New Delhi: Cricket in the USA is set for a major shakeup with the confirmation of a domestic Twenty20 tournament along the lines of the IPL and its Australian, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan versions, tentatively scheduled for June 2013 and likely to be played in New York and San Francisco.
Cricket Holdings America LLC (CHA), a joint venture between New Zealand Cricket (NZC) and the United States of America Cricket Association (USACA), is aiming to dramatically tap into North America, one of the most developed and lucrative sports markets in the world, with the formation of the US Twenty20 League.
The league is a joint venture between CHA, NZC, USACA, Top Bloom Corporation Limited (Top Bloom), Podar Holdings International Pte Ltd and Insite Organisation (Insite) and backed by the International Cricket Council (ICC) with the support of current players through the Federation of International Cricketers Association (FICA).
The league has six teams and will kick off in June 2013 with a total of 19 matches to be played until mid-July. A number of high-profile current and former cricketers - Brett Lee, Shane Watson, David Warner, Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Shahid Afridi, Kumar Sangakkara - to name the few, have shown keen interest to participate in the league. Additionally, cricketers from New Zealand, West Indies, South Africa and Australia are expected to be a part of this sporting extravaganza. "I would love nothing more than to play in front of a packed house in New York. My bags are packed," said Lee.
Talking to Cricketnext, Rajiv Podar, one of the directors of CHA, said that cricket is an immensely popular game in US and that the US T20 League would further crank up interest. "The United States was the second highest broadcast revenue earner in the world next to India during the 2011 World Cup 2011. There's an enormous amount of passion for cricket in the US and a lot of people understand the game,” he said. “Though their interest is largely restricted to limited-overs cricket. It'll take some time for them to develop a liking for Test cricket. The US T20 League aims to provide them an opportunity to watch their favourite stars playing in front of them. It'll boost the future prospects of the sport in the country and a lot of youngsters will be drawn to cricket.”
According to Podar, the US T20 League would be different from other leagues which have mushroomed. “Firstly, our league will take place during mid-June to mid-July which is usually an off-season for all countries barring England so availability of players will not be an issue,” he said. “Secondly, all the other leagues take place in Test-playing nations. Our league is the first which is placed in a non-Test playing nation. Besides, the US is the biggest market for professional sports and this league will open up a new market for cricket. Cricket will truly become a global sport, more marketable, which will generate commendable revenue. A new set of audience will be drawn into the game. That makes it a unique concept.
“For 2013, we have six teams participating in the league. In 2014 the number of franchises will grow to eight and to ten by 2016. A lot of renowned companies and noted individuals around the world have contacted us for the ownership of franchises and we'll shortly make an official announcement. As per venues, New York and San Francisco are two most venues which are short-listed, and we'll zero in on a couple of more places. The idea is to spread the cricket from the east coast to west coast. The auction is most likely to take place in October."
Regarding the participation of local talent, Podar said: "One of our objectives is to give a platform to young, talented cricketers of US. They'll be part of the teams but will only be selected in the playing XI when they'll convince the team management and senior team members about their cricketing credentials. We understand that cricket is a very competitive sport and spectators like to see tough cricket on the field so we'll not compromise on the quality of cricket being exhibited in the league.”
Podar is in talks with the BCCI regarding the participation of Indian players but declined to name the players. "There's a procedure to be followed to sign the Indian players on the dotted lines,” he said, adding that he is also negotiating the terms with some sports channels about the live broadcast of matches in India. "We're in the negotiating state. The matches of US T20 League will surely be broadcasted in India. We'll announce our official broadcaster after finalising the terms."
The ICC and other boards have for years been eyeing the USA, and it appears CHA and its partners may be on the verge of doing so.