Mumbai: Dream Capital, the corporate venture capital arm of Dream Sports, is in advanced talks to lead a $100 million funding round in cricket-focused non-fungible token (NFT) startup Rario, three people aware of the matter said.

If the deal goes through, it would be one of the largest investments in the NFT sector in India and Dream Capital’s maiden bet in the Web3 space.

Rario was founded in 2021 by Sunny Bhanot and Ankit Wadhwa, amid the global boom in NFTs and cryptocurrency. It had raised an undisclosed sum from investors, including Presight Capital and Kingsway Capital last year. The platform has procured NFT rights to five international leagues and almost 600 international cricketers through its various partnerships. The rights allow Rario to create digital player cards like trump cards and could be potentially linked to games and applications.

“The investment will allow Dream Sports to create utilities on the rights Rario has acquired,” said one person.

Rario and Dream Sports are exploring more partnerships, according to sources.

A spokesperson for Dream Sports said “we don’t comment on speculation” while Rario declined to comment.

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Since inception, Rario has seen traction from buyers based in 19 countries. It has minted and sold 50,000 NFTs so far on its platform.

US-based Dream Sports, the parent company of online fantasy gaming startup Dream11, set up a venture arm in August last year with a corpus of $250 million, in a bid to become a sports technology conglomerate.

It has invested in 12 startups so far, including a $50 million investment in content and commerce platform FanCode which it had incubated. Dream Sports’ portfolio spans 140 million users across Dream11, sports accelerator DreamX, and experiential travel company DreamSetGo.

Dream Sports was valued at $8 billion after it raised $840 million in November from new and existing investors, including Falcon Edge, DST Global, D1 Capital, Tiger Global and Redbird Capital. TPG and Footpath Ventures also participated in that funding round.

“Dream Sports will be entering the Web3 and NFT space in a big way and is looking for talent with whom we can build the entire NFT sector in India together,” said Harsh Jain, cofounder and CEO, Dream11 & Dream Sports, at a virtual event – NFTIndia – on Thursday.

“We learnt that instant gratification, low time commitment and an opportunity for great sports engagement are important for sports fans worldwide,” he added.

Jain said NFTs can help solve a common problem faced by digitally engaged sports fans – that is, to engage deeply with sports and win big through games of skill.

NFT utility games can help transition play-to-win games of skill models to play-to-earn, he added.

Rario is building for cricket what SoftBank-backed Sorare, a fantasy gaming NFT platform, has done for football, where players buy, sell, trade, and manage a virtual team with digital player cards.

In 2021, the Indian NFT space saw a slew of cricket and Bollywood actors mint NFTs in order to monetise their brand and fan base.

Cricket-focussed NFTs are also being rolled out by Faze Technologies, which raised $17.4 million in November 2021, led by Tiger Global with participation from Coatue and Sequoia Capital India.

Faze has signed a partnership with the International Cricket Council (ICC) to create exclusive digital collectibles (using NGTs).

In recent weeks, multiple NFT players have expressed concern over a proposed tax – 30% tax on gains and 1% TDS – by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the budget.

Industry participants say NFTs are digital goods and not currency like crypto, and hence need to be treated separately for taxation purposes.

“In the future, we will see all stakeholders in the sports ecosystem – from athletes to leagues, boards to sports fans unlock and monetize value that they never knew existed by creating monetisation opportunities by tokenising historic moments in sports, sports player cards, and more with NFTs,” Jain said at the virtual event. “Through phenomenal players like Rario and their portfolio of 600 players and five leagues, sports fans will be able to own notable pieces of sports.”

He said companies like TopShots and Sorare have been able to drive NFT sales worth $2 billion with only a million users globally. India, with the largest number of sports fans in the world and over 140 million in Dream Sports’ user base, had the potential to become the world’s largest NFT industry by a long margin, he added.

According to DappRadar, a global app store for decentralised applications, NFTs worth $23 billion were traded in 2021.

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