Cricket is a game played in over 100 countries and enjoys a fan following of many around the world. However, the popularity takes a big hit when the game goes beyond the boundaries of the so-called conventional Test playing nations. However, for once in a very long time International Cricket Council is looking towards expanding the game to beyond the ‘commonweath nations’ and they have finally realised that a sport can only sustain if it keeps growing and expanding.
For a very long time, the game had stagnated and in many ways, there appears to light at the end of the tunnel. Hope is coming from a surprising entity in the United States Of America and if the trends over the past few years are anything to go by, the country which considered cricket to be an English sport which is played with a paddle and somehow managed around tea breaks is finally accepting the game and is awaking to its tremendous possibilities. This new awakening can be credited to a certain Jignesh Pandya and his Global Sports Ventures for breaking out of the queue and investing in the game. They are making giant strides towards establishing the game as a mainstay in the country and the ICC has a lot to thank them for creating a platform.
There is little doubt that even the administrators believe that the country is a huge untapped market which is waiting to be accepted into the cricketing coterie. Thus, when the Caribbean Premier League decided to hold one leg of the tournament in Florida they took a giant step towards consolidating this market. The whopping success of this move is a testament to the fact that America is ready to accept cricket.
“After India, cricket gets its largest TV audience from the United States. In terms of talent pool, around 5,000+ players play actively in the United States. So, the audience is there and the players are there. The India-WI T20 last August showed there is a tremendous appetite for competitive cricket of the highest level. So, with the audience and the talent there, the major missing piece is the infrastructure that's what we are fixing,” Jignesh Pandya, the owner of St Lucia Zouks said.
Pandya who is the founder of the Rohan Group, a Philadelphia-based real estate venture with over 100 combined commercial and retail properties also said that he was quite surprised when he found out the huge disparity in the incomes of the players.
“What I found surprising was even the players in the national team weren't getting paid to play the sport. One can't expect professionalism when one isn't getting paid. So we told the association quite clearly that contractually they should keep a substantial portion of the annual fee exclusively towards paying the players. So, we fixed that from a player perspective.”
“As the association starts to earn more money from this deal, I expect them to be able to spread the money amongst the various leagues, coaches and even administrators. Right now, everyone is taking time away from their personal lives; time that they won't ever get back into the sport,”Pandya further added.
Cricket is still only played as a side sport and it has not become professional in America and Pandya echoes this widespread sentiment that once the game moves from being a purely volunteer run sport to a professionally run sport, it will grow by leaps & bounds.
Last year the CPL organisers were still very sceptical of foraying into Florida owing to the rather tepid response the Sachin Tendulkar-Shane Warne conceived All Stars League got. However, they learnt from their mistakes and priced their tickets at a much lower price and this move yielded benefits.
Pandya, however, is looking at the bigger picture as he is enthused after the success of the league in Florida. TheGSV has taken over the licensing agreement of T20 rights from USACA and the real-estate magnate believes that this could be a game-changing initiative.
“We are taking a 10-year view, as 5 years is too short a time for the impact that we want to make to be completed. For a sport to gain a stronghold at least 1 generation must pass. Unfortunately, in sport you can't compress the time needed to master the skill sets required, you've to be patient. But, I see Cricket in the United States growing rapidly as more professionalism comes in in all aspects of the sport - players, coaches, umpires and even Administrators. Right now everyone is on a voluntary basis, once that changes, the game changes,” Pandya said.
So how did this interest and intrigue in the game start?
Pandya has an interesting story to share.
“Just like every kid who's born with a bat in their hand, it's the game I grew up playing. Now as a father, my kids are big time into Cricket despite being from here in the United States. In fact, the reason I decided to invest in Cricket was when I was in Australia for the 2015 World Cup, my kids asked me why can't such an event be held in the United States? That got me thinking as to what it would take to have a cricketing event, such as the World Cup, come to the United States which led to the ideation of this league,” the chairman of Global Sports Ventures said.
Pandya was not very forthcoming when asked about his plans to start his own league in the United States of America.
“Right now I am at the foundation stage & I constantly get asked how high do you want to build - my request is - Wait and watch”, he said.