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Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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USA Cricket Is on the Cusp of a Historic Win. But Who Can Watch?

  • The U.S. and India will face off on a niche cricket-focused broadcaster.
  • The niche channel is looking for ways to expand its reach.
USA Cricket

Americans love to get behind Team USA in pretty much every sport. From soccer to basketball to swimming, gymnastics, figure skating, and more, supporting the red, white, and blue is always a favorite pastime. 

This month, well before the Olympics are set to begin in Paris, another Team USA is gaining steam—this time in cricket, at the International Cricket Council Men’s T20 World Cup taking place Stateside and in the West Indies. The U.S. beat Canada in its opening match last week and then pulled off a stunning upset of global cricket powerhouse Pakistan. On Wednesday, the U.S. will face the pre-tournament favorite, India, before its final group-stage match against Ireland on Friday.

It’s on … What?

The U.S., playing in its first T20 World Cup ever, needs a victory in one of those two matches to advance to the next round, which is called the Super 8s stage. Sounds like must-see TV, right? The only problem is you’ve probably never heard of the channel showing the game. If you thought truTV was obscure when it got some March Madness rights, buckle up.

Willow by Cricbuzz, a niche cricket-focused broadcaster, has ICC rights in the U.S. and Canada. Willow has said it is accessible in more than 70 million households, but typically only as part of premium-tier sports packages or South Asian packages, and sometimes only with a separate monthly subscription fee of at least $10 or more. Willow chief operating officer Todd Myers tells Front Office Sports the service is currently in four million homes.

Expanding Reach

To remedy that problem, Willow has worked out a deal with several of its provider partners to offer a free TV viewing of the U.S.-India match. Subscribers of Fubo TV, DirecTV, and Optimum will be able to watch the game without buying a subscription or more premium tier. That will boost Willow’s reach to 15 million households for Wednesday’s match. 

Willow ran a similar promotion during the first week of the T20 World Cup. However, the two largest providers in the U.S., Charter and Comcast, are not included. “We reached out to a number of our other partners, and some of them really wanted to do it; they just couldn’t, operationally,” says Myers. “In all disclosure, this is a last-minute request that came from us.” He says this will likely be the last free preview of the tournament, even if the U.S. advances.

Willow is owned by The Times Group, an Indian media conglomerate with several English-language outlets. One of the company’s executives, Satyan Gajwani, is an investor in Major League Cricket, which will play its second season this month and has a five-year media-rights deal with Willow.

A New Frontier

After the U.S. played its first two matches of the T20 World Cup in Texas, Wednesday’s contest will be held in New York, where 34,000 fans watched India beat Pakistan on Sunday. On Monday, USA Cricket released—and quickly sold out of—an extra allotment of tickets for the India match that were priced at $350 each.

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