Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Washington’s status as a popular locale for fledgling start-up pro leagues continues with the creation of American Pro Cricket.

The eight-team league, playing a modified, shortened version of a sport wildly popular in England, India, Australia, South Africa and Pakistan, will have an entry called the D.C. Forward playing at Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie. League play starts July2 and ends two months later with a championship game in New Jersey.

Teams also are located in New York, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, Houston, Los Angeles and Bridgewater, N.J.

American Pro Cricket follows a long line of start-ups that have used greater Washington as a key launching pad. Nearly all of the local franchises — including the Washington Freedom of the Women’s United Soccer Association, the Chesapeake Icebreakers of the East Coast Hockey League, the Maryland Mustangs of the U.S. Basketball League and the Washington Justice of the National Rookie League — soon relocated or folded amid sparse crowds and heavy fiscal losses.

The cricket league also faces a decidedly uphill climb. Despite an American participation base of more than 100,000 recreational players, the basic rules of the stick-and-ball sport remain a puzzle to many sports fans.

“We absolutely want to be part of the American sporting mainstream,” league commissioner Kal Patel said. “The fulcrum of our business plan is to be part of the mainstream. Without that, we cannot declare success.”

Projected attendance for the first season is between 3,000 and 5,000 a game. Tickets will cost $6.95 each, and the league will be structured similar to the single-entity model used in Major League Soccer. In fact, American Pro Cricket also resembles MLS’ infancy in that one investor, businessman Kamal Verma, holds the operating rights to all eight franchises. The cricket league intends to announce a national distribution deal shortly to air its games on satellite TV.

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