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Feature

The T20 World Cup is coming to America... but is America aware?

Bad weather has marred the build-up in Dallas while ticketing issues threaten to cast an even longer shadow

Cameron Ponsonby
01-Jun-2024
The Grand Prairie Cricket Stadium in Dallas gets ready for the T20 World Cup, T20 World Cup 2024, Dallas, May 29, 2024

The Grand Prairie Cricket Stadium in Dallas gets ready for the T20 World Cup  •  Getty Images

Well, at least the officer at immigration knew the T20 World Cup 2024 was on.
The streets of Dallas are not awash with cricket fans giddy at the arrival of the big show. Uber drivers don't know it's happening, billboards are advertising FC Dallas vs LA Galaxy rather than Nepal vs Netherlands, and the opening match between USA and Canada is not a sellout. The stadium holds 7000 people.
As these things go, it walks straight into the zone of "what are we doing here?" Why is the premier cricket event of 2024 going to kick off in Dallas - in front of an as-yet-unknown number of people - rather than, well, somewhere else?
It's a good question. And looking out at the soaking outfield at Grand Prairie Stadium as yet another thunderstorm passes through, it doesn't immediately bring about a good answer.
A concerning set of circumstances is building ahead of launch day - that things outside of the organisers' control are not going to land their way, and neither are the things that were in their control. Flash-flood warnings and thunderstorms have been present throughout the week. A few days ago, the big screen fell down because the winds were so strong. Out the back where the media tents have been built, it's almost entirely mud.
You can't control that. If Saturday arrives and so does a thunderstorm, that's sad. But that's life.
The ticketing, however, has been a mess. As of two months ago, the opening fixture between USA and Canada did not have any public tickets available. One would assume that meant it had been sold out. Wrong.
Hopes of sellouts have given way to announcements that availability is "limited", before the reality was revealed in a USA Cricket press statement on Wednesday. In what was billed as an "exclusive ticketing offer", members of USA Cricket could now purchase up to six tickets to the must-see event of the year at a 25% discount. Get your hot cakes here. They'll give you 20 for free if you agree to go to USA vs Canada.
"Cricket cannot bemoan the concentration of finances within the 'Big Three' and worry about the health of the sport outside those countries while giggling at the notion of the USA giving the sport a go"
The ICC does not publish a running tally of tickets sold, but did say on Saturday it has "seen strong sales and expect a good crowd". Officials also said that it had always been the plan to hold back tickets until four days out for US cricket members to purchase at a discount.
There is reason to doubt this. The ODI World Cup in India last year ago faced similar problems of sparsely populated "sold out" stadiums early in the tournament. This is not new and how these events are marketed and tickets sold deserves scrutiny.
Furthermore, the release of more tickets for this World Cup sits at odds with previous statements that came from the ICC, including from tournament director Fawwaz Baksh, who told USA Today in February that the matches in America had been "oversubscribed".
"It's an unfortunate reality that not everyone who applied for tickets will get tickets," Baksh said at the time. "I wish everyone could get a ticket but that's just not possible."
The wriggle room the ICC gives itself here, and as Baksh himself said later in the same interview, is that more tickets could become available if sponsors return some of their tickets to the pool.
This is what the ICC has claimed is the case following an announcement on Saturday, which released additional tickets for seven matches that had previously been given the "sold out" treatment. All the matches were in America and for fixtures where "general admission allocations were previously exhausted". Oversubscribed, but now readily available all at once. If you wanted to attend the World Cup months ago, missed out on tickets, and now have plans next week so can't go, well, that's just tough luck.
It is mind-numbingly frustrating. Because at the heart of all this is a fundamental truth. That trying to grow the game in America is a good thing. The game cannot, on the one hand, bemoan the concentration of finances within the "Big Three" and worry about the health of the sport outside those countries and, on the other, giggle at the notion of a nation like the USA giving the sport a go.
If people turn on the TV and see empty seats, for many their reaction might well be "of course no one's there, people don't like cricket in America". Which is not true. There is genuine passion and interest in the game here. And especially in Dallas.
For cricket websites and broadcasters, the USA ranks high in terms of eyeballs because of the 4.5-million-strong South Asian diaspora that lives here. The difficulty US administrators face is turning that interest into bums on seats because of how diluted the fanbase is across the country: 4.5 million people is a lot, but not when you spread them over a nation the size of a continent.
That is a reasonable excuse for why you shouldn't expect the World Cup to have cut through to Joe Average of America, but it isn't if they fail to fill Grand Prairie for the opening game of an ICC tournament.
Every week, over 200 club matches are played in the Dallas area. That's over 2000 people who enjoy playing the sport who are within driving distance of the stadium. And if there are over 2000 people in the area who want to play the sport, there must be 7000 people who want to watch it.
And if they did, they'd come to a great stadium fit for the occasion of a tournament opener.
"It's an amazing facility," Canada captain Saad Bin Zafar said. "We played our first warm-up game here and it was top class. For all of our players, it's been our dream to represent Canada at the World Cup."
A spotless outfield, a proper pitch and a newly added outdoor training block out the back. The facility is unanimously popular with players. And if you're a fan you get good viewing points the entire way round, food and beverages readily available, easy access by car and heaps of parking. It's a great place to come and watch cricket.
But as the saying doesn't quite go, build it and they still might not come.

Cameron Ponsonby is a freelance cricket writer in London. @cameronponsonby