Professional cricket is coming to Dallas-Fort Worth. A combination of demographics and opportunity means that the region will be home to one of six franchises that will make up Major League Cricket. MLC received approval from the city of Grand Prairie to redevelop the former AirHogs minor league baseball stadium to become the second major cricket stadium in the country after Ft. Lauderdale.
MLC will launch in 2022, and the redesigned complex will host games for the Dallas franchise and be the home of USA Cricket, the governing body of cricket in the United States. Cricket is the second most popular sport globally; USA Cricket says there are 200,000 regular players across the country, with more than 20 million fans and more than four million regular viewers.
According to the International Cricket Council, 1.6 billion people watched the 2019 Cricket World Cup. Popular in Oceania, South Asia, and the U.K., the sport continues to grow worldwide. North Texas is home to one of the country’s largest South Asian populations, with numerous leagues in parks around DFW. The new franchise hopes to take advantage of the energy around the sport to launch the franchise and build viewership around the country.
Willow TV, the pay-per-view provider of cricket in the United States, is also a league partner. The company has data about who is watching and paying for cricket in this country, and DFW was a top viewership region. “Based on the demographic research that we’ve done, there is a huge cricket, playing cricket watching cricket fan population within Texas, and specifically around the Dallas area,” says Paraag Marathe, chairman of USA Cricket.
The development will also serve as a training facility for the men’s and women’s national cricket teams. The men’s team is currently ranked 19th globally, and the women’s team will look to qualify for the cricket world cup for the first time next year. “The successful development of a cricket-dedicated stadium has long been a priority for us, and it is a significant stride forward for the growth of cricket in America,” said Marathe via release.” We also look forward to bringing international cricket events, and the crowds that go with them, to our new stadium, and to help introduce the sport to a broader audience.”
The stadium currently seats 5,445 and includes 13 luxury suites, and has room to accommodate cricket dimensions, which are more of an oval. The new site, which is being designed by local architecture firm HKS, will upgrade the hospitality features and expand the stadium to seat more than 8,000 spectators. Baseball Digest ranked the stadium as the Best New Ballpark is 2008, the minor league team’s inaugural season. The team folded this October.
The Dallas Morning News reported that Grand Prairie will contribute $1.3 million toward the project and $200,000 for maintenance. Major League Cricket plans to invest at least $10 million in the facility and two training fields. It sits near the Lone Star horse racing park and the Theater at Grand Prairie.
The organization has also launched a minor league to help build up a homegrown talent pool while recruiting players from other leagues. After the Indian Premier League, there is a bit of a drop off in the quality of clubs, and there could be an opportunity to offer a life in the U.S. playing cricket to stars from abroad. And unlike other sports, if a player has lived in a country for three years, they are eligible to play for that country’s national team, meaning that a U.S. league could significantly improve its standing on the international stage. The U.S. hopes to be a full member of the international cricket community by 2030, which would allow the men’s team to participate in future World Cups. Marathe says they are already in talks to host a future tournament potentially.
While there will most likely be teams in other major markets with large South Asian populations like San Francisco and New York, the opportunity in North Texas was the right place to launch the league and host USA Cricket. “Dallas has such a tremendous media market, in and of itself,” says Marathe, who is also the executive vice president of football operations for the San Francisco 49ers. “It’s obviously a passionate sports region, so it just made too much sense—especially with the demographics.”