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Saudi Arabia eyes ‘significant’ stake in IPL, proposes investment up to $5 billion


Saudi Arabia eyes ‘significant’ stake in IPL, proposes investment up to $5 billion


Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s advisers have sounded out Indian government officials about moving the IPL into a holding company valued at as much as $30 billion, in which Saudi Arabia would then take a significant stake, people familiar with the matter said. The talks were held when the kingdom’s defacto ruler visited India in September, the people said, asking not to be named as the information is not public.

Under plans discussed at the time, the kingdom proposed investing as much as $5 billion into the league and help lead an expansion into other countries, similar to the English Premier League or the European Champions League, the people said. 

While the Saudi government is keen to press on with a deal, the Indian government and the country’s powerful but opaque cricket regulator — BCCI — are likely to take a call on the proposal after next year’s federal elections, the people said. The BCCI is led by Jay Shah, the son of India’s Home Minister Amit Shah — a close ally of Premier Narendra Modi.

Saudi Arabia’s powerful sovereign wealth fund, which has anchored many of the kingdom’s previous sports investments, could ultimately be the vehicle used to do a deal with the BCCI if an agreement is reached. No final decisions have yet been made.

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Representatives for the BCCI and the Saudi government’s Center for International Communication didn’t respond to requests for comment. The Public Investment Fund declined to comment.

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Since its inception in 2008, the IPL has married American-style marketing with the glitz of Bollywood and the energy of India’s vast population. The IPL’s central strategic move was to discard cricket’s traditional format for broadcast-friendly three or four hour games that encourage big, risky swings and frequent “sixes,” cricket’s equivalent of a home run.

The league has drawn a plethora of sponsors, including Aramco and the Saudi tourism authority. And despite a season that runs for just eight weeks each spring, bidders last year paid $6.2 billion for the right to broadcast IPL games through 2027. That works out to $15.1 million per match, more than the EPL and just behind the $17 million networks pay for each game in the National Football League in the US. 

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Any Saudi investment into the IPL or changes to the league’s format will likely mean those agreements for media rights will need to be reworked, according to people familiar with the matter.

Global Cricketing Destination

Over the past few years, Saudi Arabia has splashed out billions of dollars on sports and the chairman of the sport’s governing body in the kingdom has said he wants to turn the nation into a global cricketing destination.

“You can’t compete with money, especially the money that Saudi Arabia is throwing around to certain people,” England cricket captain and one of the world’s top players, Ben Stokes, said in an interview this year.

Meanwhile, other attempts to replicate the IPL formula overseas are underway. Major League Cricket, a US upstart part-funded by Satya Nadella and Shantanu Narayen — the chief executive officers of Microsoft Corp. and Adobe Inc. respectively — concluded its first season in July. 

That league, and others in South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere, haven’t dented the IPL’s commercial dominance.

For Saudi Arabia, any investment in cricket would come after significant spending on sports, primarily golf and football. The PIF backed the LIV Golf tour, which this year agreed to a shock merger with the PGA Tour.

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Saudi Arabia has also led a group that bought English Premier League football club Newcastle United FC, and is now on the brink of hosting the 2034 FIFA World Cup. As part of its push into the world’s most popular sport, the kingdom has spent millions on the likes of Brazil’s Neymar, France’s Karim Benzema and Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

That spending has opened up the Saudi government to claims of “sportswashing” its image and human rights record, though the kingdom’s crown prince has emphasized the deals are primarily intended to boost the country’s economy.

–With assistance from Matthew Martin.

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Updated: 03 Nov 2023, 03:31 PM IST


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