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Cricket Continues Phenomenal Growth in the US

2 Nov, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

If you’re not going to find your cricket coverage live on ESPN, it stands to reason you’re going to stream it. And that projected demand has led to a bidding war between the holy trinity of social media: Amazon, Twitter and Facebook.

Yes, really. And it’s just a harbinger of things to come, so sports planners and destinations had better be ready. It’s just all a part of the growing demand for cricket (and if you shrugged off once-emerging-and-now-exploding- sports like pickleball or beach volleyball, don’t miss out on this one.)

According to an article in Bloomberg Markets, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter have thrown their (clout-filled) hats into the ring, seeking rights to stream Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket matches, with the goal of tapping into the nation’s growing mobile internet audience.

IPL received an “overwhelming response” from as many as 18 global media and technology companies.

Twitter saw a 56 percent jump in tweets related to the IPL this year from a year ago, Suresh Vaidyanathan, a spokesman for Twitter in India, wrote in an e-mail, adding that 90 percent of users were fans of the game. The world’s second-most populous nation is on the brink of a digital-streaming boom. India will have 730 million internet users by 2020, according to a report in August by India’s IT industry body Nasscom and Akamai Technologies.

Oh, and bulletin to those who are ready to shrug off cricket because they’ve never played it: it’s growing in the U.S., and phenomenally too. In fact, leading U.S. destinations are adding cricket fields to keep up with not only demand at home, but demand for traveling events that will be coming to town.

Much of the demand for digital streaming will be fueled by people accessing web-based services on smartphones. Live streaming cricket, the most popular sport in the country, would be an effective way to reach a wide audience.

The number of companies bidding for the rights is a “historical moment for Indian cricket,” BCCI President Anurag Thakur said in the statement.

Digital media rights for IPL’s Twenty20 cricket league are up for bids for five years starting in 2017. The tender deadline is Oct. 25, with the winners to be announced soon after. Meanwhile, Facebook said it is experimenting with a variety of sports content, including behind-the-scenes interviews with athletes and live games.

Facebook Live has streamed soccer matches between Manchester United and Everton, letting fans chat with other fans, and also greet star player Wayne Rooney and donate to his foundation. This summer, Facebook streamed nine U.S. basketball exhibition games live. Even Amazon announced two content licensing deals in India last month with leading Bollywood production houses Dharma Productions and T-Series, as the Seattle-based online retailer moves to entice users to join its Amazon Prime subscription service.

This doesn’t really surprise the sport’s national governing body, the United States of America Cricket Association, long a stronghold of support for the sport stateside. But of course, event planners and destinations always ask why cricket is such a thing all of a sudden. One word: immigration. Just as with soccer, immigrants to the U.S. are bringing the sport with them and as a result, parks and recreation departments are giving players the facilities they need.

The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation is one of these. The division’s Web site maintains a list of fields suitable for cricket, including Van Cortland Park in the northwest Bronx, which has 12 fields, available to players (who must file a permit with the city to use the fields). Even Manhattan boasts a cricket-ready field at Randall’s Island Park, between East Harlem, the South Bronx and Astoria, Queens.

Neighboring Franklin Township in Somerset County, New Jersey recently approved plans to build a park, including two cricket fields, on part of a 108-acre tract of land the township purchased as open space in 1999. According to MyCentralJersey.com, cricket is becoming increasingly popular in Central Jersey due to the influx of South Asian immigrants, particularly those from India. The region is home to a Central Jersey league with 96 teams that include many first- and second-generation citizens playing for U.S. national teams.

Evans Park in Seffner, near Tampa, is now home to designated cricket fields. According to the Tampa Tribune, the new facilities are home to the Tampa Cricket League, which played its first matches there in 2012 on open fields. By 2015, the league included 22 teams and about 350 players.

Florida is also home to the only International Cricket Council-certified cricket stadium. The stadium at Central Broward Regional Park in Fort Lauderdale, which opened in 2008, hosted the first international cricket competition on American soil, a two-match Twenty20 series between New Zealand and Sri Lanka, in May 2010.

And, a second Bloomberg article notes, cricket is in a financial league of its own. A report on the economic impact of last year’s Indian Premier League season produced by KPMG Sports Advisory Services found that the event contributed 11.5 billion rupees ($172 million) to India’s GDP. Another report, by the American Appraisal valuation services company, last year put the overall value of the IPL as a business at $3.5 billion, up 9 percent from 2014.

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