Investors eye US’ cricket-crazy diaspora via OTT, stadiums
Pakistan was taking on India, its fiercest on-field and geopolitical rival, during the men’s cricket World Cup in India.
NEW YORK: Right after morning prayers on a Saturday, members of the Masjid Quba mosque in Brooklyn joined a party. In between bites of halwa and sips of chai at Lahori Chilli on the edge of the Midwood neighborhood — the center of Little Pakistan — patrons offered hopeful, yet measured, commentary. Pakistan was taking on India, its fiercest on-field and geopolitical rival, during the men’s cricket World Cup in India.
“Pakistan and India is simply a thrill,” said Nisar Khan, 49, who moved from Pakistan 18 years ago.
For decades, early-morning communal gatherings were the only way for the South Asian diaspora to experience cricket matches. Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi Americans would pack restaurants, movie theaters and student unions to connect, through pay-per-view telecasts, with the game and culture they had left behind.
These days, those watch parties are more sparse. More and more, fans can simply watch games from their living rooms. Recognizing the growing clout of South Asian Americans, media companies have invested heavily in cricket in recent years. ESPN and Willow TV, owned by the Times of India Group, share the American rights for this year’s World Cup. The Pakistan-India match, like others from the tournament, was streamed on ESPN+.
“I see this the same as I see anime on Netflix,” said Michael Pachter, a tech analyst at Wedbush Securities. It’s “a very small slice of their overall subscriber base, but a rabid group of fans who love the content.” It is one of a number of ways that various companies are trying to capitalize on the relatively small — but loyal and growing — audience for cricket in the United States.
Investors have poured more than $1 billion to expand the sport in the United States, and spent more than $100 million to build cricket stadiums for a new league. The league’s team owners include Satya Nadella, the chief executive of Microsoft; the Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan; and Mukesh Ambani, an Indian telecommunications businessman.
The sport will be played at the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the first time in more than a century that cricket will be included. Next year’s Twenty20 World Cup — a truncated version of this year’s event, with matches that take much less time — will take place in North America. India and Pakistan will also play their first match on U.S. soil as part of the tournament.