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HomeWorldNadella, Narayen among tech CEOs investing in cricket's American dream

Nadella, Narayen among tech CEOs investing in cricket’s American dream

Team USA upsets Pakistan in historic cricket World Cup victory

Cricket may not be as popular a sport in the U.S. as elsewhere in the world, but some high-profile CEOs and investors are trying to change that.

As the Men’s T20 Cricket World Cup, co-hosted by the U.S. for the first time, ramps up, investors have pumped nearly a billion dollars into their American ambition.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen are among the executives investing in the new U.S. professional league, Major League Cricket. Other cricket investors include Iconic Ventures, Madrona Venture Group and executives from Google.

“What gets me excited is seeing if cricket can become a mainstream sport in the U.S.,” said Soma Somasegar, venture capitalist and managing director at Madrona.

Somasegar and Nadella are among the key owners of Seattle’s cricket team, named the Orcas. They’re also investors in the overall league.

“Satya [Nadella] and I have been talking about bringing cricket to America for many years,” Somasegar told CNBC.

Nadella is such a diehard cricket fan that Microsoft has a cricket field at its campus in Bellevue, Washington.

Monank Patel of the U.S. national cricket team celebrates his half century (50 runs) during the ICC Men’s T20 Cricket World Cup match between the U.S. and Pakistan at Grand Prairie Cricket Stadium in Dallas, June 6, 2024.

Matt Roberts | ICC | Getty Images

“A lot of us immigrants grew up with this sport. We’d study and watch cricket. On repeat,” said Somasegar.

In total, nearly $850 million is currently in the process of being invested in building a viable cricket league in the U.S., people familiar with the funding said. The people asked not to be named because the funding information is private.

Currently, there are six professional teams in Major League Cricket, with each team expected to spend roughly $75 million to $100 million in the coming years. That includes the cost of putting together a team, hiring the right talent and building stadiums where live cricket matches can be played.

Adding to the fanfare is the T20 World Cup, which is being held at three locations in the U.S. and several in the West Indies throughout June.

On Thursday, in a stunning blow, the U.S. team beat Pakistan in a match held near Dallas. Fans are now counting down to the highly anticipated India vs. Pakistan match Sunday at the newly developed Nassau County stadium in New York.

The last time India and Pakistan matched up, more than 300 million people in India tuned in to watch the game, according to The New York Times.

Ticket reseller StubHub said the average price of tickets for Sunday’s rivalry match is $1,300. The average price for the other 54 matches of the tournament is $120, the company said.

Venture capitalist Anurag Jain, part owner of Major League Cricket team the San Francisco Unicorns, said the U.S. national team is primarily made up of players in the league.

“The goal is to make cricket a mainstream sport,” said Satyan Gajwani, the vice chairman of Times Internet, the digital arm of the Times of India. He heads up Willow TV, which has the exclusive streaming rights for cricket in North America, including the T20 World Cup.

Gajwani is also one of the investors in the U.S. league. He said his group is going after the incredibly loyal fans from South Asia who live in the U.S.

“You essentially have 5 million really hard-core fans that love cricket,” Gajwani told CNBC, referring to the South Asian diaspora in the U.S.

He added that expats from the U.K. and Australia who live in the U.S. are also big consumers of cricket.

South Asians on average have the highest gross income of any ethnic group in the U.S., according to research from Indiaspora, a nonprofit community of Indian leaders around the world.

“That leaves a lot of discretionary income that is available to be spent on sports and entertainment,” said M.R. Rangaswami, founder and chairman of Indiaspora.

Rangaswami, who said he will be at the match Sunday, acknowledged that the U.S. sports scene is tough to crack, with Americans consumed by basketball and football. He said a potential entry point could be through fans of baseball, which has some resemblance to cricket.

— CNBC’s Jessica Golden contributed to this report.

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