A $500m, 15,000-capacity cricket stadium could be coming to Texas

Plan includes an eye-popping eight arenas spread across the US designed for cricket

 A Cricket All-Stars Series match at Citi Field in New York. Photograph: Getty Images

A Cricket All-Stars Series match at Citi Field in New York. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The city of Allen, a northern suburb of Dallas, occupies a special place in the history of sports stadiums: it was the instigator of what once was dubbed a high school football stadium arms race. In 2012 it unveiled Eagle Stadium, the 18,000-seat, $60m home of the Allen High School Eagles. Not too many years later nearby McKinney opened a stadium for its own high schools worth $70m.

Lately, Allen once again has taken center stage in a curious stadium proposal, one that until recently formed part of an ambitious multibillion-dollar plan to spread cricket across the US.

The Allen proposal calls for a $500m, 15,000-capacity stadium, the anchor of a mixed-use complex that would also include training facilities, residential and retail units, and office space. For a game not exactly part of the sporting firmament in Texas’s sprawling Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, that’s an incredible potential investment.

The aim is to establish a footprint for the world’s second most popular sport in a country that, outside of a few communities, pays cricket little heed. In the grand vision, the stadium would eventually play host to a professional team competing in a US-wide Twenty20 league. It would also stage visiting international teams and exhibition matches as well as other sports and events, according to reports.

At first blush, Dallas is not exactly fertile country for cricket. Texas is Friday night lights country, Dallas located close to its beating heart. The city and its suburbs are home to franchises playing five major league sports: the big three of football, baseball and basketball, followed by hockey and soccer. It would take a mammoth effort to avert the gaze of Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers-loving north Texans.

The Allen Sports Village, the name for the new cricket complex, has generated a lot of buzz since the plan was unveiled at the end of last year. Not all of it has been positive. The stadium has incurred the wrath of local residents concerned about its impact on traffic levels and noise pollution. The future is uncertain after one of the developers pulled out, leaving the local partner and owner of the site, Thakkar Developers, to insist plans for the stadium project were still going ahead, perhaps with other investors.

Meanwhile, the Allen Sports Village’s national partner has talked big. The Philadelphia-based businessman Jignesh Pandya aims to help professionalise cricket in the US and has touted a nationwide plan, worth $2.4bn, to bring cricket to America. Crucially, Pandya’s plan includes an eye-popping eight arenas spread across the country specifically designed for cricket. But his plan has been floating around for at least a couple of years now with few signs of tangible results. Pandya could not be reached to discuss the status of his nationwide plan, while Thakkar Developers did not respond to questions about the status of the stadium in Allen.

Yet local reports have suggested a $25m economic incentive grant and tax incentives had been promised should the complex materialize. The City of Allen offered no such guarantee when asked by the Guardian newspaper what contributions would be offered by the public purse. “The concept plan is currently under staff technical review with the City of Allen. Projects must go through the planning and zoning process before it is determined what, if any, incentives would be given to a developer,” a statement from the city government said.

There are thriving amateur cricket leagues around America, mainly filled with immigrants from Commonwealth areas such as India, Australia, England and the West Indies

Pandya’s initial plan highlighted the eight stadium sites as Atlanta, Washington DC, Florida, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and California. Recent reports out of Atlanta suggest Pandya is leading an effort to purchase a mall site that would be turned into a similar 20,000-seat cricket stadium and mixed-use development.

The wider ambition of sprinkling cricket stadiums around key cities and states is undoubtedly a tall order, one that has drawn allusions to the struggles soccer confronted in the 1990s before Major League Soccer was launched. At first glance, even that might strike as slightly ambitious.

But the Allen initiative and the larger plan hatched by Pandya strikes on what some observers view as an important fundament to the sport’s growth: the growing, five million-strong south Asian community in the US.

Ipsita Dasgupta, president of Hotstar International, an Indian streaming platform delivering Indian Premier League cricket to thousands of south Asian households across the US, highlights illuminating viewing patterns for the ongoing T20 extravaganza that so captivates India. She declined to disclose specific Hotstar US viewing figures but offered outline streaming data that superficially marries up with some of the grand stadium plans. Unsurprisingly, California (19 per cent) and the Tri-state area (15-16 per cent) account for the largest shares. Illinois, Texas and Florida also drew large pockets, Dasgupta says. Dallas was by some distance the biggest market in the Lone Star state and the fourth largest in the US, she adds.

Dasgupta, who is Indian American, tackles the question of cricket’s limited reach in the US asymmetrically: “How does it break out of that cricket-first box – or how does it actually leverage the cricket-first box,” she says. “It’s clear that there are three sports that are prevalent in the US and a whole bunch more that kind of play a role well before cricket will. I still think that cricket will have to be led by the south Asian and West Indian community to drive real progress.”

Referring to investments such as the one proffered by Pandya, Dasgupta adds: “What you see is there is an affluent community that can move a sport in a country that there’s a lot of potential in because there’s such an affinity to sport in general.”

In the Dallas area, a burgeoning south Asian community is the sport’s captive audience and building block. But there’s skepticism.

Kuljit-Singh Nijjar, president of the Dallas Cricket League, sees a stadium as a potential catalyst for the game outside the kind of cricket-first communities that populate the grassroots leagues of the US – should ground ever be broken on the development. But he believes spreading cricket in the States is still a tough task. “Right now the growth is from mostly cricket-playing countries. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh. Aussies, Nepalis,” says Nijjar. “Local parents are not interested, nobody seems to be interested in the sport. I don’t see real growth in the US until we see something big happen. Like international teams traveling, stadiums.”

Parind Doctor, a Gujarati who came to the US to study and stayed for work, has played in the Dallas-area leagues and noted the struggle for recognition. He is ambivalent: “It is going to take a gutsy investor, that is a lot of money with a lot of questions being asked,” he says. “To begin with, if you see a cricket stadium with people playing the game might look more attractive to people like your soccer moms. In the local leagues we play in parks. I went to the opening day of the Texas Rangers baseball season with some of my American friends recently. They all said they would love to go see a cricket game in a stadium. So it would be good for cricket in the USA but right now I don’t know that the level of interest is there. You’re looking at seven to 10 years down the road with a stadium in place to see the impact, I think.”

In a January report in the Dallas Morning News detailing the concerns of the would-be stadium’s future neighbors, the Thakkar Developers chief executive Poorvesh Thakkar described the enthusiasm for cricket among south Asians. North Texans may understand such a notion given the fervor with which they embrace the Cowboys. It takes an extraordinary leap of faith to imagine cricket squeezing out a space in this claustrophobic sports environment.

Guardian services

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