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This year's Super Bowl battle between Pittsburgh and Green Bay set a new record in terms of domestic viewership -- 111 million to be exact. Tomorrow, a semifinal matchup in the relatively unknown World Cup of Cricket will put that record-breaking number to absolute shame.
Ladies and gentlemen, it may be NCAA tournament time in the U.S., but the match to watch right now is between two talented national teams from two rival nuclear powers -- India and Pakistan. This is an event of such large athletic, commercial, and even geopolitical significance that Fools everywhere should take notice.
Just a drop in the bucket
To offer some perspective, the expected tune-in tomorrow (on the Indian subcontinent alone) is expected to be well over 600 million. That stands in comparison to the roughly 700 million that purportedly watched the final of the World Cup last summer. Across the globe, it wouldn't be far-fetched at all to imagine some 15%-20% of the Earth's total population tuning in.
Why should Americans take notice? Perhaps it's because cricket is rumored to be the most heavily wagered upon sport in the world. Perhaps it's because cricket is the world's second most popular sport and is the only sport of significance in the soon-to-be-most-populated country in the world. Or perhaps it's because there is a massive amount of spending going into this event on part of large, multinational corporations.
These companies include Nike (NYSE: NKE ) , PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP ) , Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) , New York Life, Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) , Philips (NYSE: PHG ) , Walt Disney's (NYSE: DIS ) ESPN, Sony (NYSE: SNE ) and many more. These Western companies are throwing an incredible amount of money and resources toward an advertising blitz that will reach well beyond India into many corners of the former British Empire in places such as Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, the Caribbean, and Australia.
Something to consider
In my estimation, more than 20% of all television ads in India in recent days have been dedicated to the sport. No American sporting event has ever commanded that much attention on either a relative or absolute basis -- with the possible exception of the Russia/USA hockey match in 1980.
This is an advertising bonanza that constitutes a very important commercial event, but more so because it specifically targets the world's greatest source of future economic growth: the emerging market consumer.
An epic battle
Much of the drama surrounding the match is owed to the fact that both teams are really good and that both India and Pakistan are consummate rivals who regularly find themselves on the brink of war. These countries and their citizens tend to hate one another, and having their cricket teams duke it out on a grassy pitch is perhaps the most civilized way for two nuclear-armed countries to let off some steam. Naturally, this scenario has also helped spur an entire region of about 1.5 billion people to coalesce around their respective teams in a genuinely endearing way .
Bring on the chaos
Mumbai, the fifth largest city in the world and my home for the time being, is likely to shut down tomorrow. Let's not mention the fact that the match itself is actually hosted several hundred miles away. The entire country is widely expected to be off work and glued to the television.
Regardless of the outcome, most folks here are expecting chaos to hit the streets immediately following the match. Yes, it will be like a Detroit Red Wings Stanley Cup victory multiplied by about a gazillion.
The Foolish bottom line
The last time I was in a city that won anything of note, I was in D.C. when the Redskins won the '92 Super Bowl. As far as I could tell, the city and its citizens barely blinked. Tomorrow, I expect to see something big.
I encourage Fools to take note of this fairly incredible event -- both athletically and commercially. Regardless of how you might feel about cricket (if anything at all), tomorrow is a very big deal. Stay tuned.