Startup founders and tech giant CEOs are putting money behind cricket teams and leagues, betting that the sport will continue growing in popularity — even in the U.S., where it has struggled to gain a foothold.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is reportedly among a group backing Major League Cricket, a new U.S.-based cricket tournament run by American Cricket Enterprises set to launch in 2022. Others including Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen and Paytm CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma are also participating, according to the Financial Times.
Nadella is looking to run a team out of Seattle, according to the Times of India, which alluded to the world-class cricket field Microsoft is building at its revamped headquarters in Redmond, Wash.
Microsoft declined to comment when asked about Nadella’s participation with Major League Cricket.
Nadella has had a passion for the game since childhood. Speaking at the 2017 GeekWire Summit, Nadella explained how cricket has taught him leadership lessons he’s carried over to the workplace. In his book Hit Refresh, Nadella reveals that he likes to hold a cricket ball during conference calls.
Microsoft in 2018 debuted a smart cricket bat developed in partnership with Indian cricket legend Anil Kumble.
Cricket — a bat-and-ball game originating in southern England in the 16th century — remains an oddity for most Americans, but the passion runs deep in Britain and many of its former colonies, where the sport takes on an almost religious-like following.
The Indian Premier League, which debuted in 2008, has exploded in popularity with a shorter “Twenty20” match format and spawned similar new leagues in other countries. This year’s IPL set records for viewership and increased advertising revenue.
There have been attempts at bringing cricket to the U.S. but none have taken off. Pro Cricket launched in 2004 but folded after one year. The American Premier League tried to launch a Twenty20 organization in 2009 but never launched.
Cricket is becoming more popular in the Seattle region thanks in part to tech workers who grew up with the sport in their home countries. The Seattle Youth Cricket League boasts about 100 kids — many the children of immigrants — playing on teams at different age levels from April to September.
“There’s a massive contingent of people at Microsoft and Amazon that love cricket,” said Rahul Sood, CEO and founder of Seattle startup Unikrn and a former Microsoft exec.
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