HKS has partnered with Major League Cricket to build venues — and the future — for the sport

If Want Swann drove 20 minutes in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, he would have passed at least 10 cricket grounds. This is far from the case in the United States, where there is only one International Cricket Council-approved cricket stadium, in Miami.

Swann, vice president of corporate development and infrastructure for Major league cricket, is trying to change that reality and expand the game in the US, the largest untapped cricket market in the world. The first MLC competition will be held this July at a venue outside Dallas, but for the game to develop beyond 2023 — especially ahead of the host nation’s matches during the 2024 Cricket World Cup T20 — more top-level venues will be needed level. To this end, MLC and its parent company, American Cricket Enterprisesarchitectural office road HKS on a three-year contract as they look to build a portfolio of venues that fit two conflicting realities.

“We have to balance efficiency with our capital because the league is in its infancy,” Swann said, “but we’re playing Major League Cricket, we’re going to have top players here, it’s going to be a top T20 product. So we have to ensure that the facilities we build are also of the highest standard.”

Sergio Chavez and Greg Whittemore are the holders of the cricket project for HKS. They checked about 30 possibilities, from empty fields to existing stadiums ready for conversion. Whittemore compared the experience to working with the Hunt family in the early 2000s, when Major League Soccer was trying to expand soccer through sport-specific stadiums.

“It’s really exciting for [cricket,] a sport that is the No. 2 in popularity in the world, but has never had a chance to take off in the United States,” Whittemore said.

A Texas minor league baseball stadium is being renovated to host six MLC teams in the league’s first season.Courtesy of Major League Cricket

MLC’s strategy centers on partnerships with municipalities or universities, mixed with its own equity investment — the league raised $44 million in a Series A funding round earlier this year — plus outside investment from cricket supporters in the US and abroad.

The Grand Prairie, Texas, deal is emblematic of what MLC will likely try to do in other locations; the city leased the former minor league baseball stadium to MLC and contributed $1.5 million to the renovation project. MLC invested approximately $19 million in renovations, preserving approximately 90% of the existing infrastructure. The 15-year-old stadium will host all six MLC teams in 2023.

After 2023, more stadiums are being worked on, and not only for MLC clubs. Six markets – Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, DC – will eventually have their own home courts. MLC also invests in two other venues: Smart Choice Moosa Stadium in Pearland, Texas, a 2,500-seat facility that has hosted college and international cricket matches since 2015 and is owned Smart choice and its cricket-loving CEO Sakhi Muhammad; and the Prairie View Cricket Complex, outside Houston, a 4-year-old venue that MLC will receive a low seven-figure investment to renovate before the 2024 World Cup.

Some of the facilities are popping up in cricket hotbeds, like Morrisville, NC, not far from Raleigh. The city’s public park cricket pitch grew organically out of the large local Asian community, with MLC providing funding to develop the infrastructure around the pitch.

And MLC is working with HKS on a feasibility study with George Mason University looking at a potential joint facility for baseball and cricket. Baseball and cricket seasons do not overlap, and neither do the shapes of the playing fields. The cricket playing surface is the largest in team sports, usually around 450 feet in diameter. Cricket and baseball action face the same direction, a north-south orientation, although a cricket field would require a 22-yard rectangular section called the outfield, where most of the bowling and batting action takes place, located immediately behind what on a baseball field, it would be second base, in shallow center field.

If the project gets the green light, the goal is to have George Mason Hall built by the summer of 2025. Regardless of the outcome, the effort is a testament to the creativity and flexibility the league and HKS are using in their quest to create a premier cricket ground.

“The typical response from an American is, ‘Cricket? Really?’ until you start widening your aperture and realize that this is the second most popular sport in the world behind soccer,” he said Paul Allvin, GMU Vice President and Chief Brand Officer. His university sees the project as an opportunity to better connect with current and potential students from the world of cricket, particularly from South Asia.

Chavez both Whittemore and HKS built their reputations primarily through baseball (Earth’s field of life) and football (AT&T Stadium, SoFi Stadium) places. Cricket is a new challenge for the pair, with most of the action 200 feet from the spectators in the middle of the giant oval, as well as two large screens located at each end of the action that serve the same purpose as the batter’s eye in baseball, but eliminate potentially great seats for fans.

HKS has large offices in England and India and designers with whom it has collaborated Cox architecture on Optus Stadium, one of the largest in Australia. But the American venue the company is helping to create is unlikely to resemble the vast stadiums in Australia, England or India built for Test cricket. That’s partly because fan demand in the U.S. isn’t as strong — Grand Prairie’s capacity will be barely 8,000, though it can add seats of up to 15,000. It’s also because MLC plays T20 cricket, a condensed version of the sport that’s about 20 years old and has brought fans to the fore more than traditional Test cricket, where matches can last up to five days. T20 leagues around the world, including the hugely popular Indian Premier League, have tapped into US sports industry standards, such as introducing pyrotechnic starting lineups, and venues built in the US are almost certain to reflect a fan-centric approach.

“What is cricket in the USA?” – asked Chavez rhetorically. “Because here we have the opportunity to create something new.”

Bret McCormick can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Bretjust1T.

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