USA beats Pakistan in cricket. Via Rodger Sherman on X.

When the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team famously beat the Soviet Union in the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” game, the broadcast was tape-delayed for hours. There were no tape delays in another monumental U.S. international upset on home soil, but watching the USA cricket team beat Pakistan at this month’s T20 World Cup was also not the easiest to watch either. The match, like the tournament, is available in only a few million homes or via streaming subscription.

Cricket is the second most popular sport in the world, and top matchups, like between India and Pakistan, can draw more viewers than the Super Bowl.  But since the emerging, homegrown sport of baseball after the Civil War won out over the colonial import, the game played with bowlers and wickets has been an afterthought here.

Can cricket now become the next soccer, the next MLS, an overseas favorite that finds a growing audience in the U.S.?

“This World Cup being here on U.S. soil and the USA team playing well is certainly two building blocks to help that growth and similar to MLS, right,” said Todd Myers, the chief operating officer of Willow, the small streamer and broadcaster of cricket in the U.S. “It was not an overnight success…I think it’s Steve Jobs who said something to the effect of, `Every overnight success was years in the making.’ There’s no doubt that cricket could get as big or maybe bigger than MLS. It’s just not going to happen overnight.”

Soccer had a large recreational base to build on, and it took over two decades for MLS to really get some momentum. But cricket, while anecdotally has seen recreational pick up in places like Houston and the New York metro region, doesn’t have a similar foundation. There are no NCAA cricket teams, nor many if any at the high school level.

There are now nearly 5 million Indian-Americans, according to the Census Bureau, not to mention ex-pats from other cricket-loving countries England, Pakistan, and South Africa. That provides enough audience for a niche sport, but to reach MLS levels requires significant growth and exposure.

To date, the primary way to watch cricket is through Willow, founded in 2002 as an over-the-top offering, one of the earliest sports streamers. Its first match, on in the middle of the night, drew a few thousand concurrent users, a strong number then and enough to crash Willow’s servers.  In 2016, The Times of India Group bought WIllow, which has most of the rights to global cricket in the U.S., including Major League Cricket (MLC) which is entering its second season.

Willow is in about four million homes on the sports tiers of providers like DirecTV, Verizon, and Fubo, in addition to its streaming subscribers (Myers declined to release a subscription figure). During the first week of the World Cup tournament, Willow cut a deal with its distributors to take the cricket channel off the paid sports tier. 

But to build a cricket following there needs to be far wider media exposure. Willow worked a deal with the YES Network to show this summer’s games of the MLC New York franchise and is working on other RSN deals for other teams in the league.

Sundar Raman, an advisor to an Indian investor in MLC and former COO of the Indian Premier League (the globe’s top cricket league), said growth should accelerate in the next few years because the sport is included in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

“We may be able to bring in a lot more viewers into the game sooner with LA ’28 games, NBC and you know hopefully they will give some airtime for cricket,” he said. “I think that adoption may be quicker.”

Raman has harsh words for USA Cricket, the governing body for the sport in this country, arguing the organization has not done enough to give the U.S. team exposure and international playing opportunities. A representative for USA Cricket emailed some times to speak to an executive but then did not get back.

Whatever the case with USA Cricket, the sport faces many hurdles. One is just understanding the game. Unlike soccer, which hardly needs explanation, cricket is littered with terms like wicket, bowler and so forth. While a cousin of baseball, it’s not so simple to understand what is going on or what the scoring means.

Many also think of cricket as a sport that takes days to finish and is played in whites and interrupted by tea times. The type of cricket played in MLC and the World Cup is an abbreviated version, known as T20, and consumes a few hours, with no time for tea.

Willow’s Myers said getting people to games or watching one with a cricket aficionado would do the trick. But few US media outlets cover cricket. has a cricket page, and Jomboy Media, which got its start with videos about the New York Yankees, has found some success with cricket coverage.

But a deal with ESPN or Fox Sports is what would really send the sport skyward. Raman said MLC is not focused on that approach, at least not now. The strategy now is to build venues in the six-team markets–the games are all in two locations–and attract the best players.

One advantage cricket has over soccer is that a U.S. league can employ the best of the best, unlike MLS. Cricket leagues last only a few months, so players migrate between leagues in different countries, unlike the full-season team approach in soccer. MLS has long been derided for play quality beneath European standards, so cricket should at the very least not have that problem.

So does cricket have a chance? The key will be to attract non-core fans and get outside the expat bubble. Raman admitted that has not happened or broken into the NCAA ecosystem, but he predicted it will.

“This is probably the starting point,” Raman said. “And hopefully this will go on and catch on like wildfire.”

About Daniel Kaplan

Daniel Kaplan has been covering the business of sports for more than two decades. A proud founding reporter of SportsBusiness Journal, he spent the last four years at The Athletic.