Editor’s note: Since we’re in the dog days of summer with no European soccer kicking off for a few weeks and no more Women’s World Cup, Copa America or Gold Cup, we thought we’d bring you a guide to watching Sunday’s Cricket World Cup final as a change of pace for any of you who are intrigued by the sport.
Either England or New Zealand will win their first ever Cricket World Cup when they meet in Sunday’s final (beginning at 5:30 AM eastern, and continuing throughout the day), live from London’s legendary Lord’s Cricket Ground. But if you know more about the Cricket in Times Square than about this summer’s 50-over cricket championship, then, well, that’s by design.
Cricket’s overlords have gone to great lengths to ensure that the sport stays a well-kept secret in America. Instead of making sure that this niche sport gets exposed to as many people as possible, Sunday’s 50-over final is only available to stream in the US via two expensive services, Hotstar and Willow TV.
Hotstar is available for $100 a year or $20 a month and is currently offering a 50% discount with the offer code “PM50.” For that money, you’ll get heaps of Indian TV shows and movies. But the only sports Hotstar offers are cricket and Kabaddi – a fun game that’s essentially schoolyard tag but with NBA-worthy acrobatics and NFL-worthy tackling. Willow TV is cheaper than Hotstar, at $60 a year or $10 a month, because it only offers cricket.
It’s not even possible to listen to the games on BBC radio because of idiotic geographic restrictions. Thankfully, the irreverent folks at Guerilla cricket will provide live audio commentary at their site. And the Guardian will be doing an entertaining over-by-over report.
It used to be much easier to enjoy foreign imports like cricket, rugby union, rugby league, and Aussie rules football. Fox Sports offered Aussie rules and Australia’s National Rugby League on its cable channels and on its streaming service at no extra charge for cable subscribers. But now, the vast majority of AFL and NRL matches are only available on Fox Soccer Match Pass for $20 a month or $140 a year.
ESPN streamed the 2011 Cricket World Cup on its WatchESPN service at no extra charge for cable subscribers. And so SportsCenter started showing cricket highlights while ESPN dispatched Wright Thompson to write an overwrought Sachin Tendulkar profile. Cricket’s appearance in the American mainstream probably peaked with 2014’s Twenty20 final. 217,000 people watched Sri Lanka beat India early on a Sunday morning on ESPN2.
But then, in a precursor to ESPN+, ESPN sold the 2015 World Cup as a $99 streaming package to American fans. Then, the International Cricket Council sold the rights for all of its international tournaments through 2023 to Star Sports, which is a Disney subsidiary primarily focused on India. Star Sports then sublicensed the Cricket World Cup to companies like Willow and Hotstar in America and Sky Sports in the United Kingdom.
Of course, more and more soccer matches are moving behind paywalls. As World Soccer Talk recently reported, NBC Sports Gold will now cost $65 a season. The majority of ESPN’s soccer properties, like Serie A or Copa America or the NWSL, are on its $5 a month / $50 a year ESPN+ service.
But soccer built the fanbase to support paid streaming through decades of exposure on over-the-air networks like Fox, NBC, and ABC and mainstream cable channels like FS1 and ESPN. For sports like cricket, there’s been no foundation built here that would to inspire casual fans to pony up stratospheric sums to watch.
The same goes for rugby. NBC will be offering access to this September’s Rugby World Cup at a price that will likely be similar to the $70 a year it charges now for club rugby and the Six Nations tournament. Who, aside from expats and the relatively small amount of hardcore rugby fans, will shell out for that?
It’s a shame, because between football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer, car racing, golf, and tennis, Americans watch a greater variety of sports than anyone on Earth. So it’s likely that there’s more room in the pool, that there’s an appetite to watch exciting yet overlooked sports like cricket. If you enjoy baseball for its athletic fielding, one-on-one battles between a pitcher and batter, and the way tension builds with every delivery in the 9th inning, then you’d enjoy cricket. Even more so in some ways, because there is no parade of tomato can relievers marching in after an ace exits in the 6th. Imagine Jacob deGrom or Clayton Kershaw pitching in the bottom of the 9th.
Sunday’s final features one of the best one-day bowlers in the world, New Zealand’s Trent Boult, going up against one of the best one-day batsmen in the world, England’s Joe Root. It’ll be a beautiful battle. And Lord’s will be a beautiful backdrop. So it’ll be a beautiful advertisement for cricket. In recognition of this, Sky Sports is making the final available free over-the-air in the UK. Sky knows that by maximizing the final’s audience they’ll attract new customers to pay for Sky’s cricket content. No such luck here in America.
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