Cricket: like baseball, only even longer and slower and with some hockey gear and bowling terms. (Photo via WikiCommons)

Sports

Can Allen Really Support a Massive Cricket Stadium?

As plans move forward to expand the sport's popularity in the United States, success in North Texas could make or break the effort.

The next major professional sports stadium to be built in North Texas may house a sport few Dallasites have ever watched: cricket. Earlier this year, plans were announced for a cricket-specific stadium to be built in Allen, Texas, and today the Guardian takes a deep dive into the project, questioning its viability for North Texas and the sport’s potential to catch on in the United States.

Bullish cricket boosters cite a range of data that support the sport’s potential. There is a growing, ready made cricket-obsessed population in North Texas, as evidenced by the popularity of online streaming of professional cricket matches. When it comes to streaming numbers, California and the Tri-state area lead the pack, but Illinois, Texas, and Florida all post healthy numbers (little surprise to anyone who has attended FunAsia’s all-night simulcasts of cricket matches).

The article also mentions that Allen is ripe terrain for first-of-its-kind stadium projects, citing its role in kick-starting the so-called high school football stadium arms race. But getting the proposed $500 million “Allen Sports Village” out of the ground will likely need support from the city, both politically and  in the form of around $25 million in tax incentives. The planned complex will include a 15,000-capacity stadium, training facilities, residential and retail units, and office space.

That’s where the project has begun to run into some friction.

Allen residents have already voiced concern about the size of the deal and what it might mean for traffic and noise in the suburban community. There is also some skepticism surrounding how the numbers pencil out for the new stadium–and expanding cricket’s U.S. reach in general. One of the investors in the Allen project has already backed out, and the ownership group tells the Guardian they are still looking for additional investors in the project.

The Allen project is part of a larger $2.4 billion push to introduce a professional cricket league in the United States with similar stadiums in Atlanta, Washington DC, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and California. The expansion effort has been compared to the early history of Major League Soccer, though not everyone sees a one-to-one comparison between the sports. Kuljit-Singh Nijjar, president of the Dallas Cricket League, tells the Guardian that support for the support is still limited to the tightly-knit and growing ethnic communities that have deep connection to the sports:

[Nijiar] sees a stadium as a potential catalyst for the game outside the kind of cricket-first communities that populate the grassroots leagues of the US – should ground ever be broken on the development. But he believes spreading cricket in the States is still a tough task. “Right now the growth is from mostly cricket-playing countries. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh. Aussies, Nepalis,” says Nijjar. “Local parents are not interested, nobody seems to be interested in the sport. I don’t see real growth in the US until we see something big happen. Like international teams traveling, stadiums.”

Another local cricket players echos concern that the stadium investment represents a large investment in what may be a very long-term play:

Parind Doctor, a Gujarati who came to the US to study and stayed for work, has played in the Dallas-area leagues and noted the struggle for recognition. He is ambivalent: “It is going to take a gutsy investor, that is a lot of money with a lot of questions being asked,” he says. “To begin with, if you see a cricket stadium with people playing the game might look more attractive to people like your soccer moms. In the local leagues we play in parks. I went to the opening day of the Texas Rangers baseball season with some of my American friends recently. They all said they would love to go see a cricket game in a stadium. So it would be good for cricket in the USA but right now I don’t know that the level of interest is there. You’re looking at seven to 10 years down the road with a stadium in place to see the impact, I think.”

But then, we are discussing a sport whose matches can sometimes stretch on for days. If cricket fans have anything on their side, it’s patience.

 

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