The Indian Super League football tournament launched by Rupert Murdoch’s Star India television network and Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries said on Sunday that eight winners had bid $200m to set up teams, including an eclectic range of local industrialists and Bollywood film stars.
The forthcoming two-month tournament marks a latest attempt to relaunch the world’s most-watched sport in one of its largest untapped markets, and also comes as the lucrative Indian Premier League cricket competition, which acted as a template for the football contest, begins its annual jamboree this week.
The ISL’s organisers, which also include sports management group IMG Worldwide, said cricket players Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, and high-profile film actors such as Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan would head franchises when the first game is played in September.
The winning teams will be backed by an array of businesses, including media network Sun Group, which won the franchise for Bangalore, alongside cable provider Den Networks and industrial conglomerate Videocon, which will establish teams in New Delhi and the western state of Goa respectively.
Mike Dolan, chairman of IMG, said that the event would now look to expand aggressively, auctioning as many as dozen new football franchise in future years while also launching a separate event to capitalise on growing interest in basketball in Asia’s third-largest economy.
“There is no reason why India could not support a soccer league with 20 or more franchises, in fact in many ways that is the optimum number,” Mr Dolan said
“We’d expect the value of our original eight franchises to grow from $200m to well over $400m in a few years’ time, so with a bigger format with twice as many teams, that would suggest a value for football in India in the region of $1bn.”
Mr Dolan said IMG would follow the ISL’s first season with a new basketball event, a sport to which the company holds marketing rights in India, to be launched during 2015 as part of its partnership with Mr Ambani’s Reliance.
Football earns roughly $28bn in annual global revenues, but has struggled to take hold in India in the face of cricket’s overwhelming popularity.
The ISL did not publish the amounts paid by each team, but most seem to have bid little more than the minimum $20m for a 10-year franchise, according to internal documents seen by the Financial Times.
The total of $200m is also far less than the roughly $725m bid for the first eight IPL cricket franchises in 2008, for which IMG acted only as an organiser and contractor.
However the event group owns a third of the new football event, with Mr Ambani’s Reliance and Mr Murdoch’s Star TV also owning around a third.
A number of larger companies who had expressed interest in the league were not named among the winners, including steel billionaire Sajjan Jindal and G M Rao of infrastructure group GMR, with some complaining of a lack of guaranteed television advertising revenue for franchise owners.
“The financial numbers weren’t making a lot of sense for us, and they put in a huge number of conditions, including on how many foreign players we had to buy, so we decided against it,” said one figure who considered bidding, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
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