By Nick Harris
16 February 2010
The identity of the Premier League football club that has expressed an interest in buying an Indian Premier League cricket franchise will be revealed when the tender process opens next month according to a BBC report, although the IPL’s commissioner, Lalit Modi, has told sportingintelligence by email this afternoon that the “fruit in the pudding” (the “proof of the pudding” of the story) will be “on bidding day”.
Modi says: “We have had over 30 people evince interest within the first few weeks of announcing the sale of the two teams. For now I can tell you that inquiries are pouring in from film-stars, industrialists, NRI’s (non-resident Indians) and also a substantial number of foreign organisations. Thus, as you can see the Indian Premier League is only set to grow from strength to strength and evolve further as one of the best modern day innovations in global sport.”
In an emailed response to questions seeking specific clarification about the supposed Premier League bidder, Modi told sportingintelligence: “Wait till the bidding. Many people show interest.”
The possibility that a club from the world’s richest football league could combine with cricket’s most high-profile club competition was floated late yesterday after an interview with Modi in The Times, which quoted him as saying: “There is a football club, a very famous football club in the UK, very interested in bidding [for an IPL franchise].”
The IPL to date has been contested by eight teams (franchises) but the league will expand to 10 teams for the 2011 season, and an auction to be staged early next month will determine the owners of the new teams. The eight founding franchises were auctioned for a combined sum of $723.59m in 2008, with the most expensive, the Mumbai Indians, selling for $111.9m, and the cheapest, the Rajasthan Royals, going to $67m.
Modi is now seeking minimum bids of $225m for each of the new franchises, and amid a media whirlwind about the auction – whipped up, it has to be said, by multiple stories like this one, fed by Modi – there has been speculation that each franchise could attract bids of $500m or more. As a marketing exercise, that represents good business, without the necessity to give hard evidence that a Premier League team is in the bidding.
Modi told The Times that the club in question “is probably one of the most famous football clubs — that’s all I can say. Probably top three. They are interested in taking a stake.”
That quote, taken at face value, would suggest the club in question is one of Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool or Manchester City, although Modi himself has distanced himself from speculation about Chelsea (including on his Twitter feed), and both Manchester clubs, in private or public, are saying it’s not them. It would seem a strange strategic choice for Arsenal to branch into cricket while Liverpool’s current owners would appear to have enough strife trying to run one sports team without adding another. That’s not to say one of that quintet isn’t preparing a bid, just that it would seem unusual for them.
City’s Sheik Mansour might, in theory, be trying to add to a portfolio of interests but for Modi to be making public that a bidder is in the market surely won’t do that bidder any favours.
Modi is scheduled to be in the UK on 24 February, he has told sportingintelligence, “to announce a major IPL initiative”, although no further details have been provided. Publicity stunts in the run-up to the 2010 IPL season’s start on 12 March will only intensify from now on. For example, a TV channel new to the UK, COLOURS TV, has launched this week and has, according to a spokeswoman “tied up with the IPL to create programmes based on the concept of ‘Cricketainment’.”
The IPL announced last month that every match from this season’s tournament will be screened live on YouTube, which gave a signal of Modi’s intent to make his competition truly global. Until now, it has effectively bombed in TV ratings terms in the vast majority of markets outside the sub-Continent.
Modi appears at least to have dealt with one domestic issue that threatened the 2010 season: last year’s winners, Deccan Chargers, had threatened legal action over the relocation of their fixtures in 2010 for security reasons. On Monday, a notice on the Chargers’ official website said they had “threatened to pull out of IPL-3 if the six home games of the defending champions were not restored to Hyderabad, and Visakhapatnam.”
The Chargers took strong objection to the “arbitrary and unilateral decision” to shift the games out of their region “without their concurrence.”
The IPL today said that after discussions “and at the request of the Deccan Chargers franchise to host matches in their catchment area to help build a strong fan base, the IPL will now host two matches at Cuttack [still 1,100km away].”
Modi said: “The revised IPL schedule has been worked out keeping in mind the catchment area of the Deccan Chargers franchise. The solution was worked out keeping in mind the sentiments of the cricket loving fans of the franchise. The revised schedule now includes the Barabati Stadium at Cuttack as a host venue and I hope that Deccan Chargers fans will come out in large numbers to support their team.”