Photos by Gary Butterworth, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86
Church Street Park
5800 Cricket Pitch Way Morrisville, NC 27560
Year Opened: 2015 Capacity: 3,500
If You Come, They Will Build It
Fans following Major League Cricket’s social media accounts in the run-up to the inaugural tournament in July 2023 were treated to update after update on the reconfiguration of the league's primary stadium in Grand Prairie, Texas. Some, then, were surprised when MLC announced that its debut season would be co-hosted at Church Street Park near North Carolina’s Raleigh–Durham International Airport.
To close followers of American cricket, though, the logic was clear. In event after event, the Morrisville, NC, community has turned out to support cricketers at the local, Minor League, and international levels. Morrisville had earned its place to host some of the world’s top cricketers and their new professional T20 franchise teams. And Morrisville delivered by selling out all seven of the MLC matches hosted at Church Street Park.
That fan support, combined with high-quality cricket in an intimate setting, made for a first-rate experience at MLC's secondary venue.
Food & Beverage 3
The Morrisville venue falls short in terms of its food options. Church Street Park truly is a public park, and there are no permanent refreshment facilities. A handful of food trucks were present in the somewhat spartan Fan Zone that MLC established in the older of the venue’s two small parking areas.
However, many fans took advantage of the event’s generous entry policies to carry in their snacks and beverages (glass bottles and alcohol were prohibited from being brought in, though alcohol was offered to VIP ticket holders). At times, the line to refill water bottles at the two water fountains near the permanent restrooms was nearly as long as the line at the food trucks.
The cultural diversity of the cricketing world was on full display on the field and in the stands, but its culinary diversity was less represented. While there was no traditional food available from many traditional cricket-playing countries, the Curry in a Hurry Truck provided vegetarian and non-veg options for those who wanted a menu to match MLC’s Indian Premier League-backed teams.
The Oink and Moo BBQ truck has previously been spotted in Philadelphia, one of the ancestral homes of American cricket. Lemonade and snow cone trucks had standard offerings, while Bruster’s ice cream scooped out traditional American flavors as well as South Asian favorites like chikoo and paan.
Fans new to cricket – especially those coming from a baseball background – can find a wealth of information online about the sport. (Many cricket-for-baseball-fans explainers are poorly done, but good ones exist and don't worry; the nuances are deep, but the gameplay is far simpler than many believe. This is especially true of the 3.5-hour T20 format that MLC plays.)
One of the first nuances that new fans should be aware of is the importance of the pitch. Cultivating a high-quality 22-yard-long strip in the center of the field is something between a dark art and a science. Almost all cricket fields in the United States use some type of artificial pitch, which any cricketer will tell you is less than ideal. But Church Street Park offers a natural turf pitch.
Thanks largely to the turf pitch, Morrisville had hosted a few noteworthy cricket events before MLC's arrival, leading local officials to invest in additional facilities at the park, like permanent grandstands (albeit with backless aluminum bleachers). Major League Cricket supplemented that further by bringing in temporary infrastructure, including a video board, for its weeklong stay during its inaugural season.
Overall, the venue works – though not without some hiccups. The turf pitch – normally fairly good – did not play its best during the 2023 Major League Cricket season. Without proper clubhouse facilities, the players had to change into tents. The video board was too small to be useful to the majority of spectators. The floodlights were below what one would expect for such a high standard of cricket.
Still, few fans seemed to mind. Not only was every match in Morrisville sold out, but small groups of fans could be seen watching some matches through the chain link fence outside the venue (a vantage point with a surprisingly serviceable view).
Tickets were available in a tented VIP area, in general admission within grandstands, and general admission without grandstand access (for which fans could bring their chairs or stake out a spot on smaller bleachers). Each of these ticketing options offered good vantage points close to the action.
Outside of special event days, Church Street Park is indeed a public park for the 31-thousand residents of Morrisville and neighboring communities in North Carolina’s Research Triangle. The venue's most immediate neighbors are suburban townhomes.
The nearby cities of Raleigh and Durham, and the college town of Chapel Hill, offer plenty of activity, but Morrisville and its better-known neighbor, Cary, are mostly suburbia. There are no major amenities immediately surrounding the park – but that’s part of the charm.
Even before Major League Cricket came to town, Church Street Park had found a soft spot in many American cricket fans’ hearts largely because of the community vibe. Despite the big dollars –and big names– flowing through Major League Cricket, Church Street Park has managed to retain a community feel. As such, the suburban setting works.
Though not much of note is within a quick walk of Church Street Park, a handful of establishments are within walking distance of the off-site parking area.
The previously discussed pitch brought international cricket to Morrisville in 2018, but matches between the U.S. and Canada brought out the fans. With a substantial expat population from cricket-playing countries studying and working at the region's universities and research institutions, fans (many of them recreational players in the region's Triangle Cricket League) came out to watch the world's oldest international sports rivalry.
The high-quality venue and supply of local cricketers made Morrisville a natural fit for a team in Minor League Cricket's inaugural season in 2021 (the Morrisville Cardinals) and second season in 2022 (the Morrisville Raptors). But the fan support was largely behind the decision to award the venue the league's finals weekend both years. A crowd of more than 3,000 (according to USA Cricket) made the MiLC finals a true event.
Major League Cricket was an even bigger event with truly global appeal. Fans turned out in jerseys of national and franchise teams from around the world. Some wore a national dress: a group of men wore traditional shalwar kameez to cheer on Afghanistan star Rashid Khan. Punjabi bhangra music is played over the PA system.
TV commentators spoke with Australian and Caribbean accents, while American- and English-accented fans conversed under the flag of North Carolina. Fans traded stories of where they traveled from Texas, California, Maryland, Wisconsin, and New Jersey.
The Texas Super Kings, seemingly unaware of how divisive vuvuzelas were at the soccer World Cup in South Africa, distributed boxes of plastic whistles and encouraged fans to "whistle for Texas." A member of the San Francisco Unicorns' "Sparkle Army'' sang songs for his favorite players. US national team and Washington Freedom bowler Saurabh Natravalker received a standing ovation from an entire grandstand section after a spectacular bowling spell.
The three MLC teams backed by Indian Premier League juggernauts seemed to be fan favorites, though no small number of fans were actively cheering against the IPL offshoots. But everyone was cheering for American cricket.
One group of fans was presumably present but not visible or catered to new fans. Ice hockey teams in non-traditional U.S. markets often make a special effort to explain less-obvious rules like icing to fans who are still learning the sport. Major League Cricket made no noticeable attempt to do this in Morrisville.
Perhaps this was unnecessary, both since the series sold out and since the fluency with which even American-accented fans and the American-accented PA announcer discussed the game did not indicate any real confusion. But if cricket is to grow in the United States, additional outreach may be necessary.
For Major League Cricket and other big events, like Minor League Cricket finals weekend, there is no parking at Church Street Park. Instead, fans are directed to park at free off-site lots; shuttle buses provide a quick five-minute ride to the ground.
Somehow, perhaps because fans tend to stagger their arrivals, the system works quite well with manageable wait times both before and after matches – even with many fans dragging along coolers and lawn chairs. Ironically, Minor League Cricket has used luxury shuttle vans, while Major League Cricket relied mostly on yellow school buses to drop off fans in the venue’s newly built second parking lot. This area also includes a drop-off and rideshare pick-up area.
For smaller events, like regular season Minor League Cricket matches, fans may be able to snag a spot here. Regardless of the event, resist the temptation to park in one of the nearby residential developments, as vehicles can be towed.
Entry to the venue was smooth. Metal detectors were not in use, but personnel did manually check bags. Given the permissive rules for bringing outside food, beverages, and folding chairs, there wasn't much to turn away, so entry lines moved quickly.
Once inside, it’s relatively easy to move around even a sold-out Church Street Park. A paved walkway surrounds most of the playing oval. About a quarter of the perimeter is reserved for the teams, but fans are otherwise free to circulate.
Prime viewing areas along the walkway get snatched up by fans holding general admission tickets that do not provide access to the grandstand bleachers, but the walkways remain passable and should present little difficulty, even for those who need mobility assistance.
One potential challenge: shade. Outside of the $200 VIP tents, the only substantial shade available was under the picnic enclosure. Though enough space was available for fans to find refuge, finding a place to sit in this area was unlikely for those who did not arrive early.
Return on Investment 5
When Major League Cricket launched in earnest in 2021, cricket fans in nearly two dozen U.S. cities –including Morrisville– could watch high-quality cricket in person without getting on a plane, and they could do so for free. With the 2023 launch of MiLC's big brother, fans in two U.S. cities can enjoy an even higher level of cricket for a very fair price: Morrisville tickets started at just $12 for general admission to a weekday evening match. An unreserved seat for Saturday night in the new grandstand bleacher section was $32.20 after fees, though discounts were available early in the sale period.
The setting is intimate, high-quality giveaways are plentiful, and the quality of cricket is very high. Though India’s stars were notably absent, this is due to the policies of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and not the fault of Major League Cricket.
Stars from other test-playing countries and the US national team were out in numbers, and many signed generous amounts of autographs. Such access is only possible at smaller venues like Church Street Park.
In cricket, bonus runs are known as "extras." Bowlers avoid them; batters take 'em. For big events at Church Street Park, organizers provide plenty of extras for fans who line up for them.
The 2023 Major League Cricket season was easily Church Street Park's highest-profile event, but it wasn't its first time hosting a notable event. Due to the venue's high-quality playing surface and ability to draw spectators, Minor League Cricket hosted its semifinals and finals there in 2021 and 2022. For those events, a nicely decorated fan zone offered games, autograph booths, and kiosks that one tends to find at mid-sized sporting events.
For MLC, the fan zone wasn't as polished, but what it lacked in snazzy, it more than made up for in quality. Teams gave away such substantial quantities of high-quality swag that the merchandise tent did slow business. Flags and whistles were among the most prominent giveaways, but team t-shirts and caps weren't far behind, and a lucky more-than-a-few even snagged replica jerseys.
The accessibility of the players also stands out. Not only did players sign autographs and pose for selfies before and after games, but many even scribbled a few between overs. And the eagle-eyed fan could even spot the odd player anonymously enjoying an off day in the crowd.
Finally, comradery within the diverse crowd merits special mention. Virtually everyone in attendance shared a common interest in a sport that, while niche in the United States, seems intent on establishing a foothold. The eagerness for strangers to connect in the crowd was both noteworthy and special.
From international matches featuring Team USA through two seasons of Minor League Cricket and the inaugural season of Major League Cricket, Morrisville has established itself as the current spiritual home of American cricket.
For this, it can thank its playing surface and its ability to attract a friendly and diverse crowd to its intimate confines. America's cricketing history is deeper than many might think, and the sport is clearly in a growth phase. With the opening of the new stadium in Grand Prairie, Texas, and additional cricket-specific stadiums in Pearland, Texas, and Lauderhill, Florida, Morrisville has competition for big events.
Those other venues offer more in the way of amenities, and it would not be hard to imagine MLC outgrowing Church Street Park. But Morrisville offers a big heart and open arms. Those traits, coupled with sell-out crowds and a 2023 renovation should secure Church Street Park's continued role in the broader U.S. cricket ecosystem.