier Marshall (WI) Rusty Theron (SA), Dane Piedt (SA), Corey Anderson (NZ), Sami Aslam (Pak)
- Players With CPL* Experience: Hayden Walsh Jr. (now plays for West Indies), Ali Khan (Also selected for the IPL*), Cameron Gannon (BBL), Steven Taylor (ex USA captain), Timroy Allen, Nikhil Dutta, Jasdeep Singh
*Note, in April 2018, all 104 cricket nations were granted T20 International status.
*CPL — Caribbean Premier League, IPL — Indian Premier League, BBL — Big Bash League (Australia)
Cricket In America: Current Development
USA Cricket (USAC) has released a foundational plan for the next decade.
The goal? Make cricket a mainstream sport in the United States and become an ICC Full Member by 2030.
Other goals in the foundational plan includes focusing on (1) current players and fanbase, (2) youth development, (3) T20 cricket, and (4) women’s cricket. In addition, USAC plans to bid for international tournaments hosting starting from the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics (Even the ICC has started pitch for cricket in Olympics with the 2022 Commonwealth Games).
Here is their 2020 progress report — Zonal Trials, Umpire Training, and in 2021, even a national softball tournament?
Currently the structure is semi-professional but growing in the right direction. According to USA Cricket, the selection route to the national team involves “Regional Combines, Zonal High Performance Programs, and National Training Camps,” with regional and national championships planned in future years.
Earlier, we did an interview with Avinash, a player who has featured in both the university and club circuit tournaments across the United States. He has participated in the American College Cricket at the university level and the Heartland Cricket League locally.
In the club circuit, there are several tournaments such as Leather Ball Cricket (T20, T30, T40) along with tape-ball (indoor) and tennis ball cricket. Other tournaments like the recently concluded US Open T20 tournament, which included stars like Chris Gayle and Rayad Emrit, have also been organized by independent organizations like Cricket Council USA.
The Airhogs stadium will be the second professional cricket stadium in the US after Fort Lauderdale in Florida. Here is a list of the major cricket stadiums and facilities in the US:
- Central Broward Regional Park: Lauderdale, Florida, $70 million (ICC certified international quality)
- AirHogs Stadium: Grand Prairer, Texas (under renovation — to become international quality)
- Indianapolis World Sports Park: Indianapolis, Indiana, $5.1 million (2014 — multipurpose)
- Leo Magnus Cricket Complex ‘Woodley Park’: Los Angeles, California (stadium/cricket facilities)
- Moosa Stadium: Houston, Texas (built with ICC rules — hosts ACC)
India vs West Indies in 2016 at Fort Lauderdale, Florida was especially a wonderful spectacle.
What is Major League Cricket?
USA Cricket has partnered with the American Cricket Enterprises (ACE), who invested $1 billion in Major League Cricket (MLC).
The vision is to create a 6-team world-class T20 tournament with the best USA and international talent, starting in 2022. According to the Major League Cricket organizers, “MLC is developing cricketing infrastructure including international quality stadiums, elite youth academies, and high-grade training facilities.” Here are the details:
- Teams: San Francisco, Los Angeles (Western Conference), Dallas, Chicago (Central Conference), New York (Eastern Conference), Atlanta (Southern Conference)
- Academies: Investment in youth academies like the Willow Academy (San Francisco/Seattle). Currently there are 2 indoor facilities, 6 grounds, and over 500 students enrolled.
- Minor League: A precursor to the Major League will be the Minor League Cricket, beginning in 2021. It is a development league that would feed into Major League. In the 2020 Minor League Exhibition tournament featured 24 teams & 155 matches.
- Sponsors/TV Rights: Apart from Nadella, former CTO of Facebook & Dropbox, CEO of Adobe have also pitched in. ACE has a partnership with Willow TV and the Times of India Group. A full list of sponsors can be found here.
Can Major League Cricket survive in America? Can cricket capture the imagination in the USA?
Now that we have demystified cricket in America to you, let us answer the real question:
*Baseball fans, new to cricket? Check this blog by CricAmerica — explains cricket via baseball terms
3. The Possibilities: Sport Leagues In America 💲💵💵💲
The North American sports market has a value of a whopping $71 billion and is expected to rise around by 2023.
Let that sink in.
According to Forbes, Sal Galatioto states, “There is no lack of multi-billionaires that want to get into the sports business right now.” If there was a place to invest in sports right now, it is the United States.
America has a vibrant sporting culture. USA dominates the Summer Olympics with 2,523 total medals, including 1,022 gold and not far behind in the Winter Olympics with 305 total medals (105 gold). Golf, tennis, boxing, NASCAR, and several other sports have a safe space in the U.S. market.
For Major League Cricket to prosper, we have to look at templates of other leagues in America. We will restrict our analysis to the Big 5 leagues: NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and MLS.
In Forbes’ top 50 most valuable teams, only 7 teams are non-American. NFL’s Dallas Cowboys tops the list and has 27 teams in the top 50, NBA has 9 teams, 7 for MLB, and none for NHL or MLS.
The first non-American team is at #6 with Real Madrid, valued at $4.24 billion. Barcelona is at #8 valued at $4.02 billion. There are 5 other soccer teams in the list with teams from La Liga, English Premier League, and Bundesliga making the cut.
No cricket league makes the Forbes’ list, but for comparison, Indian Premium League (IPL), the most popular cricket league, is valued around $5 billion with an average annual player salary of , only behind the NBA.
BUT guess what? Dallas Cowboys are worth $5.5 billion, more than the entire IPL.
National Football League (NFL)
- Year Founded: 1920
- Teams/Matches Per Season: 32–267 matches
- Average Attendance: 67, 100 (2019)
- Total Revenue/TV Viewership : $16.9 billion (2019)
- Most Valuable Team: Dallas Cowboys: $5.5 billion (value) — #1 Most Valuable in the World
- Average TV Viewership (Per Game): 16.6 million
- TV Rights: $4.52 billion (2019)
- Average Annual Player Salary: $3.26 million (2019/20)
Cultural Impact: American football is, by far, the most popular sport in the U.S dominating viewership, TV rights, and money generated. Football is widely followed at all levels-high school, NCAA football, and NFL. The NFL season begins around September and culminates in February with the Super Bowl, the biggest sporting event of the year with the iconic Super Bowl ads and . From Friday night high school games to Sunday night NFL, football is imbued in the American culture. The impact of American football is far reaching through growth in local businesses, restaurants, and bars on game nights.
Here are some of the best plays from the NFL.
National Basketball Association (NBA)
- Year Founded: 1946
- Teams/Matches Per Season: 30 teams (29 US, 1 Canada) — 1312 matches
- Average Attendance: 17,857 (2019)
- Most Valuable Team: New York Yankees: $5 billion
- Average TV Viewership (Per Game): 7.3 million
- TV Rights: $3.12 billion (2019)
- Average Annual Player Salary: $8.32 million (2019/20)
Cultural Impact: After American football, basketball is the most popular sport in the United States across and also followed across different levels. The NBA season runs from October to June culminating in the widely watched NBA Finals. The most easily accessible sport, pick-up backyard games is a common summer activity. Culturally, around 80% of NBA players are African Americans, producing legends like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James.
Here is an awesome compilation of the best NBA plays.
Major League Baseball (MLB)
- Year Founded: 1903
- Teams/Matches Per Season: 30 (29 US, 1 Canada) -2467 matches
- Average Attendance: 28,180 (2019)
- Total Revenue: $10.37 billion (2019)
- Average TV Viewership (Per Game): 4 million
- Most Valuable Team: New York Knicks: $4.6 billion
- TV Rights: $1.65 billion (2019)
- Average Annual Player Salary: $4.03 million (2019/20)
Cultural Impact: Baseball is considered to be America’s national pastime. Since MLB is the oldest professional sports league in the US, baseball enjoys a rich history, culture, and lifelong fans. However, according to several surveys and the New York Times, the popularity in baseball has vastly decreased for the past decade. Certainly, football has taken over nationally in TV coverage and fan following. Yet, baseball is still alive since it provides a ‘social experience’ due to the presence of local Minor/Major League teams in most cities. The sport has also provided several iconic players over time such as Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, and Micky Mantle.
The cultural impact of baseball was evident by Chicago Cubs 1st World Series Win in a 108 Years.
National Hockey League (NHL)
- Year Founded: 1917
- Teams: 31 (24 US, 7 Canada)/extends to 32 teams in 2021–1358 matches
- Average Attendance: 17,380 (2019)
- Total Revenue: $5.1 billion (2019)
- Most Valuable Team: New York Rangers: $1.65 billion
- Average TV Viewership (Per Game): 1.6 million
- TV Rights: $220 million (2019)
- Average Annual Player Salary: $2.69 million (2019/20)
Cultural Impact: Ice Hockey (aka hockey) also enjoys mild support in the United States, especially in the midwestern and northern regions. With several teams from Canada and stars like Wayne Gretzky, the NHL continues to prosper and grow. The US and Canada are two of the best six international teams and they are usually contenders in the Winter Olympics.
Major League Soccer (MLS)
- Year Founded: 1996
- Teams: 26 (23 US, 3 Canada) — 421 matches
- Average Attendance: 21,310 (2019)
- Total Revenue: $1.2 billion (2019)
- Most Valuable Team: Atlanta United : $500 million
- Average TV Viewership (Per Game): 1.8 million
- TV Rights: $110 million (2019)
- Average Annual Player Salary: $410,000 (2019/20)
Cultural Impact: Soccer is a relatively recent major sport in the United States. The precursor to MLS was the North American Soccer League (1968–84) attracting the likes of legends like Pelé. After its decline, hosting the 1994 FIFA World Cup boosted soccer into the American mainstream. The USA Women’s Soccer Team, the most successful women’s team, has further established its hold in the US, winning 4 World Cup titles and 4 Olympic Golds. Although soccer is not as popular as the other sports, it has created a space for itself and is growing in school and collegiate levels.
Here is the U.S. Women’s 5–2 victory in the 2015 FIFA World Cup final, courtesy Carli Lloyd’s heroics.
4. The Broken Dreams: Leagues That Failed in America
All that glitters is not gold.
Now that you have seen the possibilities and money involved, let us bring you back to Earth. Not all leagues in the United States succeeded. In fact, most of them failed.
Cricket fans, think of these competitive ventures along the lines of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket (1977–79), Stanford 20/20 (2006–08), or the Indian Cricket League (2007–09). Here is just a small list.
Competitors to the Big 5
- NBA: American Basketball League (1961–62), American Basketball Association (1967–76), (2002–08)
- MLB: Senior Professional Baseball Association (1989–90) — for retired stars
- NHL: World Hockey Association (1971–79), Roller Hockey International (1993–1999)
- MLS: North American Soccer League (1968–1984)
America is a land of creativity, but sometimes a little too much creativity can be dangerous as the XFL, Slamball, and Senior Baseball League shows.
- United States Football League (1982–85): Football in Spring/Summer season (feat Donald Trump)
- Alliance of American Football (2018–19): $100 million invested — lost $88 million
- XFL (2001): Directly competitor to NFL — $ 70 million loss (courtesy WWE’s Vince McMahon) — may return in 2022
- NFL Europe(1991–2007): Spread Football to Europe? Lost around $30 million/year
- Arena Football (1987–2009): Internal football league — successful 2 decades but declined eventually
Other Serious Ventures
- Here are some other niche sports that did not go far in their first attempt.
- Rugby: Pro Rugby League (2015–17)
- Lacrosse: National Lacrosse League (1974–75), American Lacrosse League (1988)
- Ultimate Frisbee: Major League Ultimate (2013–16)
Several women leagues have been launched post successful Olympics/World Cup campaigns.
- Volleyball: Major League Volleyball (1987–89), United States Professional Volleyball League (2003)
- Soccer: Women’s United Soccer Association (2000–03) — post US Women’s 1999 FIFA WC victory, Lost around $100 million
- Baseball: All-American Girls Professional Baseball Association (1943–1954)
In conclusion here, money can’t buy you happiness, can it? More investment-Higher the prospects, but deeper the fall.
Failed Cricket Ventures In the US
What’s more? MLC is not the first attempt to get cricket into Americans.
- Pro Cricket League (2004): 8 team T20 competition with stars like Ajay Jadeja & Daren Ganga. Did not see the light of a 2nd season
- American Premier League (2009): 6 international teams & partnership with NZ cricket with matches in New York, but it fell through before materializing
- American National Championship (2014) — The Indianapolis World Park stadium was created for this reason with a 3 year deal and public support. Also failed to materialize
- Cricket All Stars (2015): Sachin Tendulkar XI vs Shane Warne XI held in baseball stadiums across NYC, Houston, and LA. Team made up of retired stars. It was fun when it lasted but they never returned for another series as originally planned.
Although these attempts failed, Major League Cricket gives different vibes. This time things feel different. T20 leagues in the world have stabilized, more & more cricketers are abandoning national duty and becoming T20 mercenaries, and the expatriate population in the U.S. is growing.
Just Right: What Should Happen to USA Cricket
In all reality, Major League Cricket will most likely not go the way of the NFL and NBA, but it might not crash like the XFL or USFL. Smaller leagues have created their own niche and survived, without TV rights and mainstream media.
Here are professional sports league in the US with recent average attendance.
- Women’s National Basketball Association (1997-): 6,535
- Major League Lacrosse(2001-): 3,844
- National Women’s Soccer League(2013-): 7,337
- Major League Rugby(2018-): 4,125
Note: Other leagues include National Women’s Hockey League, National Lacrosse League, and Major Arena Soccer League, etc.
ICC Americas: The CPL & Global T20 Canada Model
With the ICC Americas initiative, West Indies cricket has been supportive of USA cricket.
The CPL franchises now reserve some spots for American players and increase exposure, while Florida also hosts some of WI & CPL matches in Florida. Yet the numbers have been decreasing — 6 CPL games in 2016, 4 & 3 in the next two years, and none after 2018.
In 2018, a fairly successful 6-team Global T20 Canada was launched. Each team had an array of international stars such as JP Duminy, Andre Russell, and Imrah Tahir interspersed with Canadian and American players. For the first edition, 5 teams & a ‘West Indies B’ team took part, which could be an interesting idea for USA Cricket to adopt.
Fun Fact: Brendon McCullum’s last game in any type of cricket was the 2019 Global T20 Canada league.
The Cricket World Cup — A Far Fetched Dream?
Yet, even if MLC succeeds, it does not guarantee Full Membership and ICC funding.
The Cricket World Cup is the pinnacle of the game, and qualification for the CWC is a major goal for the Associate nations, but it has gotten harder recently.
With the new 10-team World Cup Format and ODI Super League, the top 7 ranked teams & hosts qualify directly, while two teams compete in a 10-team qualifying tournament. With the likes of competitive teams like Netherlands, Scotland, Papua New Guinea, Namibia, and Nepal, it will be hard for the USA Cricket Team to beat these teams, let alone the Full Members.
The T20 World Cup may be more compelling with 16 possible teams, but with USA languishing at #34 right now, it is hard to fathom.
What the Future Holds?
USA And China are the sleeping giants of world cricket.
For cricket fans around the world, the status of cricket in America is an anomaly. With immigrants from all around the world, surely a few of them can get together to make a decent team?
$20 Trillion economy, 330 million population, about 6 million immigrants from cricket playing nations, and the gradual decline of baseball, surely cricket in America is a possibility? It’s got to be!
What I Wish To Happen: The Afghanistan Model
The Afghanistan National Cricket Team is well-known for its rapid rise. In a war torn country, it became an Affiliate Member in 2001. Rising from Division 5, they qualified for the T20 World Cup in 2010, became an Associate Member in 2013, a Full Member in 2017, and have produced talents like Mohammad Nabi & Rashid Khan.
In my ideal scenario, the newly recruited international cricketers make the USA cricket team and climb up the ladder in qualification bid for the 2027 World Cup. The following year, Los Angeles hosts cricket at the 2028 Olympics. A few years later, say by 2036, USA hosts a T20 World Cup. Next thing you know, the MLC regularly starts attracting international stars, spectators increase, funding stabilizes and there you go, cricket established in the American market within 10–15 years.
What is Actually Going to Happen: The MLS Model
The issue with the Afghanistan Model is it already was a cricket crazy nation. USA is not.
The only template cricket has for a new sport to mix into the mainstream is soccer. After the NASL in 1968, it took the USA team 22 years to qualify for a World Cup in 1990, hosted the 1994 World Cup, and finally the MLS began in 1996. Women’s Soccer started to take shape in the late-1980s and won the 1999 World Cup, just 10 years later. It has taken a further 20 years for the sport to come in the public eye.
If cricket follows a similar model, the women USA team will qualify by 2030, USA men’s cricket team will qualify for the 2043 World Cup, host the 2047 World. By the team we hit 2050, cricket may finally come into the sports conversation. It may take a generation or two more for cricket to spread to each city, each grade level, and compete with the likes of American football, basketball, and baseball.
In any case, the money is here, the audience here. Let’s play.
Copyright — @Nitesh Mathur, aka Nit-X — firstname.lastname@example.org
Did you learn something new? Yes, no, maybe so?
Do YOU Think that cricket will ever become popular in the United States? IF YES, comment below. IF NO, comment below as well and let us know why! We want to hear from you!
How Can You Get Involved in USA Cricket?
Here are some resources from if you want to get involved in the growth of cricket in America.
- Rookie Leagues: Entry Level program for kids & youth. Officiating (umpires) & coaching resources as well.
- Player Registration: If you are interested in playing or trying out for the Minor League/Major League/ USA Cricket, fill out this application.
- What Is Cricket?: ICC’s short minute videos on the different aspects of cricket/rules. Nice 3 minutes high quality videos here to share ahead to your “Future Cricket Fans.”
Originally published at https://brokencricketdreams.com on December 30, 2020.