IPL: BCCI yet to hear officially about Saudi interest for stakes
Aramco and the Saudi Tourism Authority are already sponsors of the T20 League
Recent reports of Saudi Arabia expressing an interest in buying a stake in the Indian Premier League (IPL) may have kicked up a storm in the media, but the top brass of the Board of Control for Cricket in India claim they are yet to hear anything officially from the government.
The idea was reportedly broached by crown prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud’s advisers during his visit to Delhi for the G20 Summit in September. A report by the financial media agency Bloomberg said the kingdom proposed investing something in the region of US$ 5 billion to acquire stakes in the IPL, and forming a separate holding company that would allow for the possibility of expanding the League into other countries.
The plan is being seen as another aggressive advance by the oil-rich kingdom, which has stepped on the pedal to augment its profile as the biggest ‘soft power’ in the West Asian region by leveraging sports.
Taking the cue from the likes of Qatar (which staged a coup by hosting the FIFA 2022), UAE and Bahrain, Saudi may have started late but is playing with a flourish. Saudi Arabia is now the sole bidder for the 2036 FIFA World Cup, while the Saudi Pro League boasts the crème de la crème of global footballers, with the likes of Neymar, Karim Benzema and Sadio Mané on its clubs’ rolls. The Saudis have bankrolled a golf tour since last year as well, wooing most of the top global stars. They also own a Formula One GP event as well as the world’s richest horse racing event, the King’s Cup.
The first signs of a possible Saudi footprint in cricket were apparent when two brands, Aramco and Saudi Tourism Authority, stepped in as official IPL partners over the last two seasons. ‘’Aramco and Visit Saudi are already our sponsors, but as far as partnership with Saudi (Arabia) is concerned, it must be talks at the government level. Since nothing tangible has come to our doorstep, we are in no position to comment,’’ a senior BCCI official said.
Launched in 2008, the T20 franchise league, which has changed the landscape of cricket in the last 15 years, is now the main cash cow for the BCCI. A five-year renewal of media rights last year, broken down into TV and digital, has fetched a whopping $6.2 billion in guarantee money. This effectively means that each match is now valued at $15.1 million — making this the second most valuable sporting league after the NFL in the US and more lucrative than the English Premier League.
Curiously, news of a Saudi interest in the IPL has stirred up the interest of Lalit Modi himself, the founder chairman of the property who now practically lives in exile. Speaking to sporting website Revsportz, Modi said such a happenstance might bring "corporate governance" into the League and allow a possible introduction of promotion and relegation that may can see the valuation of each franchise spiking to the region of US$2 billion-plus.
IPL insiders, however, remain sceptical — some believe the former IPL chairman is just talking up the chances of brand building with Saudi involvement in the future in the hopes of attracting further investments. After all, Modi holds stakes in a number of IPL franchises. Any possible rise in their brand value is going to benefit him personally in the long run.