Cricket Makes $268 Million Pitch for Olympics Inclusion

Cricket’s global governing body has told the IOC that adding the sport to the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles could command an additional $268 million in media money from India alone, a central part of the sport’s pitch for its inclusion in future Olympics.

The IOC and LA28, the 2028 host committee, are in the middle of a multiyear selection process to determine which new sports, if any, should be added to the next Olympic cycle. To try and bolster its argument, the International Cricket Council (ICC) recently put together a financial estimate for how the sport’s global popularity might translate to actual dollars.

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The ICC calculated that the proposed men’s and women’s cricket matches could increase the value of the Olympic media rights in India by $201 million-$268 million next cycle, according to a document recently viewed by Sportico. That range is based off the value of other cricket rights in India, time zone differences with Los Angeles and what the ICC calls an “Olympic premium.”

Representatives for the ICC and LA28 declined to comment. A representative for the IOC didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

LA28 shortlisted 10 sports last year for potential inclusion in the 2028 Games, and each is showcasing its own unique advantages. Lacrosse was created in North America and is one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S. Flag football has the backing of the NFL, the world’s richest sports league. Baseball and softball both have long-standing Olympic history. In all four sports, U.S. teams would be expected to medal, an attractive proposition for a Summer Games held in America.

Cricket’s argument emphasizes global popularity and economic opportunity. The U.S. teams might not be competitive, but the addition of cricket could dramatically increase the value of the IOC’s media rights in other parts of the world, particularly in India, a populous country that the IOC has not yet fully monetized. The IOC’s current deal in India is worth a reported $12 million for the four-year cycle that holds the 2024 Summer Games in Paris. An additional $268 million, the high end of the ICC’s range, would be an increase of 2,133%.

The ultimate decision rests primarily with Casey Wasserman and the rest of the LA28 committee, and the ICC believes the global economics argument could resonate there as well. The host committee budget includes $1.54 billion from the IOC, with $637 million coming from the IOC’s top global partners, but the ICC has pitched the possibility of a separate agreement under which LA28 could share in the economics of additional international IOC media rights, according to multiple people familiar with the pitch. Though an arrangement of that sort isn’t strictly forbidden, it’s not standard procedure, and it’s unclear if the IOC or LA28 would consider it.

The ICC’s calculations start with the base value of cricket rights in India—the Indian Premier League’s men’s games command a reported $14.6 million (Rs 114 crore) per game across its TV and digital partners, while the ICC’s package is worth $16.8 million per game. The Olympic calculations use that ICC number as a base, then subtracts 30% because of unfavorable start times for competitions in LA. It then adds an “Olympic premium” for the increased attention associated with the wider event, and calculates that each women’s game would be 50% of each men’s game. The result is $134 million to $179 million for the 10 Olympic men’s matches, and $201 million to $268 million for the men’s and women’s matches combined.

The ICC’s formal pitch revolves around T20, a shorter version of the sport which has soared in popularity over the past two decades. The group is suggesting six men’s team and six women’s teams compete in a round-robin tournament that features 10 total matches each, including the medal games.

The IOC and LA28 are currently in the process of determining which disciplines to include from the current Olympic sports, a process happening in tandem with the discussions regarding new sports. Once the program is set by LA28, it is approved by the IOC, and eventually ratified during an official IOC session. The next session is in Mumbai, India, in October. (Coincidentally, that meeting will occur during the 2023 Cricket World Cup, which is being held in India).

In another coincidence, former Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who played a central role in the city’s Olympic bid, is now the U.S. ambassador to India. He’s been posting frequently on social media about cricket, and last week he gave an LA28 hat to Indian movie star Shah Rukh Khan.

India, the world’s second most populous country, is a huge growth opportunity for the IOC. The Olympics organizer has made dramatic inroads into China in the last few decades—Beijing hosted games in 2008 and 2022, and the IOC’s top sponsor program now includes two Chinese companies—but its commercial growth in India has been much slower. At the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, China won 89 medals, second only to the United States’ 113; India ranked 35th with seven medals.

A deeper relationship with India has taken on added importance in the past year, as the IOC’s ties to Russia remain strained due to war, doping scandals and other corruption. Earlier this year Russia offered to host a new multi-sport event for member of a regional group called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes Russia, China, Pakistan and India.

Just as every sport has its benefits, there are potential concerns for all 10 of the shortlisted sports as well. Cricket rosters are not small—about 15 per team, meaning ~180 athletes total—and the IOC has said it intends to cap the number of total athletes at 10,500 as part of broader cost-cutting measures. Opinions differ, however, on how strictly the IOC would enforce that cap.

There’s also a venue question. The LA host committee has boasted about the city already having the venues necessary for the three-week event, and none currently has the ability to host top-tier cricket. The organizers would either need to build a temporary venue, or possibly utilize a new $30 million project being planned for nearby Irvine, Calif.

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