The International Language of Sport
Living in America, you could easily assume that the National Football League has the most dedicated, loyal fan following of any sport in the world. Who would miss a Super Bowl? Our Major League Baseball plays in the World Series, from a sport made international by the presence of one team from Canada. The Olympics, our International Sports Venue draw vast attention because the torch gets spied upon via cell phone and twitter as the route the bearers travelled was changed to avoid protesters against the actions of the Chinese government in Tibet. Sports blend into the daily tapestry of our lives.
Bue not all sports. Surprisingly, there are other sports that attract fanatical followings. Football (soccer in the USA) is a huge draw. Darts, Rugby, Snooker, Curling, and Cricket each have their own special fan base in various corners of the globe. Sports are not the same everywhere. The article from the Wall Street Journal below illustrates why you might want to turn on BBC, or ESPN Deportes and get ready to make slightly different sports chat around the water cooler (or tea pot) in the years to come.
By EMILY FLITTER
How Googlies Could Save Your Meeting
April 2, 2008
Imagine: You are an American with an Indian boss. One day he comes to you agitated and demands your full attention. "We're in a sticky wicket," he says. "Our rivals have thrown us a real googly. Call an inning on your project for now and let's solve this thing immediately."
Without knowing the game of cricket you'd never understand him. Americans working in much of the former British Empire would do well to learn the game.
"Knowing cricket has helped me from the point of view of working with people from those countries who are working here," said Nick Kilsby, who emigrated to the U.S. from Britain and now runs a public-relations firm in Connecticut.
"They're usually desperate to talk about the game -- once they hear my accent it's one of the first questions that comes up," he says. "If the other person is of Asian descent I ask them the same question, and virtually all of them follow cricket but they're … you might say they're fanatical."
Cricket is essentially the national sport in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and a ubiquitous family activity in the Caribbean. In England the nostalgia it evokes is the key to camaraderie with a certain privately educated elite, while in South Africa it is an acceptable source of necessary pre-business pleasantries. In Australia stands the second-largest sports stadium in the world, built for cricket. When the English and Australian national teams meet for the roughly biannual Ashes test series, "there is a lot of gloating" in the office, says sports marketer Simon Wardle.
The sport can be a tool to solidify exclusive business relationships and relate to millions of potential customers.
Mr. Kilsby said he landed a client, a major platinum miner, after bonding with a company rep over talk of the sport. Cricket's rarity in America rendered the talk all the more valuable. The man followed a league in which teams from different parts of the U.K. compete against each other. Says Mr. Kilsby: "We spent a whole evening in the bar catching up on our respective county teams."
A Boston software designer originally from Rhodesia (current-day Zimbabwe) is writing blog posts at alphasoftware.blogspot.com about the relationship between cricket and technology to promote his new software platform to potential customers. Richard Rabins, co-chairman of Alpha Software, explained that combining his esoteric discussion of database technologies with posts about more-widely discussed subjects helped humanize his marketing strategy.
"At the end of the day what it comes down to with all the technology, it's still about people interacting with other people and people wanting to feel comfortable," Mr. Rabins says. He adds that sports fans in South Africa, India Pakistan, the U.K. and Australia were major targets for his latest product. "We're looking to recruit partners around the world and particularly India," Mr. Rabins says. "We've been in negotiation with Tata Consultancy -- ninety percent of the Indians are crazy about cricket, and the women are just as crazy as the men."
Nike recently cashed in on that sentiment by injecting a populist flavor into its cricket-themed TV ads (see one here). The sports-apparel company began a $40 million, five-year sponsorship of the Indian cricket team in 2006.
The sport has slightly different associations for people from each country.
Cricket, a little-known sport in the U.S., is going mainstream in New York City's public schools with a new league, and turnout is high. Emily Flitter reports. (April 2)
"If you look at the U.K. you think, stereotypically, 'I need to know about [European] football, and I need to read up on Manchester United and Liverpool and I'll be prepared,'" says Simon Wardle, who heads the research arm of the sports-marketing company Octagon Worldwide. "But if you have a business meeting with a man in London, chances are he isn't a Liverpool or Man United fan, but a Chelsea or Arsenal fan. And he probably went to a private school where they played rugby in the winter and cricket in the summer, so football wouldn't be as important."
To prepare for a meeting, Mr. Wardle says, "If it's during the winter you should probably find out where England is playing their test series that winter." Be ready to talk about how the series, which is a weeks-long meeting between two countries' national teams, is going for England.
"It's an emotionally rich sport," he adds. "If you grew up in England, you grew up in a country where there were only three TV channels, and in the summer BBC2 was dedicated to broadcasting cricket six hours a day, so when you weren't in school you watched cricket all day." The nostalgia factor, Mr. Wardle said, was similar to memories Americans of a certain age often have of listening to baseball games on the radio.
Cricket terminology figures largely into Indian English and can seem particularly opaque to someone unfamiliar with cricket, says Abhay Padgaonkar, a Mumbai native who moved to the U.S. and does consulting work in both countries. Mr. Padgaonkar says googly -- a deceptive pitch akin to a curveball in baseball -- is particularly popular in business lingo, as is duck, which is the cricket-scoring word for zero.
The former British colony's team is now far superior to England's own, giving an extra, poignant importance to the game in India. Mr. Wardle says sentiment is similar in the Caribbean, where the West Indies test team had been, at least until recently, accustomed to beating England.
Americans have long been viewed as cricket-illiterate, hopelessly unaware of the sport and disinterested, in this article and elsewhere. But the history of cricket in the U.S. is more nuanced. The first test (multi-day) match ever played was not between two of today's great national powers, but between two defunct national teams: The U.S. and Canada in 1844. Accounts of the decline of cricket's popularity in the U.S. differ. Some attribute it a rule that national teams had to be from Commonwealth countries to officially compete, while others cite the U.S. Civil War and the increasing urbanization during the industrial revolution as the end of cricket as a popular American sport.
But it is alive and well in America's communities of first-generation immigrants, and the USA Cricket Association oversees regional competitions around the country. The first cricket stadium in the U.S. was just completed in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and an inaugural international match is scheduled there for Memorial Day. Talk of an official facility in New York City has carried on for years. Cricket aficionados can follow their teams' performances on the Internet and via handheld devices. A quarterly magazine, "American Cricketer," published out of Miami, keeps track of U.S. cricket news. Its publisher, Mo Ally, says he prints 10,000 copies of each issue but insists his readership is much higher.
Despite its cult following, cricket remains an obscure subject here. Mr. Kilsby, the native Briton, recalls attending a meeting in Manhattan with a group of American investment bankers and one other cricket fan, an Australian, also in public relations. Throughout the meeting, Mr. Kilsby says, the Australian was quietly following his national cricket team's progress in a test match on his BlackBerry. Then the moment came: "He suddenly blurted out 'Pietersen's just hit a six!' " Mr. Kilsby says. "He blushed and said, 'I'm sorry.' As no one else in the room knew what he was talking about, he was saved."
ABOUT FAUX PAS
In the age of globalization, understanding of local custom is invaluable for business executives representing their companies around the world. Faux Pas, written by Emily Flitter, looks at how to avoid the false steps.
Want to share? If you've committed a faux pas, narrowly avoided one or have tips for conducting business in a foreign culture, write to Emily Flitter at email@example.com.
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Has knowing cricket helped you get ahead? Have you struggled to understand the rules of the game? Share your thoughts in an online discussion.
Write to Emily Flitter at firstname.lastname@example.org
MORE ON CRICKET
Cricket 101: A Primer
http://www.cricinfo.com/ – An all-encompassing hub for cricket information, from current series and player stats, to fantasy leagues and history lessons.
http://www.usaca.org/ – The USA Cricket Association's homepage: Good for learning about cricket opportunities in your area.
Click here for Kevin Pietersen's fan club on the networking site bebo.com.
Click here for Eye On Cricket, written by a blogger in Brooklyn, N.Y.