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Cricket takes a lesson from U.S. sports

VVS Laxman, Indian cricketer and captain of the Indian Premier League's Deccan Chargers addresses a press conference in Hyderabad.

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Kai Ryssdal: One of the most closely watched box scores in baseball these days is who's in the running to buy the Chicago Cubs from Sam Zell and the Tribune Company. Today, billionaire Mark Cuban, who already owns baseketball's Dallas Mavericks, got an unexpected endorsement. NBA commissioner David Stern said baseball owners should welcome Cuban into their club.

When you go see a major league game, you know you're gonna be tied up for the next two and a half or three hours easy. You'd be lucky to get out of a full game of cricket without taking a week long vacation. International matches in that sport can take five days. Yes, they break for breakfast and lunch, even tea.

But this year, a new league has turned the old-school cricket business on its head. Mehul Srivastava has the story from New Delhi.


Mehul Srivastava: How do you take a game that's normally slow and boring and get it ready for primetime? The brand new Indian Premiere League has an idea: Limit the number of pitches so that every swing counts.

Announcer: That's huge! That is a biggie! It's out of here!

It's called 20-20 cricket and it squeezes five days of cricket into three action-packed hours.

The Indian Premiere League made big changes off the field, too. Rock music blasting through stadium speakers, Bollywood film stars as team owners and cheerleaders imported from the Washington Redskins to liven up the crowds.

But even traditionalists are warming up to the idea. Arun Lal is a former cricketer turned sportscaster.

Arun Lal: Well, it's primarily cricket. I mean, certainly compressed. It's just cricket which is happening very, very fast.

Here in New Delhi, police officers are guiding a crowd of 55,000 people into an overflowing stadium. It's a big game, with the Delhi Daredevils battling the Mumbai Indians to play in the finals.

The surprising popularity of this new style of cricket means there's plenty of money to be made. Corporate sponsors have invested a billion dollars to bring in high-powered lineups of international cricket stars and Sony paid a billion dollars for domestic broadcast rights.

Yogesh Shetty is CEO of a company that just shelled out $84 million for the Delhi Daredevils. He's got a financial model in mind: American sports.

Yogesh Shetty: I think that the Americans would love this. It's action packed. Within three hours, the game is over. I think that the commercialization has come from America, the marketing has come from America. It's more like baseball now.

Except baseball has never drawn these kind of numbers. Last year's World Series averaged 17 million television viewers per game. Over 140 million people watched the Delhi Daredevils beat the Mumbai Indians. The biggest surprise? Almost half the TV audience was female.

Rajashree Sen would never come to a 5-day test match, but for this game, she snuck out of work early.

Rajashree Sen: The games are shorter, so a lot of people can come in with their families, so they can bring their wives in and their girlfriends. I think the female audience will be more interested.

And all this -- the billions of dollars and millions of fans -- is just the beginning. Cricket-crazy countries like Australia, Pakistan and England are planning similar leagues of their own. Someday, the creators of the Premier League hope they might even convince Americans to pay attention.

In New Delhi, I'm Mehul Srivastava for Marketplace.

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