Dubai group said to eye Detroit Pistons

A group of investors has reportedly expressed an interest in purchasing the NBA franchise in what is the latest of rumoured sports buyouts by Middle East backers.

Emirati investors scored with Manchester City, lost during extra time when it came to Liverpool FC and are now looking to enter a different league altogether: the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the US. A group of investors from Dubai has reportedly expressed an interest in purchasing the Detroit Pistons basketball team franchise in what is the latest of rumoured sports buyouts by Middle East backers.

A group from Dubai "is said to have inquired about the team", according to a report by The Detroit News, which did not name the group or company behind the approach. Three other consortiums are in the running to buy the Pistons: one led by the Mike Ilitch family-owned group; one led by the Houston businessman George Postolos; and a third headed by the Beverly Hills billionaire Tom Gores. Bashar Abdulkarim, the managing director at the sports marketing and sponsorship consultancy Relay MENA, said he had heard Dubai investors had expressed an interest in the team.

"I heard rumours of this two months ago but nothing developed after that," said Mr Abdulkarim. He said the NBA team represented a good investment. "The NBA is, of course, attractive. The league is big in China now, it's big in Europe," said Mr Abdulkarim. It was not often an NBA team came up for sale, he said. "In recent history, I haven't heard of owners relinquishing their teams." The Detroit Pistons are owned by Karen Davidson, who inherited the team following the death of her husband, Bill. Mrs Davidson has said she is considering a sale of the team, which Forbes valued at US$479 million (Dh1.75 billion) last year.

Almost two years ago, the Abu Dhabi United Group bought Manchester City Football Club from the former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. This followed the failed £500m (Dh2.86bn) bid for Liverpool FC by Dubai International Capital in March 2008. Mr Abdulkarim said he expected further interest in sports teams from Middle East investors. "Will there be further buyouts of sports teams? Definitely, if the opportunity is there," he said.

bflanagan@thenational.ae