DALLAS: After three weeks of high-octane cricketing action spread over 19 games, a Nicholas Pooran blitzkrieg provided the final flourish to the American cricket extravaganza before Major League Cricket (MLC) called curtains on its inaugural season, comprising of single round-robin games and a playoff series among six franchise teams.
The 7,200 capacity Grand Prairie stadium on the outskirts of Dallas was packed to the rafters to witness the landmark final game between MI New York and Seattle Orcas, with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella as one of the lead investors. MLC was truly the flavour of the month in the Dallas Metroplex area as an extraordinary demand for tickets compelled MLC to sell standing-room only tickets on multiple occasions, including the final.
“This was always meant to be inaugural. Let’s just launch it properly. Don’t cut corners. Make sure the facilities are top notch, make sure the staff is well-equipped to deal with world-class players so we don’t compromise on salary cap stuff, and so on,” said Sameer Mehta, co-founder of MLC.
The league’s team purse at around $1.15 million for five league games makes MLC’s average wages per game the highest among all cricket leagues after the Indian Premier League (IPL).
“We want to play a full season next year with double round robin, sitting next to the World Cup. So, we want to look like a product that deserves to sit next to the World Cup. We want some breathing space and a lot of time to market properly.
“This year, obviously, the product was the most important thing, not the marketing around it. And fans came because the product is great. But next year, we’ll be trying to get more new fans in, creating some uniquely American angles, which allows them to stand out among a lot of other leagues that are out there.”
For Mehta and company, right from the time they bagged the rights to own and operate a flagship T20 league in America, the focus has always been to roll out the league as a fully American product. Like their counterparts in the Caribbean and Canada, they chose to stay away from the lure of hosting games on India prime time, which is mornings in America.
“There are a few uniquely American elements in other sports we want to learn and inculcate in our products. Those unique rhythms at baseball when a seventh inning happens, when the first inning happens, sort of chant that happens and the crowd gets in.
“There’s a flow to it. There’s a set of choreographed elements in American sport. Like what happens pre-game in an NFL game, the fans go out of the field and stand on the edge of the field during practice.”
Mehta further acknowledged the need to push for better cricketing infrastructure and stadiums in the rest of the franchise cities.
The way MLC struck gold with sell-out crowds in Morrisville and Dallas has galvanized their ongoing negotiating agreements with city councils in Los Angeles, Seattle, Washington DC and San Francisco.
“The folks from George Mason University around the DC area came out in force, and they thoroughly enjoyed it. They are definitely more motivated now than they were two weeks back on building cricket at George Mason. What they love is seeing the community excited by the sport. And seeing, you know, 7000 fans packet in week, day after day, is really what they were looking for, because they know they have the same similar demographics (South Asian) in their areas.
“The Bay Area is similar demographics, to Dallas, so does Bellevue and Redmond in King County in the greater Seattle area. And it was an intensely hyper-local effort. So, this is just for them a very significant data point that they can now look at and say we should do this.”
While MLC had been diligently working on shoring up the cricketing infrastructure and building professional ecosystems with a robust domestic calendar over the past couple of years, some arm twisting over contract negotiations with USA Cricket meant MLC was left with about a month’s time to announce schedules and tickets, which has a direct bearing on generating sponsor and broadcast interest.
Nevertheless, TOI under stands that ticket sales were double of MLC initial forecasts and revenue from sponsorships was well over a million dollars.
Considering the USA sports sponsorship market is one of the most sophisticated in the world, where budgets are locked out a year in advance, all things considered it is a major shot in the arm for the fledgling league.
“We will have strong sponsors and where I think we will eclipse most leagues outside the IPL. Again, after the IPL, we hope that our league will be, on a broadcast basis, in the next three to four to five years pretty much the most significant. It’s a three or four or five-year journey,” added Mehta.
While the success of a league has various indicators, one of the primary indicators is whether your star international players want to come back season after season. It is a silver lining for MLC that cricket voices like Keiron Pollard and Glenn Maxwell have already thrown their weight behind MLC ahead of incumbent T20 leagues like the Blast and the Hundred, that compete with the MLC for playing windows in a packed cricket calendar.