Cricket is returning to the Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has accepted the popular sport back into the Olympic fold for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Cricket made its only previous Olympic appearance in the 1900 Paris Olympics when Great Britain beat France by 158 runs to win gold.
IOC President Thomas Bach had the following to say about cricket’s Olympic readmission:
“We are ready to welcome the world’s best players of cricket to perform in the United States in 2028, while showcasing iconic American sports to the world. We see the growing popularity of cricket, particularly the T20 format. The Olympic Games will give cricket a global stage and the opportunity to grow beyond the traditional cricket countries and regions.”
Granted, an American-held Olympic Games will no doubt expose cricket to many more Americans. It is, however, hardly likely to take the sport’s growth to new levels in most of the world where many people play and watch cricket regularly.
An International Cricket Council (ICC) media release published on its website in mid-December 2022 states that videos of the 2022 Men’s T20 Cricket World Cup received 6.58 billion views across the ICC’s platforms. While the tournament was active, over 78 million visitors accessed the ICC’s web and app platforms.
Australia’s cumulative global television audience during the 2022 Men’s T20 World Cup was 1.28 billion. In India, 46% of surveyed television viewers watched the tournament. 25% of participants watched the Indian Premier League (IPL), another cricket tournament. For interest’s sake, the IPL is one of the richest sports leagues in the world, valued at £3.64 billion in 2020.
Only 16% of surveyed Indian viewers watched the 2022 FIFA World Cup football tournament.
Worldwide, the annual turnover for the legal cricket betting industry amounted to a little under £2.5 billion in 2020. The growing popularity of cricket’s shorter formats will likely have inflated this figure a great deal since.
In the UK, cricket betting during 2021 ranked fifth among sports bettors using platforms like the many options in SBS. Football, horse racing, dog racing and tennis were the more popular choices. Cricket was more than twice as popular among punters than golf, with the latter already reinstated as an Olympic sport seven years ago. Regular T20 cricket is raising the sport’s popularity among fans and sports bettors alike. Greater numbers of punters are trying out the available cricket markets on a regular basis.
Major League Cricket (MLC) debuted in the USA in July of this year. The T20 tournament consists of six franchises from Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Grand Prairie, Texas. The United States of America Cricket Association (USACA) was an associate member of the ICC from 1965 to 2007. Despite successfully competing in the ICC Trophy during that period, the US never qualified for an ICC World Cup.
Cricket is a popular sport in Asia, Africa, Australasia, the West Indies, and the UK and Ireland. In Canada, the USA, certain parts of Europe and the Middle East, the sport is now flourishing.
An example of this is the recent success of Afghanistan and the Netherlands in the ICC 50-over World Cup currently underway in India, against well-known cricket-playing nations. Afghanistan beat England and the Netherlands overcame South Africa. Both of these results will undoubtedly encourage young cricketers in these nations.
It is clear that cricket already has a large and widespread following. This support will only grow further as both remote and grassroots access to the sport increases.
Will the Upcoming US Events Grow Cricket’s Popularity?
Any mainstream public exposure to sporting events will grow their popularity. Does cricket, an already-established international sport, need an Olympic global stage to grow? The IOC President seems to think so, but his statement remains open to debate in general terms.
There is no doubt, however, that a prior cricket event will boost cricket in the US. The upcoming ICC T20 World Cup tournament is taking place in the West Indies and the United States in 2024. With three US venues in Texas, Florida and New York included, cricket is bound to see an increase in local interest.
With the US’s professional MLC cricket competition already underway, the tournament will likely pique American interest in cricket well before the 2028 Olympic Games begin. The Olympics may well further enhance this US interest. The Games may not have the impact on cricket’s overall popularity and growth that Mr. Bach suggests it will, though.
How and Why Cricket Continues to Grow
The growth in popularity of cricket started a long time ago. 1877 saw the inaugural test series between England and Australia. Cricket’s growth as a spectator sport only happened much later, though. It was the advent of limited-overs international cricket in the early 1970s that caused the sport’s popularity to soar. This, in turn, prompted the first limited-overs World Cup a few years later.
Ultimately it took the Australian businessman Kerry Packer to change the face of cricket forever. Packer formed World Series Cricket, a breakaway cricket league in Australia. His brainchild introduced night matches and coloured clothing and kit to cricket for the first time.
The fixtures also had a fun, festive atmosphere to them – something that cricket also hadn’t experienced before. This element added to its popularity with spectators and TV viewers alike.
The ICC soon incorporated Packer’s pathfinding marketing moves into its one-day formats. It took the governing body’s much more recent introduction of T20 cricket to raise the sport’s following to a new level, though. The three-hour matches attract younger crowds and viewers. The increase in fast runs and quick wickets now also appeals to a new breed of fans not interested in the longer formats.
Cricket viewership statistics increase a lot every season. With new T20 tournaments emerging in different countries all the time, cricket’s popularity is at an all-time high. Even with new, innovative formats, like The Hundred in the UK, it’s unlikely that cricket’s popularity could grow faster than it currently is.