The ICC’s Twitter feed posed the question this morning of whether cricket could catch on in America and how best to popularise it. This is something about which I rarely think (American Armchair Cricketer tends to have more on it) but I could hardly have failed to make a few observations.
First off is that the popular perception of the American span being too short for Test cricket is, whilst not entirely baseless, not entirely accurate. There are certainly people, and a lot of them, who would not be interested. But there are a very substantial minority who would. I don’t like using anecdotes; they are not rigourous. But in this case, where there is no overall data at which to look, I think they might be useful. And I can say that I know several people even in my fairly small circle of friends who definitely have the attention span for cricket and have even expressed an interest. It’s actually very similar to football: years ago most Americans regarded it as a dull, foreign sport as well. It has since been shown, however, that they definitely are willing to watch in great numbers. I accept that a thirty hour Test match is different to a two hour football match, but I think the same applies: give them something interesting, make it easily available and see what happens.
What should not happen is to flood the market with T20. If one tries to ‘Americanise’ cricket to get it into the market one will only attract those who are unlikely to be ever be interested in Test cricket. I expect that there would be a very low conversion rate. Looking at football again, it did not change anything about the basic game in an effort to get into the American market. Cricket must not either, there is no point setting up what amounts to a bait and switch with T20. If one wants to maximise the appeal of cricket in America, one will have to introduce all forms of the game in a way that people can see them and decide whether or not they are appealing.
The best way would probably be to set up youth leagues. The fact that young children could play football very likely caused its increase in popularity as those children grew up. If children start to play cricket and are given the opportunity to watch it on telly they are more likely to become engaged with the sport.