Murdoch, Mukesh team up for football league

21 Oct,2013

By Ratna Bhushan & Ravi Teja Sharma


Mukesh Ambani

Rupert Murdoch and Mukesh Ambani will join hands to spearhead a plan, one of the most ambitious yet, to make football a major television sport in cricket-crazy India.


Mr Murdoch’s Star India has picked up a one-third stake in a company jointly owned by Mr Ambani’s Reliance Industries and IMG that’s set to launch an Indian Premier League-style football tournament starting January, a move that may just work, experts said.


This follows similar attempts to popularize sports other than cricket – like the Premier Hockey League and Indian Badminton League – but it’s the first time a major broadcaster has taken a stake in such a venture. Star is paying Rs 2,000 crore in a deal that includes equity and broadcast rights for 10 years.


“Having Star on board as a partner strengthens our efforts and commitment to propel Indian football to its rightful place. We see the launch of the football league as the realiation of a dream of billion plus Indians to experience the most cherished game globally in new ways,” said Nita M Ambani, Mukesh’s wife and chairperson of IMG-Reliance. The Ambanis are already prominent in sports as owners of the Mumbai Indians IPL team.


IMG-Reliance acquired commercial and marketing rights for football in India in 2010 from the All India Football Federation for Rs 700 crore to be paid over the 15-year period of the deal. The deal included starting a new football league.


Star India initially considered just a 10-year broadcast deal for the as-yet-unnamed, three-month-long league before deciding to buy a stake in it. The deal is on the lines of the state television broadcaster CCTV partnering IMG for a 10-year rights deal for the Chinese Super League.


“India is hungry for its second sport. Our attempt is to bring an unparalleled football experience to our viewers,” said Uday Shankar, chief executive officer of Star India. “We want to put India on the global map.” Mr Shankar has been instrumental in Star’s India strategy of investing heavily in sports, which he sees as the next biggest generator of viewership and revenue after entertainment.


Each of the eight teams in the football league will have 22 players, with 10 of them from overseas, eight from India and four from the local area under 23. The eight cities are Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Kochi, Goa, Delhi, Pune and Bangalore. Bidding for the franchises will take place at the end of this month. Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan and cricketers MS Dhoni and Sourav Ganguly have shown interest in bidding for the city teams.


Though AIFF runs many tournaments, including Nehru Cup, Federation Cup and the revamped National Football League, now called I-League, football hasn’t been able to get anywhere near the fan following that cricket has. But things could change, experts said.


“That Star is making this aggressive foray is a good thing for sport and for television,” said Sam Balsara, chairman and managing director at top media buying firm Madison World. “If large investments come into football, it could create another culture of sport in the country instead of only cricket.”


European football clubs also see potential in the country, especially going by the growing following for the English Premier League as well as tournaments in other countries. Viewership numbers for cricket and football aren’t that far apart, although the gulf in advertising rates is much wider, since the bulk of this is for overseas soccer. In 2011, there were 83 million TV viewers for football in India, compared with 122 million for cricket. Between 2005 and 2009, the audience for football in India rose 60%, according to TAM Media Research.


Arsenal recently signed a deal to open official Arsenal Soccer Schools across India. Liverpool Football Club is setting up a residential football coaching academy to develop players up to age 18. Real Madrid Foundation has set up a social and sports academy in Kolkata. The world soccer federation Fifa itself has shown interest in developing the sport in India.


Source:The Economic Times

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