Ultra-rich are betting the next big American sport is cricket
Anurag Jain has loved cricket his entire life, but after learning how much players made, he ditched his dream of making a career of it and ultimately went into business.
These days he’s the managing partner of Perot Jain, a venture capital firm he co-founded with Texas billionaire Ross Perot Jr. If things go to plan, Jain could have a far greater impact on the game than he ever could with a bat and ball.
Jain is part-owner with Perot of the Texas Super Kings, a team created this year based in Dallas. On Thursday evening, Jain’s team, which is also backed by India’s Chennai Super Kings, will host the Los Angeles Knight Riders in Major League Cricket’s first game in the U.S.
Jain is part of a group including influential Indian-born businesspeople bringing the world’s second-most popular game to U.S. audiences. Major League Cricket has also attracted Adobe Inc. CEO Shantanu Narayen and Microsoft Corp.’s Satya Nadella, who has a piece of Seattle’s professional team, the Orcas. Bollywood’s most famous actor, Shah Rukh Khan, is investing in a cricket stadium near Los Angeles for the league.
“My vested interest was to bring cricket right into the heart of America,” Jain said in an interview. “I see a lot of cricket being played one-off, club level, league level, at the local levels. But not at the professional level, and that’s what I really wanted to change.”
The sport has been steadily growing in popularity in the U.S. for years, especially in places with large South Asian populations — including Dallas, Houston, New York and Los Angeles.
Like baseball, cricket is a bat-and-ball sport characterized by long games, arcane terminology and a near-mystical reverence for playing statistics by hardcore followers. The version being pitched to American sports fans will be a shorter format that typically lasts three to four hours and has underpinned various cricket leagues around the world in recent years.
It originated in England but is widely played and watched in Commonwealth countries such as India, South Africa and Australia and trails just soccer in global popularity. The Indian Premier League, launched in 2008, has become the commercial heartbeat of the sport, attracting the broadest audiences, the biggest stars and the most money. Bloomberg reported in May that Tiger Global Management is in advanced talks to buy a stake in India’s Rajasthan Royals for $40 million, valuing the team at $650 million.
Investors have already said they’ll pour $120 million into the nascent U.S. cricket league, wagering that by luring international superstars, the sport can draw live audiences in the U.S. and tap into a global fan base.
The Texas Super Kings are playing in the Dallas suburb of Grand Prairie at the former home of the Texas AirHogs, a minor league baseball team. The venue, which has 6,000 seats, is a 10-minute drive from the Dallas Cowboys' 80,000-person stadium in Arlington.
Jain said he found the stadium through his business partner, Perot, a former owner of the Dallas Mavericks of the National Basketball Association.
Jain grew up in Chennai, India, and says at one point he was the fastest bowler in his city and had ambitions of playing professionally, until he discovered the economics of the sport.
“Cricketers in those days made like $1.50 per game, and they had probably 20 match days a year. So that wasn’t enough money, and my dad sat me down and said, ‘Look, son, your cricketer days are done, you need to go back and become an engineer,’ ” he said.
Jain studied at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani and later got his MBA at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. After moving to the U.S., he founded a company that he sold to Ross Perot in 2003. Perot and Jain set up their venture firm in 2014.
Thursday’s game will be broadcast live, a reprieve for those who don’t want to stand out in the Texas summer heat with temperatures forecast that day at more than 100 degrees. There will also be typical ballpark food in addition to South Asian cuisine including samosas.
While most of the games in the two-week season will be in Dallas, a handful will be played in Morrisville, North Carolina. India’s Viacom18 is broadcasting the games, which will end July 30. A second league hasn’t been scheduled yet, but if the league works, the goal is to lengthen the season to a more typical eight to 10 weeks.
Players have come from around the world to participate.
Cody Chetty of the Texas Super Kings took a gamble when he signed a contract with Major League Cricket in 2020 and moved to California with his wife from South Africa.
He’d been playing professionally in South Africa for 11 years but was excited about the opportunity in the U.S. Since his move to Southern California, Chetty has been teaching cricket to young people and working as a real estate agent while waiting for the league to start. Chetty has been surprised by the level of interest from people in LA and sees it as his long-term home.
“We were looking at the cricket side of it but also life after cricket,” said Chetty of his move to the U.S.