'Would love to have Dhoni play in LLC. 5 years later we could also have Kohli vs Rohit': CEO Raman Raheja's big plans

ByAratrick Mondal, Doha
Mar 11, 2023 05:08 AM IST

Speaking in an exclusive interaction with Hindustan Times Digital, LLC co-founder and CEO, Raman Raheja talks about what makes this league a standout from similar ideas of the past, it competing with other established top leagues in the world and the big MS Dhoni plan for the future.

The third edition of the Legends League Cricket (LLC) is all set to kick off in Qatar from March 10 onwards. After two successful editions, in Oman and India, the second-most followed cricket league in the world after the Indian Premier League (IPL), has once again assembled one of the biggest players of the sport for new season slated to held at the Asia Town Cricket Stadium in Doha with co-founder and CEO, Raman Raheja promising a notch higher level of enthralling action.

Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, MS Dhoni
Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, MS Dhoni

Speaking in an exclusive interaction with Hindustan Times Digital, Raman Raheja talks about what makes this league a standout from similar ideas of the past, it competing with other established top leagues in the world and the big MS Dhoni plan for the future. Here are excerpts…

Q) If you could briefly talk about the concept of the league? What makes it a standout from similar formats in the past or from another (Road Safety World Series) still in play?

Cricket is a religion in our country with a billion fans following from India alone. It is often the situation that senior cricketers are forced to sit out or take early international retirements because a younger replacement has come in. These players still have 4-5 years of career left in them. We felt if there was a platform where these similarly-aged cricketers, then the fans would love it and for these players it wouldn't be a sudden exit from the game but a rather gradual exit from the sport. It will be sort of a second innings for them.

A similar concept was tried in 2015 by Shane Warne and Sachin Tendulkar. The core difference is that we have been able to create a tournament where cricketers are similarly aged and have almost the same fitness so that there is good quality cricket. It should not be like an exhibition game. We do not compromise on any aspect of what international cricketers are tuned to with respect to match officials or quality of ground or infrastructure. We do create that same ecosystem which I feel is the biggest difference because for them it is like playing for the clubs with a similar coaching set-up.

Q) An alternate edition in India - is that the trend LLC is following? And that is how the team structure will work?

We are trying to build up an ecosystem of legends. In active cricket there are two formats - one they play for the country and the other for the club. And that is what we are trying to do. So in a year, at least we will have two formats. In the first, they will be playing for the country and the other format where they play for the club which will happen again later this year in the month of September-October and that will be held in India.

Q) Who are the venues selected then - first Muscat, now Qatar? And what was the response in the first edition?

Crocket has to be taken to locations where they do not have high quality events. Muscat had hosted the World Cup qualifiers a few years back, but they did not see the kind of stars that we brought on. The whole idea is to stage the event in a country that has a cricket following but it hasn't reached that point. That is in the international format. The moment we switch to the franchise model, we have to look at commercially more viable locations so that spectators can easily reach the stadium.

Unfortunately at the time we had gone, there was a third wave of Covid at its peak. We had some good response in terms of ticket sales happening but we had to drop the idea later given the government rules leaving no spectators at the ground. But it was a good television product, which is what it was built to be. In the upcoming edition we want to go all guns blazing. The first match is already sold out. So the popularity of the event is increasing.

Q) How does player identification work?

Unlike in any other younger T20 leagues where you have scouts to look for talents. But for us, it is not about talent. These players are legends. They have already qualified for that status. So we work with our team, headed by Andrew Leppus, who was the first international trainer back during the Ganguly era. So we create a pool and we have Andrew interact with these players on their fitness regime. After he approves, then the player is added to the final list for selection.

Q) There was a BARC report that said that viewership of LLC was only behind IPL. Could you elaborate on that

It was just out of a report issued by BARC. There are multiple T20 leagues around the world which includes the PSL, BBL. The biggest market for all these is India and that is what we are trying to position. I don't want any comparisons with IPL, but having said that there is nobody else between IPL and the other T20 leagues in the world except us. The gap is big between us and the IPL. It was not a fluke for us. Some of the new leagues who have spent millions on marketing, haven't been able to break that. I'm sure this new season would definitely take us to new levels.

Q) This time LLC has two digital streaming platforms - Hotstar and Fan Code. So is it looking to surpass IPL?

We actually had it last time as well, but we didn't promote it much. Both the OTTs have had great response and hence they have agreed to carry that whole relationship forward. It's a first but that is how cricket will be in the future. Today we have Dream11 as our official fantasy partner, who also works as official fantasy partner for all ICC events, all BCCI events. They have a whole ecosystem of fans. Fan Cde will now be integrated in their platform which means another set of audience from there.

Q) With that if you could elaborate on revenue growth and model

There are two models we work on - international and franchise. The latter is an exact replica of what the IPL is. There is a central pool comprising broadcast rights and sponsorships and others which are distributed among the franchises and we play around on that. In the international format, we own all the three teams. All the connections are put on to the broadcast, sponsorship and all of it and that is how we recover the cost. So early. Investments are going into making this an established and unique proposition where the aspiring brands who may not have big pockets to buy for international cricket which is extremely expensive these days, can look into alternate opportunities like us which has a huge fan base and the price is lower.

Q) Any big expectations from the third edition?

We want to retain the second position in India in terms of viewership. New players have been brought in, so the quality of cricket will be a little notch up. I'm expecting that it would enhance the fan experience this season.

Q) Any updates on the expansion of the league in future?

In terms of the franchise model, we will add two more teams. We are also looking to create more events, maybe not like the franchise model which is kind of a three-weeks event, but more on the grounds of bilateral series comprising these legends. For that, the player pool needs to be really good. My future plan is to position this as a second innings for players. And I would love to have MS Dhoni come and play sometime. Or may, all we know, five years later we have a Kohli vs Rohit take place.

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