Major League Cricket debuts at new-look Grand Prairie Stadium

Images: Major League Cricket

Years in the making, Major League Cricket (MLC) officially launched its inaugural season in Grand Prairie, Texas yesterday (Thursday) evening, with stakeholders confident it can be the competition that cracks the American market for the sport.

Grand Prairie Stadium witnessed the Texas Super Kings register a 69-run win over the Los Angeles Knight Riders, with a sell-out at the 7,200-capacity venue having been announced earlier this week.

The T20 league in November set July 13, 2023, as its launch date, while outlining further details concerning its broader venue development plans for the sport in the US. The 2023 season will feature 19 matches to be played over 18 days, building up to the first-ever MLC championship final on July 30.

Six teams from major metropolitan areas – representing Dallas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Seattle and New York City – each have multiple global stars on their rosters alongside the best talent based in the US.

Grand Prairie Stadium, in the works since November 2020 and located in the heart of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, is the competition’s primary venue for the 2023 season, with Church Street Park in Morrisville, North Carolina also set to host seven matches.

The former home of the Texas AirHogs American Association of Independent Professional Baseball team has been converted to a cricket-specific facility at a cost of $20m (£15.3m/€17.8m) with the addition of seats around the oval increasing permanent capacity to 7,200. The project required intensive, round-the-clock work to be completed in time, with the finishing touches still being applied yesterday.

The venue will have the ability to expand to a capacity of over 15,000 for major events. It is expected to host matches at the T20 World Cup in 2024, set to be co-hosted by the United States and the West Indies.

Commenting on the road to yesterday’s opening game, Sameer Mehta, co-founder of MLC, told ESPNcricinfo: “Growing cricket in America is not a piece of cake. We’ve got a unique set of challenges out here.

“We’ve got cities that are lukewarm interested. We’ve got audiences that are not used to cricket happening locally so they focus on cricket that happens elsewhere, even though they love the sport. We’ve got a wonderful sport that people are confused about. Is it five days, is it one day, is it T20? And then we have no facilities.

“So it’s taken us four years, and we’ve got somewhere. We’ve got one, I would say, pretty well-done facility in Grand Prairie. We’ve got a facility in Morrisville that the city was kind enough to build and that we are enhancing. We have four more in the pipeline. I feel very good with where we are right now. We are at the start of something. Four years back, it wasn’t the start. Four years back, we were building something. Now we are going to start executing.”

Yesterday’s announced sellout had included between 1,000 to 2,000 tickets given away for free to local MLC academy players and their families. While sales for the remaining seven fixtures in Texas before the shift to Morrisville are not said to be as robust, Mehta said: “Five of those days are going to be sold out. Three of those days are going to be at least half full, possibly sold out.

“Now that doesn’t mean that we won’t get some academy kids to come fill up some seats. But my view is, as far as the economics of the event go, we have crossed $2m in ticket sales. We are fine and the product will fine.”

Work on Grand Prairie Stadium was originally due to be complete last year, but saw delays that also resulted in the launch of MLC’s first season being postponed by more than a year.

Amid MLC’s wider venue plans, the league and its Washington D.C.-based investor Sanjay Govil reached an agreement to work with George Mason University at the tail end of 2022 to study the feasibility of a new multi-purpose cricket and baseball facility.