Forbes: Cricket League Starts Lining Up Host U.S. Cities, Partners And Players As Enthusiasm Builds

Professional cricket continues to move closer to reality in the U.S., which boasts the second-biggest audience for the sport in the world. Host cities are being lined up for franchises, negotiations on major television and sponsorship deals are ongoing, and American-based players are signing contracts and starting training programs.

Jignesh Pandya says he occasionally finds it difficult not to get too overeager about the initiative, which isn’t expected to yield actual games until 2019 or 2020. Pandya, who goes by Jay, is president and CEO of Global Sports Ventures LLC, the Pennsylvania-based group that last year reached a $70 million licensing agreement with the United States of America Cricket Association (USACA) to bring a franchised Twenty20 (T20) professional league to the U.S.

"When you’re passionate about doing things, the excitement kind of overflows," Pandya says in an interview. "You can see it as well in others. But you have to hold your excitement back some of the time. I want to make sure we’re on a constant moving pace; we’re going to make sure all of our fans and supporters stay excited until this comes to fruition."

The professional sports landscape is deep in the U.S., but there is significant interest in cricket that’s driven in large part by a sizable South Asian population. More than 1.4 million people in the U.S. watched last year’s ICC World Twenty20 competition won by West Indies, and America somewhat surprisingly ranks second in global cricket viewership behind only India. T20 is a popular short form of cricket in which the teams are limited to a single innings each. With a typical game lasting about three hours, it’s in line with most other professional team sports.

Cities with high South Asian populations were targeted as sites for the eight franchises and Global Sports Ventures is working with legislators to develop new stadiums in major metropolitan areas in New York, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Georgia, Florida, Texas, Illinois and California. The technology hub in San Francisco, for example, clearly has strong appeal for the new cricket league.

"It will be a great addition to the professional sports network that we already have in San Francisco," says Dennis Conaghan, the executive director for the San Francisco Center for Economic Development. "It also reinforces our city’s reputation as not just the capital of innovation and technology, but as an exciting and diverse global hub for culture, arts and sport."


England faces West Indies in a three-match, One Day International series. (Photo credit should read Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Pandya says some (or all) of the rest of the league’s host cities are expected to be announced within the next two months.

"It will be the normal procedure with any real estate structure," Pandya says of GSV’s plans to build stadiums that can seat more than 26,000 fans. "You have to go through a land development process. Once you go through that process, you can get your approvals. That can range from 6 months to 18 months. Then it will take another 12 to 18 months to build out. So it’s about two to three years out. It all depends how easy and fast we can work with city, state and township officials."

The venues would be cricket-centric, but also serve as multi-purpose entertainment stadiums and lifestyle centers that could host concerts, trade shows and the like. Pandya says the expectation is that the facilities would generate an estimated $2.4 billion in infrastructure and business development to drive economic growth across the eight states with cricket franchises.

"From phone calls to e-mails and text messages, we’re getting a tremendous amount of support from fans, administrators, staff, politicians and cricketing authorities around the world," Pandya says. "There are all sorts of people who are really excited to have it in the U.S. It’s the second-most watched nation in the world, so you can imagine how many people are really jumping to it."

Pandya says there’s been significant interest among international cricket players about joining the U.S. league. What that means in terms of the world’s top players remains to be seen. Major League Soccer has successfully drawn international players to the U.S., but not necessarily at the highest levels. And if they were, those stars were usually past their prime.


England faces West Indies in a three-match, One Day International series. (Photo credit should read Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Right now, Pandya says cricket players from in the U.S. are the target, with some now officially set to get paychecks from USA Cricket for the first time. Those players are being trained in leagues around the world, with Pandya citing a team in the Caribbean league (Saint Lucia) as one training ground.

"We want to have our players go there, get trained with the best and make our guys the best," he explains. "From our coaching to everything else, we have to make our infrastructure is a lot better. So when the international players come here, it’s just a natural progression coming into it."

Pandya has high aspirations for the U.S. professional league.

It’s a lengthy process, however, so he tries to temper his excitement while focusing on the progress in the present. When asked directly about the long-range vision for cricket in the U.S., Pandya shares his enthusiasm for the opportunity.

"Five years from now, I see this being in the top 10 sports in the U.S.," he volunteers, "Maybe even better."

Source: Forbes