A professional cricket league playing matches in major U.S. cities is a dream that’s been years in the making for investors and fans of one of the world’s most followed sports.
That vision took shape on a chilly Tuesday morning in Grand Prairie with the ceremonial laying of a playing pitch at a former minor league baseball stadium being converted into the home of Dallas’ new Major League Cricket team. A group of 50 attendees gathered together on the field, mostly still dirt and rocks.
“Someone needs to go first,” said Justin Geale, the league’s tournament director, in reference to the stadium’s renovation.
Bringing professional cricket to Dallas-Fort Worth is an effort backed by two of the area’s most successful businessmen, Anurag Jain and his investing partner Ross Perot Jr. They bought into a $44 million funding round that will help the league build facilities across the country.
On July 13, the first Major League Cricket match will take place in Grand Prairie in a 7,200-seat stadium where the Texas AirHogs baseball team used to play. Nineteen matches later, the league’s championship game will be played July 30.
Jain said sports-rich D-FW, with five major league franchises and several minor league teams in various sports, was missing only professional cricket from its lineup. the sport’s arrival coincides with a post-pandemic desire for meaningful experiences, he added.
“We’re seeing that whether it’s travel or sports,” Jain said. “In general, sports will rise in terms of the amount of consumption of sports. So I’m not worried about cricket.”
Geale said the announcement of the season shows backers’ and organizers’ belief in the sport. Cricket boasts a global fan base estimated at 2.5 billion — second only to soccer’s 3.5 billion followers.
Six teams — Dallas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Seattle and New York City — will each stock their rosters with multiple global stars playing alongside U.S. cricketers. Team names and identities will be unveiled in early 2023.
Jain plans to be at as many Dallas cricket games as he can, cheering on his team. He said he will also try to visit other stadiums around the country.
“We’ve got a really unique opportunity here to bring the best players in the world out, and this is going to be the place to play in Dallas,” Geale said.
Grand Prairie’s proximity to DFW International Airport will be a “huge asset” in drawing international travelers, Jain said.
“The cricket fan base is dedicated to the sport, so I’m excited to see fans from all over the world travel to North Texas to watch,” Jain said. “The games will be televised from our stadium internationally. … I am confident having a venue to watch cricket locally will help the sport grow in popularity here, and I am looking forward to watching a new fan base rise within Texas.”
North Texas already has a large cricket community, Jain said, with recreational leagues in cities such as Plano and Irving.
The sport is especially popular in South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Over 220,000 Indian-Americans live in Dallas-Fort Worth, according to a study by the Indian American CEO Council and the Institute for Urban Policy Research at the University of Texas at Dallas.
“We start off by tapping into the population that exists, but over a period of time, we want the sport to be more ubiquitous,” Jain said.
Grand Prairie Stadium is being converted to a cricket-specific facility at a cost of $20 million, with additional seats. The venue will feature 1,000 club and premium seats and have the ability to expand to a capacity of over 15,000 for major events. Dallas-based HKS, known for designing iconic sports venues like SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles and AT&T Stadium in Arlington, is the project architect.
In addition to Major League Cricket play, the stadium is expected to host matches at the International Cricket Council Men’s T20 World Cup in 2024.
Joining Jain and Perot Jr. as investors in the league’s launch are Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Madrona Venture Group managing director Soma Somasegar and Milliways Ventures and Rocketship VC founding partners Anand Rajaraman and Venky Harinarayan.
Jain said he thinks Texas is a perfect launching ground for the nascent league.
“We are proud Texans,” Jain said. “We also think this is a progressive state. It is very business-friendly and we’ve shown very quickly that we can build infrastructure and deliver to the MLC more than any other city in the country. That’s just how we work in Texas.”
Jain said he gets at least one phone call a day and more than one email a day from investors interested in cricket.
The league said it has commitments to raise an additional $76 million in the next year, giving it $120 million to launch. The money will be used primarily to build stadiums and training facilities for cricket players.