Howzat! UAE businessmen catch Kerala IPL cricket franchise

Team becomes the first IPL team to have connections with the Middle East after Dh1.22bn bid from Rendezvous Sports World.

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DUBAI // A multimillion-dollar deal for the coveted Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket franchise from Kerala has been sealed by a group of businessmen with interests in the UAE, making it the first IPL team to have connections with the Middle East. Rendezvous Sports World won the bidding for the IPL Kochi franchise on Sunday with an offer of US$333 million (Dh1.22 billion), the second-highest price ever for an IPL side. In his first comments after the agreement, Harshad Mehta, one of the Dubai-based stakeholders in the company, said he believed it was money well spent.

"The IPL is a franchise that has caught the imagination of the cricket lover and people around the world," he said. "We wanted to be part of it. "I see this as a solid investment because the fundamentals of the IPL has proved itself. The amount of sponsorship and revenues it gets speaks for itself." According to figures quoted by the IPL based on market research, its brand value has more than doubled to $4.13bn from $2.01bn in 2009.

Mr Mehta is the chairman of the Dubai operations of Rosy Blue Diamond, which makes the Orra brand of jewellery. However, he said yesterday that the stake in IPL Kochi was personal and cannot be associated with the diamond company. He declined to disclose the size of his stake in the winning group. "We are just a group of friends and associates who wanted to be part of this and decided to invest together," he said. The businessman has been based in Dubai with his family since 2003 and his company operates from the Jebel Ali free zone.

The deal was finalised when the names of two new IPL franchises that will begin play in 2011 were announced on Sunday. The Rendezvous group's tender beat that of four others and their winning offer was a close second to the $370m paid for the IPL Pune franchise. Rendezvous Sports has partners including Shailendra Gaekwad Group; Anchor Switches; Vivek Venugopal of the property company Elite Group; Anand Shah Developers; and Parinee Developers, said Lalit Modi, the IPL chairman.

All are said to have business interests in the Middle East. No further information was available about the members, who have asked for more time before they clarify their associations. Indian media also reported the involvement of Shashi Tharoor, the minister of state for external affairs, in bringing the businessmen together to bid for IPL Kochi. Mr Tharoor was employed with a private company in Dubai before he returned to India and became part of the government.

"I am not part of the bid, but was pleased to give Rendezvous Sports World my encouragement and blessings," he said on his Twitter page after the deal was finalised. "My interest is in transforming Kerala. Cricket will inspire all Keralites." Mr Mehta said that Rendezvous Sports would like to promote the team overseas and hopes expatriate Indians will back the side. Many of the expatriate Indians in the Middle East come from Kerala.

The group will also try to draw celebrities from Bollywood and from the Malayalam film industry to add glamour value to the team's image. Mr Mehta said he was sure the team would do well when it gets to play in the next edition of the IPL in 2011. When asked if the investment was worthwhile, especially during an economic slowdown, he said: "The sport and the format of IPL, which combines cricket and entertainment, has ensured that it remained unaffected."

The IPL plays a version of cricket called Twenty20 that finishes the match in about three hours. In that format, spectators can enjoy quick run-scoring along with cheerleaders, music and plenty of entertainment.