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T20 World Cup ‘opened the eyes of the American public’ … but cricket’s quest for US attention has only just started

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T20 World Cup ‘opened the eyes of the American public’ … but cricket’s quest for US attention has only just started

The 2024 Men’s T20 World Cup is done and dusted, ending the latest chapter of cricket’s onerous venture into the United States.

America, where cricket has struggled to gain mainstream visibility for more than a century, hosted 16 of the tournament’s group-stage matches last month, while the remaining Super Eight games and knockouts took place in the Caribbean.

The marquee event was designed to pique the curiosity of Americans who had never considered watching the sport before — much like Formula 1’s recent push into Northern America, the United States has been identified as a source of revenue growth opportunities due to its financial power and wealthy South Asian immigrant community.

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The T20 World Cup’s promotion through local media was headlined by a full-page advertisement in the New York Times that featured the Statue of Liberty raising a cricket bat. Olympic champion Usain Bolt opened the tournament at New York’s Nassau County International Cricket Stadium, a pop-up venue built specifically for the event, while former Indian all-rounder Yuvraj Singh appeared on NBC’s Good Morning America for a six-minute segment.

Elsewhere, well-renowned baseball analyst ‘Jomboy’ produced videos explaining cricket’s rules to a predominantly American fanbase, exposing the sport to a broader audience.

“A lot of Americans are walking in and they’re asking questions about the sport,” Ali Zar, a cricket store owner in New York, told BBC Sport ahead of the tournament.

“I was born in Pakistan, so I know about this sport. My kids are born here, other kids are born here. They are starting to ask questions about this sport.”

Most T20 World Cup matches in the United States were scheduled in the morning to coincide with the subcontinent’s evening, prime time for Indian broadcasters. The group-stage match between India and Ireland kicked off at 10.30am on a weekday when most locals were at work or school, meaning the stands were flooded with diehard fans rather than curious New Yorkers.

Meanwhile, the T20 World Cup was not shown on any of the mainstream US broadcasters because subscription channel and streaming service Willow TV had the exclusive rights. America’s casual sporting fans couldn’t stumble upon the tournament while flicking through the channels, unlike when Fox Sports 1 broadcast this year’s NRL double-header in Las Vegas.

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Although the T20 World Cup initially failed to break into America’s mainstream consciousness, the United States’ shock victory over Pakistan in Dallas generated plenty of publicity.

Major American publications, including Bleacher Report and CBS News, celebrated the win on their social media channels — the match headlined a segment on ESPN’s SportsCenter, while the New York Post and New York Times began featuring the T20 World Cup prominently on their websites.

Even the White House took notice — National Security Communications Adviser John Kirby congratulated the American team after they qualified for the Super Eight stage, while US Senate majority leader Chuck tweeted about the “incredible upset” against Pakistan.

According to the ICC, 2.7 million USA-based users visited the organisation’s website and app last month, up 370 per cent from the 2022 T20 World Cup.

“The majority of people are into it,” former Australian spinner Tim May, who lives in Texas, told the Sydney Morning Herald last month.

“Many haven’t any idea what’s going on. They don’t understand, it’s so complicated for them. But they’re into it.”

American captain Aaron Jones, who starred for the United States in wins over Canada and Pakistan, hoped the team’s success would “open the eyes” of the nation’s casual sporting fans.

“I don’t think people thought we would be here right now playing against England, West Indies and all the big boys, but we did it,” Jones said ahead of the Super Eights.

“Our performances in this World Cup have really opened the eyes of the American public, and that’s something we have been talking about in the last few years.”

Unfortunately, the United States’ win over Pakistan didn’t crack that day’s top 30 most-watched sports programs, with the lack of free-to-air access hindering the event’s ability to reach new fans.

The T20 World Cup grabbed some eyeballs, but it will take a long time for cricket to cement its place in American culture – football needed several decades to earn a genuine following in the United States, a process that cricket has only just started embarking on.

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Courtesy of the sport’s recent privatisation and surge in investment from Indian conglomerates, American cricket’s infrastructure is expected to improve drastically over the coming years.

Meanwhile, Major League Cricket is going from strength to strength — 19 high-profile Australian cricketers, including Test captain Pat Cummins and World Cup hero Travis Head, have agreed to participate in the T20 competition’s second edition, which gets underway this weekend.

The next four years will be crucial for American cricket, with the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles giving the sport another opportunity to turn heads in the United States. The ICC and Cricket USA will promote the sport through schools and other grassroots campaigns before the Los Angeles Games, while the American national team will receive additional government funding after gaining Olympic status.

If the host nation has a prolonged run at the 2028 Olympics, which tens of millions of Americans will be watching each day, cricket will be perceived as another chance for Team USA to win gold rather than an obscure colonial pastime.

Kuldeep Yadav of India lifts the ICC Men's T20 World Cup trophy. Photo by Alex Davidson-ICC/ICC via Getty Images
Kuldeep Yadav of India lifts the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup trophy. Photo by Alex Davidson-ICC/ICC via Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

“The LA28 Olympics is going to be huge for cricket,” Justin Geale, the tournament director for Major League Cricket, told foxsports.com.au in May.

“For the first time, what that does is open up different funding avenues in terms of America, so there are great opportunities there.

“I think it’s all going to happen together over here. The MLC is really important. The minor leagues are important. The US national team is getting stronger and being competitive, which is really important.

“The bigger play here, though, to make cricket a more mainstream sport is to get into colleges and high schools. It’s a phenomenal set-up here in terms of high school and college sports.

“(But) that’s a much longer term play and that’s going to take all main stakeholders from the ICC, USA Cricket and the MLC pulling together.

“But I think that momentum, if you look at the successful MLC launch last year (and hopefully) a strong follow up season on the back of a World Cup, and the US getting stronger into LA28, I think it shows that cricket can work here.”

Despite facing many obstacles to attain widespread popularity in the United States, this year’s T20 World Cup should be considered the start of cricket’s quest for American attention.

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