Seattle tech leaders including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella are investing in cricket teams – GeekWire

Seattle tech leaders including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella are investing in cricket teams – GeekWire

Seattle tech leaders including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella are investing in cricket teams – GeekWire

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella holds a Kookaburra cricket ball given to him by GeekWire Editor Todd Bishop at the 2017 GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

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.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella plays cricket. (Microsoft Photo)

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.

Wanindu Hasaranga, also known as WOWindu, a cricket player on the Jaffna Stallions. (Jaffna Stallions Photo)

Sood is also getting on the cricket train. He just joined an ownership group behind the Jaffna Stallions in a newly-launched Sri Lankan league.

Unikrn CEO Rahul Sood. (Unikrn Photo)

“The third-largest audience for cricket are Sri Lankans. They are dedicated to it,” Sood said. “They say that second to religion in Sri Lanka is cricket. And they’ve never had their own pro league.”

Sood said the Stallions have put together an ownership consortium of senior tech execs in the Seattle area.

The Stallions also inked a sponsorship deal with Code.org, the Seattle-based nonprofit that aims to help kids learn how to code. The organizations will work together to help expand computer science literacy to young people in Sri Lanka. Code.org is also making its content available in Sinhalese and Tamil as part of the deal. The Stallions have a Code.org logo on the front of their jerseys.

“We believe that all children everywhere should have access to learn computer science as a foundational subject”, Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi said in a statement. “Code.org is excited to work with the Jaffna Stallions to drive awareness of this important initiative to parents and teachers everywhere.”

Sood said there could be potential synergies between the Stallions and Unikrn, which runs an esports betting platform across the globe, allowing people to bet on esports matches much like they do with traditional sports. The 6-year-old company is bouncing back after paying a $6.1 million SEC fine in September.

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