MLC’s organizers are dreaming bigger after a supercharged season one.

MLC's organizers are dreaming bigger after a supercharged season one.

What are the home and away games? A stadium with 34,000 seats in New York? Why not if the league can capitalize on its current momentum?

MLC's organizers are dreaming bigger after a supercharged season one.
A young fan holds up the Seattle Orcas flag.

According to MLC tournament director Justin Geale,

When the USA’s first home ODI in September 2019 drew only 19 people, and that was for games staged in the country’s only ICC-accredited venue at the time, in Florida, the bar for what constitutes success when it comes to getting fans to turn out for a domestic cricket event in the USA couldn’t have been set lower. On that basis, the only way to go was up.

That’s why the events of the recent three weeks, in which the maiden season of the Major League Cricket T20 franchise tournament was played before sold-out crowds in North Carolina and Texas, were so shocking. Many people, including the organizers, predicted that it would take several seasons to establish traction in terms of fan attendance and player buy-in, yet season one was more supercharged than a case of Red Bull.

“My thought was we’ll start slow, get some fans in, entertain them, put out a good product, and then we’ll build upon it year after year,” MLC co-founder Sameer Mehta told ESPNcricinfo following the tournament final in Texas. “I feel like we’ve skipped a couple of years in our journey now, and we can start doing things now that we’d be doing in two years.”

According to MLC tournament director Justin Geale, league officials expected the opening night and the final to be sold out, but they had no expectations for the seven match days in Grand Prairie, Texas. What happened exceeded his cautiously optimistic expectations. Grand Prairie Stadium played to more than 80% capacity on average across the nine match days staged at the 7,200-capacity venue, while the six-day slate of fixtures at Morrisville, North Carolina’s 3,000-capacity Church Street Park, all sold out. More than 70,000 people poured through the gates to watch season one of MLC, producing $2.8 million in ticket sales revenue, a record number for any match on US soil other than India’s regular travels to Lauderhill to play T20Is against the West Indies.

MLC's organizers are dreaming bigger after a supercharged season one.
The Texas Super Kings were by far the best-supported franchise in year one, with all their home games selling out.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of all of this is that these numbers were achieved despite low attendance for the three afternoon games held as part of scheduled double-headers at Grand Prairie Stadium, which were crammed into the calendar despite oppressive daytime heat (temperatures regularly hovered over 110 degrees Fahrenheit (mid-40s Celsius)) in order to squeeze the tournament into a tight window following the end of the World Cup Qualifier in June. Addressing this is a top objective for season two.

MLC officials have proposed two solutions: moving the afternoon match back to an early morning start on days when two matches must be played, or scheduling double-headers in different cities on the same day, one in the east coast time zone in the late afternoon or early evening before returning to Texas for a 7:30 or 8 pm start. The fact that a split-venue double-header is even possible despite the increased broadcast production expenses—one source estimated it at a minimum of $350,000—demonstrates how pumped up the plans for season two are just days after season one ends.

MLC executives aren’t holding back on their big-picture objectives now that they’ve proven they can sell out a 7,200-seat theater multiple times in a week. Among them is an aim to “piggyback” on the ICC’s planned proposal last week for a 34,000-seat pop-up venue in New York City at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. If that proposal is approved by NYC officials as one of three venues in the United States to co-host the 2024 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, Mehta says he is already in talks to make it the home venue for reigning champions MI New York in MLC season two next July, immediately following the T20 World Cup final on June 30. “That would be very desirable for us, and we have indicated as much to the ICC,” Mehta added. “We’d love to work with them on not only venues but also marketing and other aspects.” If 2024 is going to be a watershed year for both the MLC and the ICC, it will be a longer season, a much more impactful season, and a season where we will have some time and space to properly sell and showcase the product.

MLC's organizers are dreaming bigger after a supercharged season one.
The crowds that poured in to watch season one far exceeded MLC Tournament Director Justin Geale’s (middle) pre-tournament expectations. •

In year one, the Texas Super Kings were by far the most well-supported franchise, with all of their home games selling out. However, the sold-out final, in which an additional 800 standing-room-only tickets were put on sale 48 hours before play began to accommodate a late surge in demand from MI New York fans, highlighted the league’s top priority for the next few years, according to Mehta. Long-term stadium infrastructure plans are now critical in the short term if the league is to not just maintain but also grow on this year’s success.

“We need home and away venues,” Mehta added, referring to the season’s lowest-attendance match, which took place in Grand Prairie at the end of the first week of matches in Texas and drew around 2,500 fans. “I believe all of the team owners saw it. It’s one thing to show it in a presentation and raise money. It’s another thing for team owners to witness firsthand what occurs when they have a home venue, because all American franchise sports are based around home venues and the home-and-away concept.

“So they’re far more enthusiastic now that they’ve seen it firsthand about building home venues quickly.” So that has been the most significant advantage of this season. The Texas Super Kings’ reception was, simply, something that all of the owners had to witness for themselves in order to comprehend that they now needed to put their plans into action very soon.”

Other teething problems that the league had to deal with on the fly during season one But, for the most part, they were excellent difficulties to have—and certainly not the kind that US cricket administrators expected to face, such as fans waiting too long in lineups to get past the entrance gates. Other fan experience additions were added throughout the season, such as a T-shirt-launching cannon that shot freebies into the crowd during breaks in play or free handouts to those entering the stadium.

Money, however, cannot buy the fervor displayed by the fans. Think again if you believed MLC would be a one-and-done afterthought.



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