With T20 leagues worldwide dotting cricket’s calendar, leading to a tipping point and heated discussions on the all-powerful ICC board, Major League Cricket officials know it will need to stand out amid the congestion.
“We want to be competitive and on par with what the standard is for new leagues,” MLC co-founder Vijay Srinivasan told me. “Our goal is to bring the best players to the USA. We need to be competitive with the benchmark outside of the Indian Premier League.”
To rival other nascent T20 leagues, including in the UAE
Salary caps – along with rosters and franchise names – are expected to be announced early next year for the six-team tournament to run on July 13-30, 2023. Srinivasan wouldn’t reveal how much top players could be remunerated, but it’s expected to be significant.
MLC has secured more than $40 million in funding and over $100 million in “handshakes” with private investors including tech giants Microsoft
Secondly, perhaps most importantly, the glitzy and glamorous locale of the U.S. – the world’s biggest sports market and home to many famous athletes and teams – will become something of an irresistible magnet.
“We’ve been engaged with a number of key players who are available in the window,” Srinivasan said. “This is a destination that is seen as top tier for pro sport. The degree in interest we’ve seen make us feel confident that we will have a strong group of players.”
July is also a relatively quiet part of the calendar in the competitive American sports market. It’s led to entrepreneurs thinking outside the box in a bid to carve out a niche during the quieter period between when the NBA ends in June and the start of the NFL season in September.
“Summer’s boring as sh**,’ said iconic rapper-actor turned businessman Ice Cube, who prefers not to waste words, at the Big3’s introductory press conference in January 2017.
“We need something that we can really get behind in the summer and the Big3 is just what the doctor ordered,” he said of his three-on-three basketball league which has built a following in the years since.
Cricket, while not quite boasting a front man like Ice Cube, has enough of a core following in the U.S. through South Asian expats, while the faster and furious three-hour game of T20 is hoped to appeal to a new fan base.
“There are few American sports active in this period. There is an appetite for a new sport,” Srinivasan said. “Our goal is for games to have a family-friendly atmosphere. We can convert non-cricket fans by having some of the best players coming to the U.S.”
It’s not just about merely developing a top T20 league although the MLC will obviously be at the heart of propelling the sport into the mainstream consciousness. Infrastructure – with unique dimensions and characteristics for cricket needed – is being developed in key locations across the U.S. and strategically placed in proximity to colleges in a bid to further build a connection within those communities.
Dallas has been earmarked as the hub of cricket in the U.S. with the newly constructed Grand Prairie Stadium, located in the heart of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex with a crowd capacity of 7500, to be the competition’s primary venue for the first edition.
The grounds across the country will likely be used for the 2024 T20 World Cup, which the U.S. will co-host, while it’s hoped to attract other major cricket events. There is the tantalizing dream of a match between India and Pakistan, whose rivalry peaked during an epic T20 World Cup clash last month at the MCG in front of 90,000 fans, one day being staged in the U.S. in what would surely do wonders for the sport.
“We would love for our venues to be available to stage those matches.. not just India-Pakistan…we want teams to have a massive appetite to come here,” Srinivasan said.
“We need venues to be ready. We want MLC to demonstrate that USA is capable of hosting big cricket events.”
After such anticipation with MLC announced over three years ago before being postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, expectation is building for what will be a defining moment in a coveted destination that is cricket’s No.1 target market.
“We want the MLC to stand alongside other top T20 leagues in the world,” Srinivasan said. “There is an immense amount of excitement. We are trying to pull off something that hasn’t been done before.”