Tuesday October 3, 2023

How the U.S. Got A New Pro Cricket League

  • Cricket is the world’s second-most popular sport after soccer, attracting a global audience of over 2.5 billion across 180 nations.
  • The U.S. has over 20 million cricket fans, but most rely on foreign cricket broadcasts at unusual hours.
  • Major League Cricket is backed by many prominent investors, some of which have relevant South-Asian roots, including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, and billionaire investor Vijay Shekhar Sharma.
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports
Front Office Sports Today

NBC Could Get In On College Football Playoffs

NBC is exploring broadcasting a slice of the expanded CFP in 2026.
Listen Now
October 3, 2023 | Podcast
Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied
Compared to baseball, basketball, and American football — which all began in the late 19th century — cricket could be considered an ancient sport. Yet, for all its longevity, it has never truly moved the needle in American sports culture. 

That’s about to change.

Cricket originated in the early 17th century in southeast England and owes its initial expansion to British traders, settlers, administrators, and soldiers from the British Army. 

During the early 19th-century colonization, these groups exported the game to other parts of the globe, such as India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

Now, professional cricket is about to ship its product to the most prominent sports economy in the world. Major League Cricket — the first official professional American cricket league — plans to launch in summer 2023.

The Baseball Barrier

Today, cricket is the world’s second-most popular sport after soccer, attracting a global audience of over 2.5 billion across 180 nations.

Some argue that cricket never became a thing in the U.S. because baseball — being somewhat similar — monopolized any space the British game could conceivably gain. 

But factory settings in American sports have reset dramatically in the last decades, and the pie is getting bigger and fast — creating new opportunities with huge potential for other sports.

Cricket is already popular enough in the U.S. to gain a foothold:

  • The U.S. has over 20 million cricket fans, but most rely on foreign cricket broadcasts at unusual hours. 
  • The U.S. is one of the world’s top five cricket media markets.
  • According to SponsorPulse, it ranks eighth in the percentage of consumers engaged with cricket worldwide and third in absolute population behind India and China.
  • In total, 63 million Americans engage with cricket annually — around 40% of those weekly.

Major League Cricket knows that extensive existing demand is a no-brainer when starting a league.

But first, MLC needs structure, strategy, and resources — which have been years in the making.

MLC Structure

In the United States, MLC holds the exclusive license from the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the national American cricket governing body (USACA) to develop the competition around the T20 form of the game — which lasts ~3 hours — keeping game duration close to other sports Americans are accustomed to watching.

In essence, you can think of the license as a patent of a product — no entity can set up a professional cricket league in the U.S. other than MLC. 

It’s a massive competitive advantage because it virtually raises the barrier of entry to infinity, eliminating competition and buying time to build a moat around the product and experiences.

Cricket seasons are usually very short — varying between three-to-six weeks — and players are hired for the duration of the season. Unlike traditional sports, quick cricket tournaments allow the world’s best players to rotate around the globe and play in multiple leagues per year. 

The first MLC seasons aim to last three weeks with a total of six franchises, then gradually expand both in terms of venues and schedule. 

Short campaigns are effective talent magnets, as schedule flexibility will allow the MLC to find and pay for the best players in the world.

A Holistic Approach

An integral part of MLC’s strategy to establish solid pillars for the major tournament was to own and operate a minor league with youth tournaments and academies — which it’s done since 2021.

This holistic, almost fully vertically integrated approach is critical in developing a professional competition. 

  • It develops domestic players to raise the performance standard. 
  • It builds rapport with the local community and kickstarts fan bases across MLC’s 20 host cities.
  • It serves as a testing ground for venues.

Apart from the minor league, the vision for the MLC includes investments in stadiums, training facilities, and international talent. Still, the MLC requires capital and resources to make it all happen.

The Value of Key Stakeholders

A new league doesn’t begin and end with just the quality on the field — those running the show are crucial.

MLC is backed by many prominent investors, some of which have relevant South-Asian roots, including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, and billionaire investor Vijay Shekhar Sharma.

Earlier this year, the league raised a gigantic $120 million Series A round from a list of over a dozen well-positioned investors within tech and venture capital — most with ties to Asia.

The segment of a prosperous demographic of investors with such ties is advantageous because they’re familiar with the popularity and strength of cricket in Asia, and it’s in their best interest to translate these metrics to the American game. 

MLC’s management team also includes vital players. The founders have a long history of involvement with cricket in the U.S., having co-founded Willow TV, the largest cricket broadcaster in North America, while also serving as the principals of The Times of India Group, India’s largest media conglomerate. 

Willow TV already delivers overseas cricket content to around 4 million households.

The tripod of a solid network of influential personalities, existing media exposure, and strong financial backing gives MLC a much-needed platform — and, thus, a privileged position to kick off the first season.

Setting the Stage

The league is investing heavily in a suitable infrastructure.

The first season has yet to begin, but there’s enough evidence to prove that things are moving in the right direction:

  • Knight Riders Group — the owners of the Indian Premier League (IPL) team, Kolkata Knight Riders — teamed up with MLC to build a 10,000-seat stadium in Los Angeles.
  • There are ongoing conversations to include cricket in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games and host the ICC T20 World Cup in the U.S.
  • Toyota, Sling TV, and Sunoco are already sponsoring the minor league.

Looking forward, MLC expects the Grand Prairie — the first stadium, based in Dallas — to be finished by Spring 2023, but it’s not stopping there. Several franchise and stadium projects for 2024 and beyond involve the Bay Area, New York, and Seattle. 

Establishing a presence in relevant markets taps into the right audiences, attracts local investments, and builds the MLC’s brand reputation.

They aim to have over six international-grade stadiums in critical American markets that can hold over 30 national and international events with over 200,000 annual attendees and generate billions of broadcast views annually.

The Potential

When you blend up the right group of individuals with enough capital, world-class infrastructure, and a holistic strategy, it’s substantially easier to keep the ball rolling and generate opportunities in a virtuous cycle. The above will allow MLC to then:

  • Close multimillion-dollar deals with Tier-1 commercial partners, sponsors, and naming rights.
  • Generate billions in revenue from TV rights deals domestically and internationally.
  • Establish the US as an international cricket hub for world-class competitions.
  • Build a brand capable of attracting international partners, capital, and resources.

Major League Cricket is working with the American cricket community to establish cricket as a leading sport in the United States in coming years, explained league co-founder Vijay Srinivasan.

“There are already millions of cricket fans in this country — this investment provides the platform for the sport to thrive domestically and reach those that love the sport while generating new audiences.”

Similar to pickleball, the increased interest from private equity in professional sports and the introduction of a more robust digital ecosystem powered by new technologies are now giving other sports a shot at thriving in America. 

The outlook and beginning stages of MLC’s approach to deploying resources, leveraging network effects, and building a professional league from scratch are worth monitoring because they will set the tone for expected growth and the likelihood of commercial success in the world’s biggest sports economy.

Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

What to Read

NIL has changed the decision making on players staying in school or turn pro.

Men’s Basketball Players Are Staying In School Longer Thanks to NIL

The NIL era has provided a safety net for college basketball players when they consider to sharpen skills in school or turn pro.
Breanna Stewart is one of the few WNBA players with a signature shoe deal.

The Sneaker Industry Plans To Right Wrongs With WNBA Signature Shoe Deals

Today’s top women’s college basketball stars are in no rush to leave their campuses for the ongoing salary gaps and unavoidable roadblocks on the path to the official stamp of stardom: a signature shoe.

The Time Is Now: More WNBA Sneakers

Anyone can point out a vivid lack of WNBA signature sneakers on the market compared to the number of NBA signature sneakers available to consumers. The past, present, and future state of the WNBA signature shoe market explain the reasoning for this and what needs to be done to change the trajectory.
Barry Larkin Sees Baseball’s Future in the Middle East, South Asia

Why A Former MLB Star Sees Baseball’s Future in the Middle East,..

Former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin’s world travels as a baseball ambassador sparked an idea that led him and business partners Mariano Rivera and Kash Shaikh to create the first professional baseball league in the Middle East and South Asia.
podcast thumbnail mobile
Front Office Sports Today

NBC Could Get In On College Football Playoffs


Featured Today

An advocacy group is filing an NLRB case against the Ivy League over athlete compensation.

Advocacy Group Files Federal Labor Charge Against Ivy League

It’s the latest in a flurry of NLRB cases over amateurism.
The Colorado Buffaloes played in the most-watched game of Week 5.
October 3, 2023

Colorado Ratings Bonanza Continues Despite Two Consecutive Losses

The Buffs’ least-watched game this season was still the most-watched this week.
Football analyst and PFF investor Chris Collinsworth talks to man in front of computers
October 3, 2023

Cris Collinsworth 'Lost a Lot of Sleep' Over Pro Football Focus Leadership Issues

New book details why it’s no longer a “happy place to work.”
NBC is interested in media rights to the expanded College Football Playoff.
October 2, 2023

NBC Is Interested in Expanded College Football Playoff Media Rights

NBC is one of the networks pitching the CFP, a source confirmed.


Powered By

Careers in Sports

Looking for a new job? Check out these featured listings and search for openings all over the world.
Chicago Cubs
New York
Tri Star Sports and Entertainment Group, Inc.
USA - Multiple Locations
A general view as Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan hits a shot against Victoria Azarenka of Belarus on day eleven of the 2023 Australian Open tennis tournament at Melbourne Park.

Australian Open Adds Extra Day to Combat Late Finishes

The 2024 edition will begin on a Sunday for the first time.
October 1, 2023

FIFA Down To Two Candidates For 2026 World Cup Final

Hotly contested battle said to be between Texas, N.J. stadiums
September 28, 2023

Ryder Cup Expects Record Revenue, But Not Profit

The Ryder Cup is being played in Rome this weekend.
Stacy Lewis tees off on the seventeenth hole during the first round of the CPKC Women's Open golf tournament at Shaughnessy Golf & Country Club.
September 22, 2023

In Ryder Cup’s Shadow, Solheim Cup Captain Laments ‘Missed Opportunity’

U.S. captain Stacy Lewis criticized the lack of cross-promotion and marketing.
LIV Golf flag pin
September 21, 2023

Saudi Prince Dismisses Sportswashing Claims Post Newcastle, LIV Golf

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is bullish on sports.
Spain women's national soccer team players celebrate with the World Cup trophy after their victory in the 2023 Women's World Cup.
September 20, 2023

Spain Women’s Soccer Players Agree to End National Team Boycott

The RFEF will make “immediate and profound” changes to its structure.
Spain's women's national soccer team says it will not play matches until federation president Rubiales is removed.
September 19, 2023

Fallout Deepens From Spanish Soccer Scandal

Unrest continues among WWC champion national team
Jerry Jones invited FIFA'a Gianni Infantino to Sunday's Cowboys-Jets game at AT&T Stadium as the venue vies for the 2026 World Cup Final.
September 18, 2023

Jerry Jones Courts FIFA President, Eyes World Cup Final at AT&T Stadium

Gianni Infantino visited AT&T Stadium, fueling 2026 World Cup Final speculation.