Like billions of sports fans globally, so many of my favorite childhood memories involve cricket. While I was born in Canada, I grew up in India, where my father was completing a doctorate. In India, cricket is life. My father and I were enormous fans of the game. There’s nothing quite like watching a match live–the sound of the bat making contact with the ball and the ball just grazing the wicket. We loved to talk about our favorite moments and argue over our favorite players. It was an opportunity to share time and space not only with the team and the sport we love but also with each other; to connect over our shared passion for this beloved pastime.
When my father got a job teaching in the United States, we left India behind, and cricket along with it. When I was completing my high school education in Alabama, and going to college at Auburn University, I could no longer watch the matches being played back in India, and there was no easy way to follow the ups and downs of the season. On the odd occasion, we would gather together a group of fans–usually South Asian and British expats–and take over a local baseball field to play some pickup cricket. But for the most part, we had no way to stay connected to cricket. It’s the world’s second most popular sport–but in the United States, it was still unknown.
In the time since then, the sports world has undergone many changes. The professionalization of the business of sports has transformed sports leagues and teams. They are now complex businesses with multiple revenue streams, from live entertainment and intellectual property to hospitality, catering, fashion, and real estate. More and more teams are part of a diversified portfolio of assets, with media rights, technology, IP, real estate holdings, and large operating teams focused on optimizing profitability.
The relentless pursuit of financial optimization has brought with it a range of new ways for fans to view and connect with the teams they love. Along with advances in technology, this new approach has opened up avenues like streaming, betting, and fantasy, providing paths for fans to engage with their favorite sports and players on a local and global level. Today, an Indian-American family living in Alabama can stream highlights and full matches being played by the best Indian cricket teams, no matter where they are competing.
Yet even as these changes have broadened access for casual and devoted fans alike, taken to their extreme, they risk eroding the passion that drives the unique relationship between teams and fans. When fans are seen as customers, rather than passionate supporters, we lose some of the purity of sport. And when teams are managed like high-performing financial assets, the fan experience becomes similar across teams and leagues, eliminating some of the quirks and idiosyncrasies that used to make fandoms across regions unique. With a more professionalized experience comes a sense of distance; even with more opportunities for access, fans are held at a certain remove.
That’s why, when the opportunity arose to launch a new professional cricket league in the United States, I jumped at the chance. Here was an opportunity to share a sport that I loved with others who love it–to provide the kind of personal experience that increasingly is missing from other professional sports. Out of this idea came Major League Cricket–a new franchise league in the United States. Currently comprising six teams, with squads from Texas, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle joining the Washington Freedom (the team I own, based in Washington, DC), the league’s 2023 season will feature 19 matches played over 18 days, building up to the first-ever MLC championship final on Jul. 30, 2023. As many teams have a connection to franchises in the India Premier League, we have structured the season so that matches will take place during Indian cricket’s regular off-season. What’s more, we can offer streaming opportunities that provide additional access to fans without cheapening their experience.
One of the elements that make this new venture unique is the owners. From Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayan to Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan, the owners have the same kind of connection to the sport that I do–one built on a history of true fandom and a desire to share their excitement with others.
There is no doubt that our sport will grow and change as time goes on. Make no mistake, I and others who have invested in this new league see an opportunity to grow cricket in the United States both as a passion project and as a business. But we are determined never to lose the purity and the fandom of sports–and to safeguard the experience that is so important to us all.
Sanjay Govil is the chairman of the board at Infinite Computer Solutions and owner of the Washington Freedom.
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