“Aspire to have Dhoni play with us”: Legends League Cricket CEO Raman Raheja

Legends League Cricket Co-founder & CEO Raman Raheja
Legends League Cricket co-founder & CEO Raman Raheja

Legends League Cricket’s strategy, as outlined by its co-founder & CEO Raman Raheja, can be summed up in two words: right mix.

Season 2 of Legends League Cricket is currently underway, and from player selection and venue locations to franchise ownership – they all have one thing in common: the right mix.

This is the second time Raheja is speaking to the Business of Sports team this year, and he is quick to point out the phenomenal rise in viewership from Season 1 (which was held in Oman) to Season 2 (which is taking place in India) by stating, “My first day ratings beat my entire season viewership of the last season.”

Legends League Cricket Season 2: New owners

It’s not just the viewership numbers that have grown from one season to the next; the entire format has evolved. For starters, the three teams in the maiden edition – India Maharajas, Asia Lions, and World Giants – have been replaced by city-based franchises in season 2.

There are now four teams going head to head – Bhilwara Kings, India Capitals, Gujarat Giants, and Manipal Tigers.

Speaking of the franchise ownership structure, Raheja notes:

“You have a 15-year-old cricket investment (GMR group, which owns India Capitals), you have a Adani (owner of Gujarat Giants) who is a big corporate…now, you have two first timers (LNG Bhilwara and Manipal Education & Medical Group). So you have a right mix….[and] it’s an interesting journey that we are starting now.”

Consequentially, Season 2 has marked the start of franchise-specific sponsorships, which will be key to ensuring the long-term commercial viability of the league.

From a single location to multiple venues

Unlike Season 1, which was held at a single location, the ongoing second season is following the caravan format, with all teams travelling from one venue to the next. The Kolkata, Lucknow, Delhi, and Cuttack legs have already concluded, with Jodhpur and Jaipur up next.

Explaining the rationale behind choosing the host cities for Season 2, Raheja says:

“We need to have a right mix. We wanted to start with the Mecca of India cricket, Eden Gardens…then the idea was to take it to the smaller towns where we could bring in audience (sic) to the stadium…especially the centres [which] don’t see international cricket too often.”

‘Super-subs’ & parallel live streams

While Season 1 benefited from the novelty factor of witnessing recently retired legends return to the field, Raheja is conscious of the need to keep spectator interest alive and growing. He is doing so in two ways: first, by ensuring top quality of cricket, and second, by keeping the pipeline of players strong through the addition of new faces.

Innovations like 'super sub' – allowing two substitutes per team – adopted from football, and real-time 'bat analysis' monitoring bat speed, have been well received by players and commentators alike.

This pioneering spirit, combined with a need to be taken seriously, has led to Legends League Cricket games being simultaneously broadcast live on two OTT platforms – Hotstar and FanCode. Raheja feels that this first-of-its-kind two-way deal could be a trendsetter, considering the astronomical fees needed to secure cricket media rights in India.

Two formats to continue

Fascinatingly, Legends League Cricket hopes to continue staging two versions each year – one outside India in the tri-nation (India, Asia, World) format, and the second within the country in the traditional franchise system.

Besides the benefit of reaching out to new international markets, this dual-format approach gives Legends League Cricket the unique opportunity to ensure the continued participation of Pakistani players without facing any political backlash. In Season 1, the Asia Giants team comprised seven Pakistanis besides legends from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.

Raheja outlines the League’s signing strategy as a “mix” of big name legends who are still fit, as well as recently retired fierce and competitive younger players.

Six teams (and hopefully Dhoni) on the cards

Like any ambitious promoter, Raheja is envisioning a bigger and grander future for Legends League Cricket by building IPs leveraging the massive fan following of its players and expanding to six teams in Season 3.

Raheja underlines that the larger purpose of the league is to create a distinct category of ‘legends’ that doesn’t compete with active cricket. The goal is to build a league of high standing that can attract the best of the best, which Raheja explained by saying:

“I would aspire to have Dhoni come in and play with us...I would aspire to have…seven years down the line…current top captain [and] current top player of India team [to] play with me…For them also to consider, they need to see that they do not dilute their reputation because they live for it [cricket], they stand for it.”

Seeing Dhoni in a Legends League jersey may be a while coming. But as Raheja reveals, we would do well to watch out for MSD’s recently retired former CSK teammates, Suresh Raina and Robin Uthappa.

Legends League Cricket is being broadcast in India daily on Star Sports, Disney+ Hotstar, and Fancode, with the finale scheduled for October 5, 2022 at 7:30 pm.

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Edited by Sandeep Banerjee
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