AirHogs Stadium in Grand Prairie, Texas, will play host to a MLC team in 2022. (Courtesy City of Grand Prairie)
Firm converting former minor league ballpark for Major League Cricket
HKS, a sports architect with experience designing cricket pitches internationally, has been hired to retrofit a Texas minor league ballpark that will be part of the launch of Major League Cricket, a new six-team pro sports entity.
AirHogs Stadium, former home of an independent league team in Grand Prairie, Texas, is the league’s first facility, announced last week by Major League Cricket and USA Cricket, the sport’s governing body in America.
The baseball team folded in October. For cricket, the city of Grand Prairie is providing $1.3 million for the conversion as part of a 15-year lease it signed with MLC Dallas Stadium Co., the team and venue operator.
The redevelopment will take place in 2021 before the venue plays host to Major League Cricket’s Texas team in 2022. The ballpark, which sits next to the Theatre at Grand Prairie and horse racing facility Lone Star Park, will also be a training facility and performance center for USA Cricket national teams.
Dallas-based HKS, a developer of NFL and MLB stadiums, has designed cricket venues in India and worked with the old Delhi Daredevils, said Bryan Trubey, the firm’s global director, principal and executive vice president.
Two years ago, the team was rebranded as the Delhi Capitals. It’s a member of the Indian Premier League, which began play in 2008 to help attract a new audience to a sport that dates to the 16th century.
The league plays under the T20 format, in which matches last three hours compared with the traditional version that goes on for days at a time. Major League Cricket has adopted the same T20 format for its competition.
Over the past year, HKS has worked with American Cricket Enterprises, parent firm of Major League Cricket, to prepare for the launch.
Sameer Mehta and Vijay Srinivasan, the co-founders of ACE and MLC, also own Willow TV, an online streaming platform and the largest broadcaster of cricket in North America.
Globally, cricket is second to soccer in terms of global popularity, said Paraag Marathe, chairman of USA Cricket. Marathe is also president of 49ers Enterprises, part of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.
Cricket in the U.S. goes back to the 1700s, when it was played on Virginia plantations, according to the USA Cricket website. The first public report of a cricket match was in 1751 between teams from New York and London.
About 25 years later, George Washington’s troops played “wickets,” which are part of the sport’s equipment setup. At the college level, Dartmouth and Haverford College were among the first schools to compete in cricket.
Decades later, the Civil War effectively stunted the growth of cricket in the U.S., and as baseball emerged in the late 1800s to become the national pastime, the sport faded into obscurity in this country.
But in larger cities across the U.S., cricket has reemerged as a popular sport at the recreational level.
There are 150,000 active cricket players and 10 million to 20 million fans in the U.S., Marathe said. Across the country, there are more than 4 million regular viewers of cricket, USA Cricket research shows.
The 2019 World Cup T20 in England drew 25.3 million viewers across multiple platforms. In North America, viewership on Willow TV peaked at 1.5 million subscribers for the highest-rated World Cup match, officials said.
“That alone tells you the latent fan base is already there,” Marathe said. “We’re on to something here. Those were two teams outside of the U.S. Imagine the U.S. competing at the highest level. The opportunity is tremendous.”
Trubey has seen firsthand cricket’s strong traditions when he attended a match at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, site of last year’s World Cup. The Marylebone Cricket Club, which was founded in 1787 and stands as the world’s oldest cricket organization, owns the facility.
The venue itself opened in 1814 and serves England’s national teams. It can fit 30,000 fans.
Lord’s Ground is hallowed ground. It’s the “Fenway, Wrigley and old Tiger Stadium” of cricket, Trubey said.
Internationally, the sport is marketed as a “huge social event” connected to the overall fan experience across Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East, in addition to India and Europe, he said.
“It’s truly a global sport,” Trubey said. “The history aligns with the history of different parts of the world, even more than soccer. It brings together a lot of different cultures, and that’s one of the great things about America. We have more different cultural and ethnic groups than any place in the world. It’s one of the real positive stories.”
Trubey declined to say whether HKS would be involved in developing other Major League Cricket venues. In Grand Prairie, it’s responsible for retrofitting a 12-year-old park with 5,445 fixed seats into a venue with a capacity of 8,000 for cricket.
The cricket pitch is similar to baseball, but otherwise the dimensions are different, Trubey said.
More details on facility design are expected in the coming weeks, but there will be plenty of temporary seating surrounding the center of the pitch, where most of the action takes place, he said.
“It’s similar to the way soccer pitches evolved in Europe with (seating expansion),” Trubey said. “Cricket venues have unique personalities that have evolved over time and that’s one of the things we’re interested in emulating.”
Marathe said it doesn’t make sense to launch Major League Cricket in 50,000-seat venues. He said it’s better to grow the sports organically and thoughtfully in smaller venues with the flexibility to expand capacity in the future.
No announcements have been made on the five additional teams in Major League Cricket, but fans can expect franchises in New York/New Jersey and the Bay Area, Marathe said.
The business model is similar to other pro sports in the U.S, he said.
Ticket prices will average about $20, equal to some Major League Soccer teams and minor league baseball clubs. Major League Cricket teams will sell jersey sponsors and naming rights for venues.
“The plan is to make it family friendly to get people in the venues,” Marathe said.