Jay Pandya is the chairman of Global Sports Ventures, a sports development company with a lofty goal: Help make Americans fall in love with cricket. New sports have attempted to get a foothold in America in the past, but the announcement of a $2.4 billion investment and the creation of 17,000 new jobs makes cricket the biggest new-sport initiative since the launch of Major League Soccer.
Pandya spoke with SB Nation about the genesis of an American cricket league.
How did the concept of bringing cricket to the U.S. begin?
Me and my kids and my wife and the whole family we were out in Australia to watch the World Cup finals in 2015. We traveled 30 hours to get there and when we were at the venues every single day.
Pandya’s children pointed out that there wasn’t just native Australians in the stands, but a majority of spectators were from India and the USA who had traveled for the World Cup.
This realization was the spark needed to begin the new league. Pandya says that he wanted to capture the cricket he saw in Australia and bring that to Americans.
How did the process evolve from there?
We spoke with USACA (United States of America Cricket Association), which is the governing body here, and we purchased the T20 licensing rights for $70 million. The next thing we started doing was that we started assigning player contracts. This is the first time in American history that players are getting paid professionally [to play cricket].
There are over 32,000 cricket players who are registered in USACA leagues at the senior and junior level. It’s difficult to estimate precisely how many people are playing cricket on a regular basis due to loose organization of local recreational leagues and pickup games in parks, but the visibility of the sport has been growing — particularly among immigrant populations in urban areas.
The great misconception about cricket is its formality. The product shown on TV often makes the game seem like a folly of the wealthy, but fails to capture cricket’s true role as a game played with trash cans for wickets on the side-streets of India, Australia, and other cricket playing nations.
This is where cricket will see its growth in the future, and the appetite is there. A three-game exhibition series in 2015 saw cricket played in New York, Los Angeles and Houston — bringing average attendance of 28,000.
In five years time where do you expect to see cricket in the U.S.?
If you really look at it, there are so many different small leagues playing throughout the U.S. [all unpaid]. Right now, if you look at it from a viewership standpoint, after India, the second-highest viewership of cricket in the world is the U.S. From a viewership standpoint it’s a no-brainer. [Over one million] people from the U.S. tuned in live to watch the World Cup.
How do you find places for cricket to be played in a country without a history of established cricket grounds?
There’s not that many different venues throughout the U.S. There’s small little fields where you can play cricket, but it’s really not professional. What we did was create the infrastructure in eight different states where we believe there is a cricket-centric population [New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Texas, Washington DC, Georgia, California and Florida].
Pandya’s company, Global Sports Ventures announced in late January that the company would invest $2.4 billion in the creation of eight cricket stadiums around the league and develop the game.
Global Sports Ventures estimates that 17,000 jobs will be created over the next three to five years due to the construction of these stadiums.
Looking at those cricket-centric populations you mentioned, are these predominantly areas that have seen large-scale immigration from India, Pakistan, and other cricket-playing countries?
When you have people of South Asian descent who really understand cricket, it helps. But after that it will probably go mainstream with Americans. I believe that will be very quick, because, as Americans, we just love sports. [And] it doesn’t matter what kind of sport.
Currently the plan is to launch cricket as a summer sport in the U.S. Is there any hesitance on your end that you’re looking to introduce a bat-and-ball game to compete with baseball?
No, I think that us Americans embrace any sport. We, as Americans, look for new things and grow into different fields. People don’t realize that cricket was partially born in the U.S. The first international game was played between the U.S. and Canada in New York.
The 1844 game, played in Bloomingdale Park in Manhattan was one of the earliest international games on record.
From an infrastructure standpoint you have a lot of interesting challenges to face. How do you deal with something like finding groundskeepers who are experienced at setting up a cricket pitch?
We have shortlisted a few companies from Australia and New Zealand. They know exactly how the pitch needs to be done, what kind of soil is needed and we have a few consultants working with people from South Africa and India. We’re working with the best field curators in the world.
The approach you’re taking seems like a way to slowly develop an audience for the game, but do you think it’s possible that in the future we could see top-level players come to play in a U.S.-based league?
Absolutely. Most of the players compete in different leagues around the world. When the IPL is happening in India, players go there, then when Australia has the Big Bash they’ll travel down there. But when you come to the U.S. you’re exposed to the world’s biggest sports economy.
What has the reception been like from lawmakers and government officials not that familiar with sport when you talk to them about bringing cricket to their region?
Believe it or not, I’d say that eight out of 10 people we’ve talked to know about cricket. They just don’t understand how it’s being organized or played, but they see the potential. We’ve had a tremendous amount of support and a lot of people backing us to see this grow here on our soil.
Is there the potential we could see the Cricket World Cup hosted in the U.S., based on the plans to build stadiums around the country?
We strongly believe that the stadiums we are looking to build will all be state of the art. [That] really leaves the ICC no room but to go to the best venues in the world in the world’s largest global economy. We anticipate that any numbers done in Australia, England or India could be five-fold here in the U.S.
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Pandya and Global Sports Ventures are currently working with lawmakers to build 26,000 seat stadiums in New York, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Georgia, Florida, Texas, Illinois, and California. Announcement of the first team is expected to be made in the coming months.
The currently unnamed league is anticipated to begin competition in 2019 or 2020.