A sold-out crowd at a Grand Prairie stadium in Texas last week bore witness opening game in the latest T20 cricket league, Major League Cricket (MLC) which is taking place in the United States.
Meanwhile, the 200 mark has been crossed twice, the other part has been released for 50 and the temperature has crossed the barrier of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) in the middle of the heat that hit the US.
The MLC, which was launched in 2019 but is expected to be launched in 2023, started 16 years after the establishment of the T20 World Cup and 15 years after the Indian Premier League (IPL), which is now the world’s biggest T20 league.
As the MLC moves from Texas to North Carolina, MLC co-founder Sameer Mehta spoke to Al Jazeera about the league’s progress. he plans to stand in the crowdenter the richest sports market in the US and if cricket can win the hearts of America.
Al Jazeera: MLC is not the first T20 league and it will not be the last. How can you prepare to stand out in public?
Sameer Mehta: Since my time running Willow TV [an online subscription-based viewing service], we realized that the US is the most potential market for cricket. There is a strong audience here, mainly eight million from abroad. Now we are hungry from the best money in the world, we are building our stadiums, we will be playing in the summer when there is not much cricket going on and we have the second highest salary in the world behind few other leagues.
What we have is 400 million people in the US who will find this game at some point. They will really love this game. For every fan that we have, if we can get one fan that is known to love cricket, we will be the second or third largest market in the world. That’s the desire.
It’s not just running the T20 league, there are many around the world, but being there and many Americans following the game.
Al Jazeera: Most Americans have a lot at their fingertips with the NBA, NFL, MLB, MLS and golf, among others. How do you believe they will take cricket?
Mehta: It will take time. Indians and Pakistanis will be the first fans. It’s our first season. We just launched. We want to make sure we get that deal this year. Our real goal is that next year, when we have a full season, we want to sell more to the American sports fans and get them to love the game.
This is the world of franchise games. Every sports fan here is used to following three, four, five teams. Even in football, all the top teams are franchises. Cricket should be no different.
We don’t want to compete with them [MLB, NBA]. We want to have fun with them. Americans love sports. When they follow sports, they follow them very much. In this country, the way the economy, the money, the way the game is played, the way the media rights are managed, the way the players are treated, it’s just amazing. If we have a piece of it, I am very happy. I don’t have to compete in football or basketball. We have a beautiful bat-and-ball game and the T20 format is great for the US audience. The sky’s the limit out here.
Al Jazeera: T20 cricket has been around for a while. Why has it taken so long for the league to be established in this market?
Mehta: I feel like things are happening on time. Our view was that when T20 took off and took root, it matured into a global phenomenon.
We decided to start the league in 2017-18. It took some time to ensure that the ICC and others were on board. We no longer wanted to play in makeshift arenas. We said if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right. I don’t think it’s been that long, there’s no rush to it. The game has matured, it took T20 a decade to find its feet and now it is the most loved form of cricket in the world. T20 is where the world is moving to the US, it is the right game for the market.
Americans tend to team up where they live. The American game is local and that’s what you want to bring to cricket.
Al Jazeera: MLC is now seen as a catalyst to promote the sport in the US. How do you feel about this and what is the role of the governing body?
Mehta: As I said before, this world is one of the franchise games. If you want to come to the US, you have to play a franchise game, otherwise the game can go elsewhere. Here, the only way to do this is through private forums and private forums. The governing bodies should do what they are doing and try to do it with us… on the use of weapons and other nationalities. Franchises do things differently and are willing to invest and this is how the franchise game is so popular. The governing bodies are underfunded and that’s not how sports grow in the US. To be honest, both sides need each other.
In India, Pakistan and all these countries, the governing bodies have been around for a long time and they receive a lot of money. For a new country like the US, where will they get government support? It doesn’t happen. A private headquarters should do so.
Al Jazeera: What is next for MLC? What will it be like post season 1?
Mehta: We are moving very fast. Next year will be a full season. Right now, we are playing in two places. We hope to expand this to four next year which is also the year of the Cricket World Cup in the US. This will bring more interest to the game and the league. We hope to be able to share space with the organizers of the National Committee and vice versa.
The plan is for each team to have a permanent location by 2025 or 2026. We hope that by 2026, each team will be applying at home and abroad. You have to have local fans. When we become the top three or four economies in the world when it comes to cricket, the cricketers will follow… and the game will grow until five to seven years from now, we can be at the top.
These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.