ONE billion investment in US cricket

In what USA Cricket Chairman Paraag Marathe described as a “watershed moment” for American cricket, the new United States board, which was readmitted to the ICC less than 6 months ago, announced a billion-dollar partnership with Willow TV and the owners of Times of India Group to develop cricket infrastructure, academies, and a professional T20 league in the USA.

The board published a request for proposals in November last year, looking for partners “to construct, fund, launch, and operate the first professional T20 cricket league in the United States” as well as to finance considerable infrastructure and grassroots development projects. The ToI/Willow bid, under the name American Cricket Enterprises, is understood to have beaten out a number of rival proposals, USA cricket citing “a large financial commitment to invest in the league, key deals for infrastructure and broadcast distribution, experienced and knowledgeable leadership, and a data-driven, analytical business strategy” as the key strengths of the ACE bid.

ACE is backed by Sameer Mehta and Vijay Srinivasan, the founders of Willow TV, the largest cricket broadcaster in North America, and Satyan Gajwani and Vineet Jain, and the principals of The Times of India Group. In addition to the T20 franchise league, slated to launch in 2021, the partnership envisages a long-term investment in US cricket, funding the construction of several international-standard venues in major US cities as well as upgrading or installing auxiliary turf wicket facilities in secondary locations, establishing regional academies to anchor local player development pathways, and providing support to the American men’s and women’s national teams.

The league itself will follow a typically American major/minor league template, with the flagship franchise league featuring US national players as well as overseas stars. It will be broadcast in the United States by Willow TV, the principal US broadcaster for ICC global events as well as the IPL, PSL and international bilateral for several full members. ACE also intends to seek out free to air media platforms in established cricket markets.

“Cricket has the second largest audience in the world, and yet has little presence in the largest professional sports market,” said ToI’s Satyan Gajwani. “We want to develop a lasting institution that brings to the U.S. the excitement and passion of cricket, enjoyed by billions of people globally. True grassroots development of any sport takes decades and we are excited and committed to play a role in developing world-class cricket in America.”

The initiative is the latest development in a remarkable turnaround in US cricket, which spent years mired in maladministration and competitive underperformance culminating in the final expulsion from the ICC of USACA, the previous board in June of 2017. Since then the ICC has taken an active role in administering cricket in the country, allowing the national teams to continue competing in ICC events and supervising the establishment of a new administrative body, USA Cricket, which was formally recognized as an Associate member of the ICC in January. The men’s national team recorded their best ever result in the final tournament of the World Cricket League last month, finishing 4th in WCL Division 2 in Windhoek and gaining ODI Status for the first time.

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