There has been a lot of talk over the last couple days about the US Twenty20 tournament, now tentatively scheduled to be held in July of next year. According to the article linked to above, it will feature six franchises, three in New York and three in San Francisco. The league is being formed by Cricket Holdings America, which is a partnership between the US Cricket Association and, interestingly enough, New Zealand Cricket.
There is also talk of international players participating in the tournament. And that news is what prompted me to post about the league here on the blog.
First of all, as a cricket fan, I can tell you that the league is going to suck. It’s going to be nothing but “razmattaz” and pop music and plastic pitches. Heck they aren’t even going to call it cricket, they are going to call it Twenty20. The cricket itself will probably be, well, okay. What I have watched of the Bangladesh Premiere League and the Sri Lanka Premiere League tells me that the cricket in the US tournament will be loose and fun and crowd pleasing. The Ashes it won’t be, but it also won’t be super bloody terrible. It just won’t be cricket. If that makes any sense at all.
Cricinfo commentors are dismissing the tournament out right, however. “You’re having a laugh, Cricket Holdings America, if you think your silly little league is going to even make a ripple in world cricket,” is what they are saying.
And I must say that I disagree.
Niche sport leagues work in America. Major League Soccer and the National Lacrosse League are just two examples. Americans like novelty, and they like to drink beer and watch sports. So honestly it really could work.
Major League Soccer of course is starting to take off because of the growth of the youth game over the last two generations. People, like me, who grew up playing the game throughout the 80s, are now old enough and have enough expendable income to shell out for premium cable channels, Arsenal kits, and trips to London. When I am at the local watering hole watching football, the people around are all about my age, perhaps trending a bit younger.
The National Lacrosse League is a very different story. While it is growing in popularity as a youth sport, it has no way near the rec sport pedigree that soccer has. Anecdotally, based on the one National Lacrosse League match I have attended (St Paul versus Rochester at the Xcel Energy Center this past February) the crowds attending those matches are not at all related to young people whatsoever. The atmosphere was not the slightest bit kid-friendly. It was not decidedly anti-children either, but obviously the event organizers were trying to appeal to a more adult and blue collar fan. As such, the crowd consisted of primarily middle-to-working class adults drinking beer. And based on what I saw there that day (sizable and passionate crowd), there is room for more sports in this country.
People say that the American entertainment landscape is just too crowded for another sport. They say that the “big four” of baseball, football, hockey, and basketball are plenty, thankyouverymuch. But personally, I think that is rubbish. Motor sports are just as popular as hockey. And then there is MMA. And golf. And tennis. And the aforementioned sports of soccer and lacrosse. There is plenty of room for cricket.
And so using the National Lacrosse League as an example, I think the US T20 league has a legitimate shot at success. Furthermore, cricket has something going for it that lacrosse did not: a built in fan base. Legions of Southeast Asians have immigrated to the United States over the last 20 years. Not to mention the strong West Indian and Afro-Caribbean culture on the east coast.
Unfortunately, the built in fan base could prove to be a detriment in the end. White America might very well steer clear of what they will perceive as a sport for brown people. I know that sounds awful and cynical, but I am afraid it is true. Even in Obama’s America, racism invades academia, the private business sector, the entertainment industry, and yes even athletics.
The optimist in me likes to think that Americans will embrace the multi-cultural aspect of cricket, but I really doubt it. There is a reason Irish national sports like hurling and Gaelic football never took hold here: because Americans didn’t like the Irish. And it took 30 years for basketball to rid itself of the unhealthy and gross stereotype that it is a sport only for urban black youth. People loved the Boston Celtics in the 80s because they fielded five white dudes. And even more recently Allen Iverson was given flack for his corn rows being too “ghetto”.
That said, lacrosse is the national sport of (gasp) Canada, and Americans love to bag on Canadians, so maybe I am wrong about all of this.
I hope I am.
To sum it all up: the US T20 has a shot, and it should not be so easily dismissed by those in World Cricket.
The cricket itself, however, is going to suck.