Peak wedding season left us scrambling to accommodate 120 players: LLC CEO on struggles of hosting in tier-II cities
Raman Raheja also opened up on the possibility of Dhoni's participation in Legends League Cricket before naming few other players who have been on his radar.
With power comes responsibility. And Legends League Cricket (LLC) CEO Raman Raheja seems have taken up the duty of reviving the spirit of cricket in cities that have barely witnessed international action for the longest time with his team of legendary cricketers. The inaugural edition of the franchise version of LLC was hosted across six venues, four of those were in second-tier cities. However, barring Jodhpur's Barkatullah Khan Stadium, the remaining three haven't been devoid of witnessing the game at the biggest stage. Raheja admitted that the response wasn't big enough, yet, instead of falling back to his Plan A, the 50-year-old stuck to his idea for the second season, which witnessed no big venues for LLC.
Barring Ranchi, which has its own share of cricket enthusiasts, courtesy of it being the land of MS Dhoni, and Visakhapatnam, which hosted a T20I game between India and Australia only last week, the likes of Dehradun, Jammu and Surat have barely been graced by international stars. Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium of Dehradun, which staged the second leg of 2023 LLC, and Surat's Lalbhai Contractor Stadium, which is due to host the knockout stage of the event, have not hosted an international game since 2019, while for Jammu's Maulana Azad Stadium, it's been 38 years.
"Last year, we had tried these formulae. We started with Kolkata, then Delhi, Lucknow. The moment we went to Cuttack and Jodhpur and Jaipur the audience rarely came into the stadium. So we felt that is something we must do. Audience tend to respond better in venues that witnesses less international cricket. Biggers cities always have international matches. So getting all of these players together in a city which is smaller has not seen any international cricket at all is the idea behind selecting tier-II venues," Raheja said in response to a query from Hindustan Times on the sidelines of the ongoing LLC.
"The response has been very good and not just on the ground. It's also about a lot of other engagements on social media. You start to measure that on viewership, and the BARC data revealed that viewership was more from smaller towns and rural India. These things are also mapped," he added.
The responsibility of taking the league to these cities comes with its own set of challenges and Raheja revealed that looking for hotels for the 120 players, their support staff and his own LLC team was a task, especially amid the peak wedding season, when most premium hotels in Dehradun had been booked by soon-to-be married couples.
"We are not just building a product here, we are building a category. There was nothing called legends league and whatever there was, wasn't serious cricket, it was pure entertainment. In golf, we have the Masters. No other sports has that. We want to be the pioneers in cricket. Look at the level of cricket in this tournament, so many games have stretched till the last over. So we have to keep raising that bar, so that the players who are on the verge of retirement see LLC as a second inning," he said.
"In Jammu, a whole set of curators and groundsmen had arrived over a month before we had the leg to have the ground ready to provide a match of international standards. The most important thing - hotels. For 120 players and their support staff plus all paraphernalia and my broadcast team, there were no hotel rooms. I had a problem in Ranchi, then in Dehradun. In smaller towns there are no hotels. Plus, this is the wedding season, which left us struggling to find accommodation, he laughed.
Next up: Dhoni, De Villiers, Pollard...
Over a week back, a certain picture of Raheja became the talk of the town on the internet, when LLC 2023 was hosting its final match of the Ranchi leg. The Symbiosis graduate was seen in a conversation with Dhoni. He later shared pictures from that moment and posted on X: “Good start is half the battle won. We @llct20 came to Ranchi on a mission. Not just won hearts of thousands of fans but met the “Legend” in his town. Just Honoured!! It’s time to scale up and move ahead. #LegendsLeagueCricket #msdhoni.”
Raheja, earlier in March, had told Hindustan Times that he yearns to see the former India captain as part of the Legends League. However, he remained tightlipped over his recent meeting with Dhoni in Ranchi, a query on the possibility of the 42-year-old being part of the league lightened up Raheja, who went on to reveal the names of a few other players who have been on his radar as well.
"This is just the beginning. And for such battles, you need a good start. Let him retire first. As a fan, I don't want him to retire at all. But the moment he realises that he is done with IPL as well, our doors are always open because he is still very fit, even after the knee surgery he had," he said. "I am also expecting AB de Villiers next season. We have already had a discussion with him. The likes of Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo are also on my radar."
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