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IMG, Reliance in $140 mn soccer deal

Billionaire private equity investor Ted Forstmann's sports and entertainment company IMG Worldwide and Reliance Industries have teamed up to commercially develop a football in India.

business Updated: Dec 11, 2010 15:24 IST

Billionaire private equity investor Ted Forstmann's sports and entertainment company IMG Worldwide and Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries have teamed up again to commercially develop another popular global sport in India.

IMG and Reliance have signed a 15-year deal with Indian soccer's governing body for the commercial rights to the sport, including the potential relaunch of the pro league there.

Terms of the deal, which comes six months after a similar Indian basketball agreement, were not disclosed, but a source familiar with the details who asked not to be identified said it was for around $140 million.

"It is the second most popular sport in the country with a massive and passionate fan following," Forstmann said.

"The excitement and exuberance that was evident in the streets of the major cities in India during this year's World Cup, as well as the estimated 110 million Indian television viewers of the games, is a good indication of potential for future success," the IMG chairman added.

The deal gives the joint venture the right to "radically restructure, overhaul, improve, popularize and promote" soccer on an amateur and professional level.

Andrew Wildblood, an IMG executive vice president and an executive director with the joint venture, said the partners will work toward an overhaul of the existing pro league or relaunching a new one in 2012.

Under the deal, IMG and Reliance will control the Indian national soccer team -- ranked 142nd out of 203 by FIFA -- and all current and future professional leagues, including media, sponsorship, advertising, licensing, merchandising and franchise rights, the companies and the All India Football Federation said.

There are more than 3.5 million registered players in 36 state associations that are affiliated with the federation.

Reliance's chairman, Mukesh Ambani, is India's richest man. Reliance, whose businesses include petrochemicals, retail and telecommunications, is India's largest company by market capitalization.

IMG and Reliance formed their venture in March to develop, market and manage sports and entertainment in India. They want to tap into a market of 1.2 billion people that boasts a fast-growing middle class and a young demographic looking to branch out beyond the wildly popular cricket.

In June, the venture signed a 30-year deal with India's basketball federation to develop that sport, including possibly eventually forming a pro league.

Last month, Forstmann's IMG teamed up with a conglomerate run by Brazilian billionaire Eike Batista to develop sports and entertainment businesses in Brazil.

IMG officials have acknowledged their desire to own the next Indian sports league after the success of the Indian Premier League, a cricket organization IMG helped establish three years ago that Forstmann has valued at $4 billion.

Under Forstmann, whose fortune is estimated at $1.6 billion, IMG's profit has grown fivefold since he bought the company in 2004. He has expanded it from a business of representing athletes and models to a dominant position in the collegiate media and licensing markets, as well as crafting a major TV deal in China.

First Published: Dec 11, 2010 15:21 IST