At 9 a.m. EDT today, history was made when ESPN2 aired an entire game of cricket live. Yes, you read that correctly.
A big moment for U.S. cricket fans, indeed. Yes, we exist, and yes, we’ve waited for this for a long time. We have waited for the sport to gain some semblance of mainstream acceptance in the country, the way even rugby has.
Typically cricket fans in the U.S. watch games online (http://www.willow.tv or www.espn3.com), but this one — the final of the World T20 tournament in Bangladesh — was on live TV. It was a TV-friendly three-hour format and was between two popular teams — India and Sri Lanka.
The game was delayed 40 minutes due to rain earlier in the day (a very frequent challenge for the sport). ESPN’s coverage during this period was spot-on. The studio hosts, Colin Croft and Barry Wilkinson, kept the viewers up to date on the delay while also keeping the audience engaged with a deep dive on how the teams got to the big game. They also showed a Top 10 list of moments from the tournament. If I were a skeptical layman tuning into the game by accident, the catches on this list would most definitely have grabbed my attention.
Croft and Wilkinson have been the studio hosts for ESPN throughout the tournament for the site’s live coverage on ESPN3.com, so they showed command and clarity over what was transpiring.
They did not talk down to the audience and continued in the same vein they do during games shown only on ESPN3.com. However, I do wish they had spoken in more detail and with greater enthusiasm about how big it was that cricket was being shown live on ESPN2. This was something other prominent personalities were doing on Twitter, among them influential ESPN contributor Wright Thompson:
Cricket is on ESPN2 right now. If it doesn't make
sense, read this story and it will and you will be a fan for life. http://t.co/tlC5HF5aqr
— Wright Thompson (@wrightthompson) April 6, 2014
ESPN used the default broadcast crew and camera teams that were part of the broadcast worldwide. So U.S viewers were watching the same feed as those in India and Sri Lanka. If anything, the coverage on ESPN was a tad better because they didn’t rush to an ad or promo when provided with one of the game’s organic 30- or 90-second intervals. This is a huge problem watching cricket in India or on websites/TV (Willow TV) tailored to Indian audiences, where ads show up too soon and too often. The camera work, sounds from the stadium, and the HD quality were all exemplary and cricket fans should only hope that ESPN finds this to have been a fruitful venture and wants to do this again often.
If the ratings, which will likely be released on Monday, make sense for ESPN compared to the numbers they otherwise see on Sunday mornings, maybe FS1 or NBC sports will also show interest in airing cricket matches live. More and more people are tuning into cricket in the U.S. A match involving India that aired on ESPN3.com attracted a third as many viewers as an episode of “First Take”.
The four-match playoffs for the Indian Premier League (IPL) in late May, international T20s featuring India and England/Australia/West Indies, and the 2015 World cup (for which ESPN already has the U.S rights even though the playoffs come smack-dab in the middle of March Madness) are sweet spots for cricket to be shown again on basic cable. At least America’s cricket fans hope so.
Contact Shyam Sundararaman at email@example.com, or at his blog, No Sacred Cows.