On Friday, ESPNcricinfo hosted a viewing party at Hearst Towers for the biggest rivalry in the world of cricket, India vs. Pakistan, in the ICC World Twenty20 Tournament live on ESPN3. The event – attended by over a hundred people – featured an in-depth panel discussion moderated by ESPN International Executive Vice President and Managing Director Russell Wolff on the growth of cricket in the US, raising awareness, the business opportunities, new audiences and demographics that the sport is capable of reaching and more.
“Believe it or not, the top ten exclusive events on ESPN3 are all cricket,” said Executive Vice President of ESPN Digital & Print Media John Kosner in his opening remarks prior to the panel.
As expected, the match on Friday broke through as one of the top exclusive events on ESPN3, attracting a highly engaged audience that spent an average of 74 minutes per viewer.
The panel featured insights from both a macro and micro level — including globally from veteran cricket journalist Sambit Bal (editor-in-chief, ESPNcricinfo), nationally from Darren Beazley (CEO, USA Cricket Association) and locally in New York City from Bassett Thompson (cricket commissioner, Public Schools Athletic Association).
“This sport has gone through an amazing transformation in the last 15-20 years,” Wolff said. “You went from having only test cricket to having test cricket and one-day international cricket, and then the introduction of T20, which is the shorter format of the game…We’ve seen spikes in youth audiences, female audiences, and the entertainment component coming into the game.”
“Cricinfo was born here in the US,” Bal said. “Its purpose was to serve the ex-patriot fan. That’s been the biggest driver for Cricinfo over the years, and that’s why USA is the no. 2 destination for Cricinfo consistently. It was meant for cricket fans who wanted to engage with the sport when they didn’t have TV. The strength of Cricinfo today is that people engage with Cricinfo even while they’re watching TV. Cricket is a game that’s meant for the Internet because it’s so episodic, and people stay engaged with the site through the course of the whole day.”
“Up until this point, it really has been the game of the immigrant,” Beazley said. “There are 42,000 people playing cricket in an organized format at the moment. What breaks my heart is that 908 are age 19 and below. So that is a real issue for US cricket.”
“In New York, cricket is a varsity sport – the one and only varsity cricket program in the entire country,” Thompson said. “We started with 13 schools and we’re up to 30 schools – which means there are at least 500 student athletes.”