28 Jun 2021 18:05 IST

Indian cricket bowls toward financial big leagues

RedBird Capital is buying into the Rajasthan Royals. The deal spotlights the IPL’s commercial potential

Indian cricket is batting to cross the boundary. One of America’s top sports investors has agreed to buy a piece of the Rajasthan Royals in a deal that edges the team, and the fast and flashy Indian Premium League, closer to securing an international sporting crown.

The Royals are one of eight to compete in the popular annual tournament watched by almost half the country’s 1.3 billion people. RedBird Capital Partners is taking a 15 per cent stake, adding to a collection of investments that includes baseball’s Red Sox and soccer’s Liverpool Football Club. The reigning champion Mumbai Indians are a trophy asset of Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries.

Lucrative source of revenue

Under terms of the transaction, and another that lifts majority owner Emerging Media’s portion to 65 per cent from 51 per cent, the Royals are being valued at between $250 million and $300 million. That’s around the same as European soccer clubs SS Lazio and FC Porto, both of which rank in the sport’s top 30 enterprises per KPMG’s European Elite 2021 report. It’s only about a third as much as the least valuable Major League Baseball team, the Miami Marlins, based on Forbes figures, but the IPL also only plays for two months a year compared to baseball’s six.

RedBird’s desire to support commercial growth underscores the lucrative American-style potential of the Indian tournament. Some 45 minutes of advertising already gets crammed into each four-hour-long match. That’s on par with the amount of time devoted to ads during the Super Bowl and much more than in European soccer, where breaks are typically reserved for halftime.

Recession-proof investment

Cricket ad-time is also considered recession-proof. Indian broadcaster Star Sports, part of Walt Disney, paid $2.2 billion for the league’s television and digital rights for 2018 to 2022, an extraordinary price for a young league in a poor country.

After a pandemic-induced, mid-tournament suspension, the IPL will resume in September in the United Arab Emirates. It may be without some of its star foreign players, but when the league returns to India it will be in a stronger position to showcase its money-spinning power.