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Marquee Indian investors pad up for Uncle Sam’s T20 cricket league

Chitra Narayanan, VinayKamath New Delhi/Chennai | Updated on April 10, 2021

Anand Rajaraman, Founding Partner, Rocketship.vc

Junglee co-founder Anand Rajaraman reckons it could take off next year

Even as the 14th edition of the Indian IPL kicks off, the pieces for the first-ever Twenty20 cricket league in the US are falling in place.

“It is coming along fairly well. A whole bunch of investors is backing it and key players have been identified,” says Anand Rajaraman, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist with a golden touch.

The co-founder of Junglee.com, which was acquired by Amazon for $250 million way back in 1998, and Kosmix, which was bought by Walmart in 2011, Rajaraman, who is now a partner at VC firm Rocketship, was in Chennai recently.

The Palo Alto-based Rajaraman, a die-hard CSK fan, grew up in Chennai and was schooled at St Bede’s in Santhome, just off the city’s famous Marina Beach, which he calls more of a cricket school. Spinner R. Ashwin is an illustrious alumnus. Rajaraman, who went on to study computer engineering at IIT-Madras and do a Ph.D. from Stanford, says he is an early investor in the upcoming US cricket league.

Called the Major League Cricket, the US T20 tournament, should be up and running by next year despite the pandemic, reckons Rajaraman. A group of heavyweight investors that include names like Satya Nadella, Shantanu Narayen, Subrah Iyer, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, among others, have banded together under the banner of American Cricket Enterprises (ACE) to fund it.

The 20-plus group of investors is an all-star roster of business executives and successful tech entrepreneurs “who bring diverse backgrounds to the endeavor as venture capitalists, founders, sports investors, business owners, while mutually sharing an incredible passion for cricket,” says its web site.

Six teams

As per plan, the first year should see six teams from Indian Diaspora-dominated cities of the US. “The plan is to have a US city-based league, with a Chicago team, an LA team, a Houston team, etc., and those teams will bring in talent from all over the world. Eventually, the goal is to create a US national team that can play the World Cup,” says Rajaraman.

There have been reports that Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan-backed Kolkata Knight Riders, which is aggressively foraying outside the country and already has a presence in the Caribbean, is also involved in the US league. The Los Angeles team may be called the LA Knight Riders.

“There’s a huge training segment to this plan as well. It is not going to be just another league, but we’re going to be training youngsters also in cricket,” said Rajaraman.

But will the US league click? Rajaraman rapidly cites some figures. “If you look at the TV viewing time, the number of minutes watched, the consumption of cricket is very high in the US. The primary sports are basketball and football, ice hockey and soccer. Cricket is after that in consumption,” he says.

The idea is to make cricket a mainstream sport in the US. He admits that to start with it will primarily attract the Diaspora. But that’s a huge market as well, he reasons. The investors are ready, the money is in, now the teams have to pad up for the game.

Published on April 09, 2021

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