Major League Cricket remains on course to launch in 2021 but contingency plans are being put in place to ensure the long-term success of the competition, USA Cricket chairman Paraag Marathe has told SportBusiness.
In February, USA Cricket unveiled plans to create a Minor League Cricket Twenty20 tournament this summer, with the intention of establishing a fully professional Major League Cricket T20 competition in 2021. The tournaments are being developed in collaboration with the governing body’s commercial partner American Cricket Enterprises.
USA Cricket recently announced that the timeline for the debut of Minor League Cricket remains unclear amid the coronavirus crisis, which has forced the postponement of almost all domestic cricket in the US since early March. An update on the situation is expected in the coming weeks.
Major League Cricket is at present on course to kick off in 2021 but it is possible that the competition will not be operating at full capacity until 2022 due to the health crisis.
“We are currently reevaluating plans on when we would start,” Marathe tells SportBusiness. “Originally we were going to start the Major League Cricket season in 2021 and now it’s on the table that it’s more prudent to start it in 2022 because we do want to get the minor leagues up and running first and show the path a little bit better. The coronavirus has affected us in the sense that we’ve probably slowed down the cadence a little bit.”
Marathe is also the San Francisco 49ers’ executive vice president of football operations and the president of 49ers Enterprises, the National Football League team’s investment arm. Notably, 49ers Enterprises is playing a key role in shaping the business strategy of USA Cricket as a consultant.
“There is an opportunity for 49ers Enterprises and the 49ers apply our blueprint, people and expertise to really help that league grow,” Marathe adds. “We’ve got a great investor group that is leading the charge for that and we’ll help every place that we can. We’re going to identify the locations on where we’re going to play, we’re working on the high-performance side, we’re looking to bring in players and get everything up and running probably realistically by 2022.”
The growth of cricket in the United States has been troubled in recent years. USA Cricket was officially sanctioned by the International Cricket Council in January 2019 and was established two years prior following the expulsion of its beleaguered predecessor, the USA Cricket Association (USACA).
Marathe was directly approached by the ICC to help the sport grow in the US and he seized the opportunity.
“The reason I wanted to take on the role is because of a fundamental statement that really struck a chord with me, which was: here is the second biggest sport in the world with virtually no presence in the largest media market in the world. When you just say that sentence, you think to yourself, ‘There has to be an opportunity here’,” he said.
“When you think about the expat population, the South Asian population that is here in the US watching ICC T20 World Cups in the middle of the night on pay per view and the number of millions of people that do that here in the US you know there is an opportunity here to build a sustainable league,” Marathe said.
Marathe’s long-term plans include the United States potentially bidding to host the 2026 Twenty20 World Cup – possibly in partnership with the West Indies – and for cricket to become an Olympic sport once again at the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles. Cricket has featured at the Olympics just once, at Paris in 1900.
“One of the things that would be fantastic is if we’re able to bring cricket to the Olympics in 2028 in Southern California. There happens to be a T20 World Cup in 2026 and our goal is to potentially be considered to host that as well,” Marathe said.