The United States is a large country with over 313 million residents.  Of these, some estimate that there are 15 to 20 million cricket fans in the US.  By comparison, New Zealand, which has partnered with the United States of America Cricket Association to promote the sport in the United States, has a total population of approximately 4.4 million people or roughly a quarter of the American cricket fan base; Australia’s total population is only slightly higher than the top estimates of American fans.  Among American fans, there are an estimated 100-200 thousand cricket players in the United States.  Additionally, the US is the second-largest market for cricket broadcasting rights and the largest market for online streaming.  So who are the American cricket fans?

Estimating the Number of US Fans

Note: If you have information about the USACA’s estimate, please comment below.

Also, USCricketer.com is taking an online census of US cricket fans.  Please fill it out.

As the opening paragraph suggests, one estimate is that there are 15 to 20 million cricket fans in the US, or roughly five percent of the nation.  I’ve searched around for the source of this number, but have only found one source attributing it to John Aaron, secretary of the USACA. The USACA’s estimate is widely repeated by numerous online sources including the US State Department.  Wikipedia reports that 20% of New Yorkers comes from cricket-playing countries.  The Economic Times reports that the “number of ‘active’ fans in the US is expected to be as large as that of the West Indies or New Zealand” by 2020.  This would place the upper bound of active American cricket fans at 4.5-5.5 million. Even assuming the total population of the West Indies and New Zealand viewed themselves as cricket fans (a generous assumption), this would amounts to only slightly more than 10 million people.  This amount is far less than the number sited by the USACA.  One could argue that “active” cricket fans includes only those that actively play, which may be consistent with the estimated 100-200 thousand US cricket players.  However, it is unclear from the source whether “active” is a reference to players or viewers.

Regardless of the accuracy of The Economic Times’ report, there may be reason to question the amount cited by the USACA.  First and foremost, the USACA has a vested interest in attracting sponsors, investors, and money from the ICC.  As a result, it is likely to favor larger estimates of the number of US cricket fan base in order to attract greater funding and support.  This bias is important because an accurate count US cricket fans will help determine how best to promote the sport, as well as its commercial prospects.  The USACA, via Cricket Holdings America LLC, is working on developing a professional Twenty20 league.  If it makes its revenue projections based on unrealistic numbers, its investors are likely to sour as actual income is far less than anticipated.

My Estimation

If we begin with the basic premise, discussed below, that the vast majority of American cricket fans (> 90%) immigrate from major cricket playing countries, then we can estimate a maximum number of potential American cricket fans.  The US Census Bureau provides the following statistics on the number of persons born overseas living in America:

Table 1

  1. Australia & New Zealand: 100,786
  2. Bangladesh: 151,639
  3. England: 363,128
  4. India: 1,696,057
  5. Pakistan: 287,826
  6. South Africa: 79,282
  7. Sri Lanka: 40,208
  8. West Indies (aggregate): 939,747

However, because these statistics only include individuals born in these countries, they do not reflect the total population identifying with each subgroup.  An alternative dataset provides the following population numbers:

Table 2

  1. Bangladeshi American: 147,300
  2. Indian American: 3,183,063
  3. Pakistani Americans: 409,163
  4. Sri Lankan: 45,381

Additionally, the number of West Indian Americans is estimated at 2,532,380, although this number includes populations from non-major cricketing caribbean countries.  If we aggregate all of the foreign-born persons from major cricket-playing countries (table 1), there are approximately 3.65 million people falling within this group.  Even if we double this amount to very roughly approximate the number of immigrants and their descendants (the small sample of table 2 had roughly a 2-1 aggregate ratio to table 1), there are only an estimated 7.3 million immigrants.  Applying my assumption that over ninety percent of the American cricket community are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from major-cricketing countries, the maximum estimate of cricket fans in the United States would be 8.12 million fans.  This number is roughly half of the number estimated by the USACA and assumes universal fandom among these groups.

Although the above calculation is a very rough projection (I tried to be conservative in my assumptions), it likely exceeds the number of American cricket fans.  The estimate is the maximum number of fans because it assumed 100% participation from each group.  It is unreasonable, however, to expect that all Indian Americans or New Zealanders are cricket fans. A 2009 study by the Marylebone Cricket Club of cricket fans (not the population as a whole) in India, New Zealand, and South Africa revealed that 23%, 46%, and 42% of fans respectively were only casual fans or only followed the sport because of friends or family members.  Actual numbers of fans probably range between 20-60% in each group.  As a Gallup poll revealed, only 63% of Americans are professional football (NFL) fans despite it being the most popular sport in the United States.

I would venture to guess that the actual number of American fans is closer to 3 million, or one percent of the nation’s population.  Applying the rates from the MCC study, I would estimate that 20-30% of American fans are only casual fans or were fans at one point, but no longer follow the sport.

Foreign Diaspora

Regardless of the number of fans, it is also important to look at who they are.  According to the USACA, the majority of US fans come from the South Asian diaspora including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.  If advertising on Willow TV, the primary licensee for cricket broadcasting in the US, is any indication of the American market, then the USACA’s analysis is likely correct.  Advertising during broadcasts exclusively features content targeting South Asian populations, including specially created advertisements featuring Asian Americans by US companies like State Farm Insurance and Farmers Insurance.  A survey of cricket teams nationwide reveals significant disparities between the number of South Asian players versus players from other ethnic groups.  Among the other fans and players, many include immigrants from other countries and regions including the West Indies, Africa, and the British Commonwealth.

The concentration of immigrants in the American cricket community is of little surprise.  Many of these individuals grew up playing and watching cricket, two of the most significant barriers to entry for American fans.  Additionally, cricket serves as a social network for members of these communities and a means to bring an aspect of their home culture to their lives in the United States.  The largest concentrations of cricket-playing immigrants also exist in urban areas where there is a critical mass of players to facilitate the proliferation of team sports, like cricket.  Unsurprisingly, areas with large concentrations of South Asians also have the largest and most active cricket leagues.

The domination of American cricket by immigrants, particularly South Asians, carries several negative and positive consequences.  The most significant is the perceived in-group versus out-group status of American cricket.  Social divisions and isolation between cricketers and non-cricketers helps foster racial stereotypes about the game, misperceptions, and distrust.  For those in the out-group, language barriers and cultural differences may discourage participation in the sport.  While a common language can be a shibboleth for new players, unfamiliar languages can be equally isolating for players because they are excluded from participating in on-field discussions and banter.  One can postulate that feelings of isolation, exclusion, and that of being an outsider are likely to discourage out-group (including many new) players from repeated participation–if they ever participate in the first place.

Moreover, the perception that cricket is a gathering of particular populations can breed distrust among those unfamiliar with the sport and these groups. A 2011 story published by the HuffingtonPost and report made available by the Associated Press reveals that the New York Police Department allegedly analyzed “ancestries of interest,” including those from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Guyana–all major cricket-playing countries– the U.A.E. and Afghanistan–countries with increasing importance in international cricket.  Officers known as “rakers” were instructed to participate in social activities to clandestinely gather information about the activities of these groups and associated individuals.  Cricket matches were singled out as targeted social activities of concern.

There is also growing tension among Americans over illegal immigration.  While the debate regarding illegal immigration has focused on hispanic immigrants and the nation’s southern border, Indian Americans are the fastest growing group of illegal immigrants with a 125% increase since 2000.  While this ignominious title is largely the result of the relative size of the Indian American population, it increases the risk that Indians, and perhaps cricket-playing expatriates generally, may be the target of political scrutiny and antagonizing rhetoric.  If such tensions were to materialize, they would likely discourage the expansion of the game.

As mentioned previously, there are several positive aspects to the diaspora nature of American cricket.  In particular, cricket has the potential for constructive interactions between immigrant and non-immigrant populations, particularly among youth.  The NYPD, despite its alleged information gathering operations, has sought to improve the city’s relationship with immigrant populations by sponsoring the NYPD Twenty20 Cricket Cup.  Mayor Bloomberg has similarly sought to reach out to immigrants via his Mayor’s Cup, an inter-borough cricket competition.  In-school youth programs also create an opportunity for students to learn about the cultures and histories of countries around the globe.

Non-Immigrant Cricket Players

Although there isn’t a single profile for cricket players of multigenerational American descent, one can theorize about certain common trends.  As the previous section indicates, there are significant barriers to entry for non-immigrant players.  American media rarely covers the sport, competitions involving the national team are not broadcasted in the US, and the structure of American cricket is convoluted, inconsistently managed and without an effective central authority.  Thus, non-immigrant cricketers must either be introduced to the sport via in-school youth programs or physical proximity to the sport (e.g. the Compton Cricket Club), or assume the personal initiative of becoming an American cricket fan.  For those in the third category, access to the game depends on innate curiosity and a determined willingness to invest the time and effort to learn about, follow, and watch the game, despite the absence of a social network to support one’s interest.

The Importance of American Demographics on American Cricket

As the foregoing suggests, American demographics have significant effects on the popularity and accessibility of cricket in the United States.  The popularity of cricket among immigrant diasporas means that there are far greater opportunities for those communities to participate in and follow the sport. Likewise, the importance of cricket as an in-group social network (especially for the most recent immigrants) supports a positive feedback loop that maintains the popularity of the sport within these communities.  As a counter to this, high barriers to entry and the limited popularity of cricket among majority, non-immigrant populations means that there are insufficient numbers of cricketers to form cohesive networks to facilitate a natural growth of the sport within these groups.  Disparities in the participation in the sport create stereotypes that foster in-group and out-group distinctions, which inhibit cross-group interactions and competition.  Furthermore, because leagues constitute the voting members at the USACA, differences in participation of different demographic groups (particularly the dominance of certain groups) is likely to distort the democratic decision-making at the national level.

Knowledge of the demographic divisions within the game can help clarify certain steps that must be taken to expand the game.  Socioeconomic differences between various groups is also likely to affect the viability of a commercial cricket league in the United States, as some groups are less likely to have capital to spend on the sport.  With regard to amateur competition, cricket leagues should reach out to underrepresented populations via development programs, promotions, and exhibition games in order to pierce stereotypes about the game and to increase the diversity of participation.  Such actions will help change perceptions about the game and make it a more welcoming sport for underrepresented populations.  Additionally, leagues and communities should be aware of naturally occurring cultural networks within cricket and celebrate/leverage them to promote the development of the sport.

Finally, there is the question of what constitutes American cricket.  As it stands, American cricket is a chimera of cultural and national diasporas that support their respective international teams and exist without significant integration. If the USACA wishes to promote a unique identity of national cricket, then it needs to increase the visibility of the US national team and target an all-encompassing community, which can synthesize the American brand.

Credit for picture associated with this post goes to the Washington Metro Cricket League.

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