Saudi Arabia has expressed interest in buying a stake in the cash-rich Indian Premier League (IPL) and leading an expansion into other countries, including the kingdom, Bloomberg reported on Friday.
Saudi officials involved in negotiations have suggested moving the IPL into a holding company valued at $30 billion, and then buying a stake worth $5 billion. The talks were held between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s advisers and Indian government officials in September on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi.
The proposal involves expanding IPL into other countries, on the lines of football leagues. This may help Saudi Arabia launch its own league in the kingdom without having to compete with the IPL.
The 10-team IPL is the world’s most successful cricket league, with the broadcasting rights being sold for more than $15 million per match.
Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund—Public Investment Fund—could be used to invest in the IPL if a deal is reached, Bloomberg said, adding that the Indian government and BCCI may likely take the call only after the 2024 general elections, expected to be concluded in May.
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia was speculated to be working on launching its own T20 cricket league. Such a venture, however, would require an approval from the International Cricket Council (ICC), the sport’s global governing body, and support from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the world’s richest cricket board. The BCCI currently does not allow its biggest cricketers to play in leagues abroad.
“Our aim is to create a sustainable industry for locals and expats living in the kingdom and make Saudi Arabia a global cricketing destination,” Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation chairman, prince Saud bin Mishal Al-Saud, told Arab News in March this year.
Two Saudi entities, Saudi Aramco and Saudi Tourism Authority (STA), are partnered with the BCCI as IPL sponsors. Saudi Aramco has also partnered with the ICC and is one of the sponsors of the ongoing 2023 World Cup being played in India.
Saudi Arabia’s sports push
Saudi Arabia, under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de-facto ruler, has heavily invested in making it a global sports destination. It is also likely to host the 2034 edition of the FIFA World Cup, as Australia formally withdrew from the contention to host the tournament.
When Saudi Arabia laid out a plan for the country’s all-around development in a 2016 document, “Vision 2030”, sports was identified as one of the key investment targets. Starting with small-scale sporting events, it soon invited the world’s top golfers to play in LIV Golf, a rival of the PGA Tour, by paying them millions of dollars.
Its big-ticket investments, however, have been reserved for football. The kingdom in 2021 acquired a controlling stake in the English soccer club Newcastle United. This year, it brought Cristiano Ronaldo to play for local club Al Nassr by paying him more than $100 million. Promised a huge paycheck, other players are lining up to play in the country.
The kingdom has bagged 312 sponsorship deals across 21 sports, as well as multi-sport events, in recent years, a new research published by Play the Game— an initiative run by the Danish Institute for Sports Studies—has claimed.
While football is the main focus with 83 of the 312 deals, motorsport and golf are the two sports with the greatest number of agreements after that.
Most of the deals are driven by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), with at least 139 of the deals connected directly to it, the report claimed.
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