Will MLC be able to ‘bowl’ over US fans?



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William Swann on Coliseum US 2022 Image: HKS

William Swann, who is from Melbourne, Australia, swears by the fan engagement strategy of US sports. Swann, who holds the role of Vice-President, Corporate Development, Major League Cricket (MLC), US, is full of beans that cricket is making its foray into the United States, chasing the American dream.

Swann heads Corporate Development and Infrastructure Projects for Major League Cricket (MLC), where he joined as the first employee in 2019. He is leading MLC’s first stadium project in Grand Prairie, Texas, from ground lease through to construction (due to be completed in Spring 2023).
 

Major League Cricket

The Major League Cricket (MLC) is an upcoming professional Twenty20 cricket league in the United States. Operated by American Cricket Enterprises (ACE) and sanctioned by USA Cricket, it plans to begin play on July 13th, 2023 with six teams in major US Cities under a single-entity model. The first season is set to take place over three weeks at the Grand Prairie Stadium in Grand Prairie, Texas, near Dallas (US), concluding on July 30th, 2023.

Major League Cricket’s inaugural season will feature 19 matches over 18 days among six teams based in the Dallas area, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Seattle, and New York City.
 

Transforming Cricket Landscape

Investment in Major League Cricket (MLC) will transform the cricket landscape in the United States and fund the construction of world-class cricket stadia and training centers nationwide.
 

Moolah Matters

The $120 million investment into MLC will primarily be dedicated to building premier cricket-specific stadia and training centers to develop a new generation of American star cricketers.

It is being backed by a number of prominent investors from both the United States and abroad, including Microsoft head honcho, Satya Nadella, and leading Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise, the Kolkata Knight Riders.

In an exclusive chat with ‘Coliseum’, William Swann, Vice-President, Corporate Development, Major League Cricket, US, tells that the biggest challenge before MLC is to make cricket an equally favorite sport like soccer in the United States and also reveals the challenges of turning a baseball venue into a cricket venue which is the case with the Dallas Stadium.
 

MLC Details

  • Major League Cricket is bringing the world’s second biggest sport to the world’s biggest sporting market;
  • MLC established in May 2019 via long term agreement with USA Cricket (governing body of cricket in the United States); and
  • $100M+ of committed investment from notable investors and sports franchises.

 

Grand Prairie Venue

The Grand Prairie venue, currently under major reconstruction totaling $20 million, was once the home of the minor league baseball team Texas Air Hogs, and is set to open in the Spring of 2023 with a capacity of 7,200. Construction has commenced, and the playing pitch was installed recently. The new cricket-specific stadium will feature 1,000 club and premium seats, with the ability to expand capacity to 15,000 for major events. Grand Prairie will likely be a featured venue in the upcoming ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in 2024, which will be staged in the United States and Caribbean.

The historic first Major League Cricket game will take place on July 13th, 2023 at the Grand Prairie Stadium in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex City of Grand Prairie, Texas.
 

Cricket History

Maintained William Swann, “Cricket is a sport that dates back 300 to 400 years and it started with the British and there is a rich history associated with it. There is a huge market for cricket.”
 

Cash Cow IPL

 

Indian Premier League (IPL)

The Indian Premier League, also known as TATA IPL for sponsorship reasons, is a men’s T20 franchise cricket league of India. It is annually contested by 10 teams based out of seven Indian Cities and three Indian States. The league was founded by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in 2007.

Noted Swann, “The IPL is the cash cow of cricket and helps to keep the cash registers jingling. The money earned through IPL can be used to develop different formats of the game. It is the main pillar in the world of cricket. The IPL rights top $6 billion and they have the second highest major rights deal in the world. There has also been a stratospheric rise in IPL’s digital rights deal.”

The British introduced cricket to their colonies, including in America, centuries ago. It remains one of the world’s most popular sports, but its lost ground in the United States to sports like football, basketball, baseball, and soccer.

MLC will pick up the gauntlet of recovering cricket’s lost ground in the United States.

Brimming with confidence, he added, “Cricket is the second biggest sport in the world. It is watched by billions and played by 300 million people. So, what we are doing in Major League Cricket is we are bringing it to the United States, the biggest sport market in the world, incredibly big. When I joined the MLC three years back, I realized that there is a significant market in the US for cricket.”
 

Challenges Galore

He continued, “Major League Cricket was formed after a long time hardship with the US Cricket and it is quite an innovate partnership and basically what we have done is we have consolidated all commercial rights in cricket in the US and that allowed us to attract key investments which is currently critical for us to launch and the most challenging work on hand is building the venues. The challenge for us is to build around six venues in the next eight years and give a leg-up to these Major League franchises. So, we will have to work smart on building these venues.”
 

Flagship Venue

“Our flagship venue is we took off from a Major League Baseball venue in Dallas and we are converting it to an international cricket venue.”
 

Project Background

  • Acquired a lease on a MLB baseball stadium, built in 2008 with a capacity of 5,000;
  • Need to convert to an international standard cricket stadium.

Swann informed that celebrated design firm HKS is designing “Our venue in Dallas. We have got this stadium in the City of Grand Prairie, 15 minutes from Dallas. The current capacity is 5,000.”
 

Challenges

  • Converting a baseball stadium into a cricket stadium;
  • Big challenges – design, flexibility and capacity;
  • Racing against time as US is holding the 2024 Cricket World Cup;
  • To be watched by 1.6 billion people;
  • To measure up to the standards of the swanky cricket facilities worldwide – the 100,024-capacity Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne, Australia, the 110,000-capacity Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, and the 60,000-capacity Optus Stadium in Burswood, Australia;
  • The biggest challenge lies in creating a World Cup venue where the infrastructure is permanent but there should also be the flexibility to put in temporary stand and temporary facilities;
  • Design decisions between existing baseball and cricket requirements;
    • Seating bowl alignment;
    • Field size;
    • Camera positioning;
    • BOH and gameday operation amenities; and
    • Cost escalations, supply chain lead times.

 
He maintained, “We had some challenges around the seating bowl as cricket is played on a circular field. Cricket has a much bigger field size than baseball so, obviously, we had to carry out demolition work, some expansion around it and tried to do it in the best manner possible. Moreover, due to the COVID onslaught, the prices of construction materials are escalating. We are now faced with the daunting task of lending a MCG look to this World Cup venue in Dallas and to create that immersive experience for cricket buffs.”
 

Solution and problem-Solving

  • Ranked the most important element of design and focused $ and time on solving these;
  • Engaged with venue operators outside of cricket – Minor League Baseball (MiLB), Major League Soccer (MLS), United Soccer League (USL) – to define our optimal gameday experience;
  • Creative solutions – just because it hasn’t been done, doesn’t mean it can’t be done;

 

Fans First

Swann narrated that they want to provide cricket fans an enchanting experience which NFL or MLB supporters enjoy in the US as “There was no two opinion in the United Kingdom and Australia that the United States sports venue operators’ fan engagement strategies are the best in the world. We talked to fans so that we can replicate that experience for spectators in MLC venues like plush seats, spoilt for choice food and beverages.”

He concluded with a note of optimism, “We have cherry-picked a lot of ideas from MLB, NBA and MiLB venues, not just the design part but also how we intend to operate the gameday experience which is what I think is absolutely our biggest advantage when it comes to launching cricket and differentiating ourselves from other cricket leagues in the UK and South Africa. I am sure we will be able to provide the most enchanting experience to fans, one that will surpass expectations of guests.”
 

Lessons Learned

  • Baseball stadiums are great value to convert to cricket stadiums – with the right criteria;
  • Cricket venues have a lot to learn from other US sporting venues from fan engagement to food and beverage (F&B) strategy;
  • More upfront engagement with operational experts and collaborations between consultants, architects, GC; and
  • Building new venues gives MLC a great opportunity to redefine the gameday experience for cricket fans globally.

 
Herculean efforts are being put in by William Swann and his team, and it is hoped that the all-guns-blazing Major League Cricket team in the United States will be able to bowl over fans and the game, per se, will be able to carve a niche for itself in a land where American football and baseball is like opium for the masses.

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