Will world's best T20 conquer the USA market for Cricket?

Major League Cricket commenced in the United States of America in 2023 and the 2024 season will begin in July right after the USA and the West Indies co-host international cricket's ICC Men's T20 World Cup. With T20 cricket also included in the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games, Industry Professor, Chief Economist and sports fan Tim Harcourt looks at cricket's potential in the USA and how that might impact on the current Pacific cricket superpower, Australia:


ONE OF THIS generation’s finest batters, Australian Steve Smith has conquered much of the cricketing world during his career, and he now has set his sights on a new frontier: the United States of America.

Yes, Smith has signed to play Twenty 20 (T20) cricket for the Washington Freedom, which happens to be coached by former Australian great Ricky Ponting.

Washington is one of six teams in Major League Cricket (MLC), which began in 2023. The Freedom finished third in the inaugural season, won by New York.

MLC has recruited some of the biggest names in the sport.

The 2024 season will begin in July before the US co-hosts the T20 World Cup with the West Indies.

A number of established cricket stars have already played in the US league, including Quinton de Kock of South Africa, Nicholas Pooran from the West Indies, Trent Boult from New Zealand and Australians Marcus Stoinis and Aaron Finch.

Looking ahead, T20 cricket has been included for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games.

So, why is cricket suddenly interested in the US – and does this interest go both ways?

Cricket in the US: what’s the go?

Cricket is slowly becoming better known in the US.

Firstly, it is because of the rising South Asian population who mostly love their cricket.

It is a growing and affluent professional community – the South Asian diaspora is growing at a rapid rate across North America to the point that when you fly into most large US cities, you can spot cricket pitches.

Many South Asian immigrants to the US (and Canada) are engineers, doctors and entrepreneurs with good educations and professional jobs – Indian-Americans are the most affluent group in America by median household income, while Sri Lankans and Pakistanis are two of the eight wealthiest segments.

In terms of education, 70% of Indian-Americans have at least a Bachelor’s degree, compared to the US average of 28%.

A lot of this affluence is ploughed into supporting local cricket leagues in the US and watching the MLC.

In terms of participation, cricket is still very much a niche sport in the US, with about 200,000 registered players. However, this has grown from around 30,000 registered players in 2006, with emigration from South Asia driving the lion’s share of growth.

Consuming cricket anytime, anywhere

Secondly, live streaming has taken off worldwide in recent years, allowing Indians in the US to watch India Premier League (IPL) games back home, and Indians in India to live stream MLC matches.

According to Chris Muldoon, chief strategy officer of Cricket NSW, there are more than 4 million subscribers to Willow TV’s cricket-only streaming service throughout North America.

This means it is easy for most cricket fans can consume what they want, when they want it.

The growth of cricket franchises

Thirdly, IPL franchises are launching clubs and leagues around the world – in South Africa, the UAE and the US – to grow the sport and to attract talent and revenue to their respective franchises.

There is a strong IPL presence across many of the domestic T20 competitions that have launched in recent years, including in MLS where four IPL franchises are involved with the foundation clubs in New York, Dallas, Los Angeles and Seattle.

This is a big shift in cricket governance, as it is not just the cricket boards of Australia, England & Wales and India calling the shots on schedules – it is now the IPL franchises too.

What does this mean for Australian cricket?

So, how does all of this affect elite cricket in Australia?

Australian cricketers have been competing in T20 competitions around the world for years now, with Cricket Australia occasionally having to step in to reduce the workloads of some of its best players.

Now the MLC will force governing bodies and players to react to another competition in a packed cricket calendar.

According to Muldoon, the opportunity in the US is too big to ignore. He says:

The US is the world’s most sophisticated and competitive sports and media market and Major League Cricket presents the most exciting and challenging opportunity in world cricket.

The proliferation of franchise T20 cricket around the globe, much of it driven by the commercial success of the IPL as well as changing preferences of consumers, is changing the way cricket is consumed. And it is bringing new revenue into the sport – which in turn is making it increasingly attractive to the world’s best players and coaches to be a part of these growing franchise leagues around the world on an almost full-time basis.

Will cricket really take hold in the US?

So does Smith’s signing indicate a cricket revolution? Does the US aspire to be a cricket nation?

Probably not in terms of Test cricket, but in the US, the shortened format of T20 is possibly appealing.

This is largely driven by the South Asian diaspora who have migrated to North America, and T20 is the format that has the consumer appeal to attract eyeballs – and broadcast partners. 

The addition of cricket as an Olympic sport for Los Angeles in 2028 may also add to the sport’s exposure.


Tim Harcourt is Industry Professor and Chief Economist at the University of Technology Sydney

This article was first published in The Conversation