The owner of the Gemini Arabians team taking part in the new cricket Masters’ Champions League (MCL) in Dubai plans to turn the franchise into a wider sports brand.
Nalin Khaitan, the vice chairman of Khaitan Holdings, said that he and the other five team owners have each agreed to invest US$15 million over 10 years into MCL, a 16-day tournament featuring former internationals, which starts in Dubai today.
On top of this, each team has been given a $750,000 purse to spend on hiring players from a pool (although they were allowed to overspend on five of these).
For its part, Gemini Arabians submitted the league’s two highest undisclosed bids in a pre-auction – for ex-India batsman Virender Sehwag and Sri Lankan player Kumara Sangakkara. It has also secured Muttiah Muralitharan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Brad Hodge.
“There are teams that spent the minimum – they got their entire team together for $500,000. There are some that spent over $1m. It really depends on the auction dynamics,” Mr Khaitan said.
Khaitan Holdings was started by Mr Khaitan’s father, I P Khaitan, in 1992. It has been a sponsor of cricket in the UAE since it was founded, and was the main sponsor for the UAE national team for four years in the early 1990s.
Mr Khaitan said that he first heard about the MCL after receiving a visit from Dubai Cricket Council’s secretary, Amin Farooq, which was to discuss ways to improve the game.
“The minute he told me about it, I was sold on the concept,” he said. He said that Khaitan Holdings does not expect to make any short-term gains out of team ownership. “We may get a cash loss within the first couple of years but in the long run we are looking to build value.”
“You don’t want to have Gemini Arabians in the limelight for 15 days a year and then forget about it when the tournament is not on. I have great vision for the sports company and I want Gemini Arabians to grow into a brand itself,” he said.
Khaitan Holdings is a group of 60 companies that holds trading and investment arms, with the latter specialising in distressed purchases. The group owns a fertilizer plant and a solar plant in India. It also has a limestone mine in Iran that it hopes to be able to operate if the UAE lifts its sanctions.
It also owned the Loop Mobile business in Mumbai until its licence expired last year.
“We think sports has great value. Of course, cricket still does not see the riches you have in football or Formula One, but it is not far off. Cricket is something we understand and we’re looking to make it into a business of its own.”
Neil Fairbrother, the former England cricketer who is now director of cricket for the UK-based sports management agency ISM, said his company is representing several of the players performing in the MCL.
“The organisers should be applauded for trying to do something a bit different and there are 90 world-class players gathered in the UAE, which is fantastic,” he said. “This is something brand new and will only grow and grow.”
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