Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance to sponsor more sports events

March 1st, 2008 - 3:52 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Harbhajan Singh
Qaiser Mohammad Ali
New Delhi, March 1 (IANS) The Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance company will venture into more sports-related activities, possibly sponsoring the 2011 cricket World Cup to be co-hosted by India, after investing well over $117 million in the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL). R. Balachandran, president and chief marketing officer Reliance Retail, told IANS that the IPL Twenty20 tournament, starting April 18, is the company’s “first stop” on the way to getting into sports in a big way.

“There are many natural ways that the company will expand. But in the first year of the IPL it is important for us to do well - on cricket and other aspects,” said Balachandran, who is also the official signatory of the Reliance IPL Mumbai franchise team, in an interview.

Asked if it will be only natural for the conglomerate to sponsor the 2011 World Cup, to be held in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, he avoided a direct answer but did not rule out sponsoring the tournament either.

“It is a bit too early to talk about it. We are currently focussed on the present,” he said over phone from the company’s Mumbai headquarters.

To further emphasise the company’s future sports-related activities, Balachandran said: “Ours is a long-term association with IPL — our first stop. We don’t see IPL as our only major (sports) engagement.”

The late Dhirubhai Ambani, who founded the Reliance company, has a historic association with cricket World Cup as it successfully sponsored the 1987 World Cup held in India and Pakistan. The company has since de-merged.

When mentioned about the parent company’s successful association with Cricket 20 years ago, Balachandran said: “Talking about the past is not always productive and looking too much into the future is wishful thinking. We are currently focussed on building a team (Mumbai), ethos, etc.”

For the moment, though, Reliance Retail has spent $117 million — $111.9 million on buying the team for the 10 years and $4.97 on the purchase of seven players at the Feb 20 auction. After the auction the company is spending more money on signing Indian cricketers.

Disclosing the company’s strategy at the auction in Mumbai, Balachandran said it targeted players who were always available, including the maiden IPL edition, comprising eight franchise teams.

“A 100 percent availability was one of the important factors we looked into,” he said.

The company’s IPL Mumbai team had Sachin Tendulkar as an icon player. Hence he was not auctioned but got $1.12 million as he was entitled to 15 percent more than the highest paid player in the team, Sri Lanka’s Sanath Jayasuriya ($975,000).

The other players Reliance bought were Harbhajan Singh ($850,000), Robin Uthappa ($800,000), just retired South African Shaun Pollock ($550,000), Sri Lankan duo Lasith Malinga ($350,000) and Dilhara Fernando ($150,000), and Loots Bosman of South Africa ($175,000).

“We also looked for match winners at the auction. For instance, the opening pair Sachin and Sanath is potentially most threatening around. And the others like Malinga and Dilhara can turn a match,” Balachandran said.

While disclosing that the players targeted was from Tendulkar’s “wish list”, Balachandran admitted the company did not expect to buy the entire 16-member squad at the auction.

“We wanted to get the core of the team. The rest of the job was for post-auction.”

Asked about the rationale behind bidding for ageing Jayasuriya (38 years) and Pollock (34) - Tendulkar is pushing 35 — in the energy-sapping Twenty20 format, Balachandran said that they could contribute with their immense experience.

“Age is a factor but it contributes wonderfully in other ways. We gave a thought to the talent.”

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