After bankrolling glamorous cricket and motor sports leagues in India, Bollywood has turned its attention to the world of mixed martial arts (MMA) with a series of events featuring local fighters squaring off against international opponents.
Actor Sanjay Dutt and entrepreneur Raj Kundra have launched the Super Fight League (SFL) with events scheduled for Mumbai, Chandigarhl and New Delhi. The first event in Mumbai on March 11 will be headlined by veteran kickboxer and mixed martial artist Bob 'The Beast' Sapp and English fighter James Thompson.
Kundra, who with his actor wife Shilpa Shetty owns the Rajasthan Royals franchise in cricket's Indian Premier League, said the SFL was signing up established MMA fighters from across the world to take on local talent.
"I am very passionate about all sports. I enjoy football, cricket and I have been watching mixed martial arts for the last five years," Kundra told Reuters in an interview. "It is coming for the first time to India and I am confident it will be big."
Kundra accepted that initially it would be difficult to realise financial gains from the full contact combat sport in India but he believed its growing global popularity made it a good long-term investment.
After struggling to gain mainstream acceptance, MMA has become one of the world's fastest growing sports with sponsorship and media revenue starting to pour in. The U.S.-based Ultimate Fighting Championship, the world's biggest MMA promotion, signed a seven-year multi-media deal with TV network Fox in August that will net a reported $90-100 million in rights annually.
Asian promotion ONE Fighting Championship, which has hefty financial backing from Middle East investors, is also capitalising on MMA's growing popularity and tied up lucrative deals with sponsors and broadcasters across the region.
"Honestly, I am really not doing this because of business since it is not like cricket where you can go, sell and make your money back," Kundra said. "This is going to be a long-term view and I don't think I am going to really recover anything in the next few years. This is more of setting up the brand and then we will go into valuation afterwards."
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League revenues will come from advertising and sponsors while deals with websites and broadcasters were being worked out, Kundra said. The idea was lucrative enough for established fighters to sign on the dotted line, he added.
"Each fighter has a different deal. The fighters that are contracted to us get X amount of dollars per fight to turn up and next to win," he said. "The big international fighters could charge anything between $20,000 to $1 million to turn up and fight."
The Indian Premier League dazzled fans with the exciting Twenty20 format, player auctions, post-game parties and heavy advertising. Celebrity owners play a large part in pumping up the IPL's image and include Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani, Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan, as well as spirits and airline magnate Vijay Mallya.
Shah Rukh also became the co-owner of the Mumbai franchise in a recently launched motorsport league. Kundra, whose business ventures and investments range from mining to real estate and renewable energy to entertainment and hospitality, said the SFL would be similar to the cricket league in terms of being an attractive mix of sports and entertainment.
"I own a cricket team and I own this league as well. The biggest difference between the two is that cricket happens over two months and my league will be once a month," he quipped. "There are 10, 20, 30 movies that get released every month end. So mine let's just say this is another movie that comes out once a month."
Editing by Peter Rutherford; to query or comment on this story, email firstname.lastname@example.org