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Ronnie Screwvala’s sports business
MUMBAI: Ronnie Screwvala-promoted Unilazer Ventures, which has a successful footprint in Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), is looking to build soccer and motorsports. Cricket is also under consideration, provided an appropriate opportunity opens up to invest in an IPL team.
The company is looking to close the year with a turnover of Rs 30–40 crore (Rs 300-400 million) and subsequently ramp up revenues to Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion).
Unilazer Ventures is ready to invest Rs 500 crore (Rs 5 billion) in motorsports over a period of seven years.
The company is looking at a multi-country Asian event in 2018 through an initiative called U Moto.
Speaking to TelevisionPost.com, Unilazer Ventures sports business CEO Supratik Sen said, “The investment will be in the range of Rs 300–500 crore over a period of five to seven years. We are still calculating brass tack numbers. The aim is to achieve breakeven in three to five years.”
There will be 10 teams, and each edition will run over a period of 5.5–6 months. Each team will have two riders, one of whom will be Indian.
“There is logistics management needed. In 2017, we would have finalised the talent roster, and in 2018 we would launch proposition of the teams and stage the first event. Most of the teams should come from here,” said Sen.
“There will be local as well as global talent. We are looking for at least 15–20 stops. There will be an intermediate category of 400–600 cc and an 800–1000 cc premium category,” he added.
The company has started talking to broadcasters. “We are in talks with the top guys. It is about the spirit of ‘Make in India’. We will look at franchise owners at a later stage. First, we need to get in riders who need to be the Valentino Rossi’s from this part of the world. You can compare us with a MotoGP. It will be more centred on the Indian and Asian talent base than on the global talent base. We are looking to base the talent here rather than in Europe or in America,” said Sen.
India is the biggest bike consumption market in the globe. “It will be a different experience where everyone is shooting down at upwards of 200 km an hour and upwards or maybe close to 200 miles an hour. It takes some longstanding training to be able to get there. It has to be the right spirit. We have to develop the talent base and then go out there and do it.”
The plan is to have maybe a couple of races here. Then the event moves to China, the Middle East, Singapore, Hong Kong and all the way to Korea and Japan.
The company also plans to launch U Moto 250. This would be a street racing competition, with a view to driving growth both for the sport and for tourism. Thus, races will be hosted in key tourism destinations across India.
Unilazer Sports is working closely with CII to bridge the gap between the state, motorsport and tourism. The format would be open street circuits with 3–5 km loops, with multiple laps, comparable to Moto 3 category with 250 cc bikes.
Unilazer did look at the possibility of owning a franchise when the BCCI floated a tender for two teams. But the time period of two years was too short. “We are interested in cricket properties as and when the opportunity presents itself by the BCCI.”
When asked about past reports about owners of IPL franchises Delhi Daredevils and Sunrisers Hyderabad looking to dilute a stake or even sell the team, Sen noted that so far no official offer has been put on the table for any franchise. “So I cannot comment on it. A new team would be better, but never say never,” he said.
Sen noted that Indian sport has gone through a watershed moment after the IPL launched. “People have tried things. The person who tried doing an initiative inspired by Formula 1 (Machdar Motorsports) placed the idea there.”
Pro Kabaddi League
Breakeven for the U Mumba franchise will happen in the coming fifth and sixth seasons.
“We are not completely in the black but it is early days for the league as well. We expect to breakeven next year in the fifth and sixth seasons. The chances for us are better from the next season in terms of the growth of the league,” Sen explained.
The U Mumba franchise gets just 35% of revenue from the central pool. The rest comes from the local pool. But the split depends on where a team is on the value chain. He noted that the NSCI stadium is proving to be a boon, and though the tickets are highly priced, the matches are a sell-out.
“Ticketing is very good for Mumbai. The NSCI is a phenomenal stadium. We sell our tickets at the most expensive price, but they also sell the best and the range is Rs 1,200–5,000. We are looking at longer-term sponsorship deals from the next season. We did a two-season deal for the previous season and this season with sponsors. Partners like Tata Motors and Marriott are incredible.”
Activation with sponsors like any other league is important, so the U Mumba players visit Tata Motors’ stores. A lot of meet and greets are done.
In terms of marketing, the focus is on doing things that matter to the masses. “We don’t want to do too much of what is expected from the team. We did things with young kids in Raigarh in conjunction with an NGO Swades Foundation. They were doing tournaments in the interiors of Raigarh. The Raigarh area is a hotbed for kabaddi players. Very good players come from there. Kolhapur, Sangli and Raigarh are hotbeds.
The team also tied up with Truefit and Hill for a stylised campaign. A couple of fashion shoots were done. “We also go around the city and meet college kids and initiate programmes so they can play college and school-level kabaddi. We see our promotions as being grassroots up.”
On the merchandise front, Adidas is the performance wear partner. Jerseys are sold in Adidas stores. “We are looking at more traditional sales channels but also online. Those numbers will begin to climb. The numbers are slowly building. When you have a partner like Adidas, it gives you a fillip that if an international partner can come on-board, then it is like no other.”
The biggest learning for him from the success of the PKL is that people play and love the sport. “Everyone has played kabaddi at some point. The 30+ generation has played it at some point. For the younger generation, the sport is being revived. In urban areas, more women are watching the sport. The mass appeal is everywhere. It is a simple enough game. The rules are simple and straightened out.”
Sen noted that with success have come monetary rewards for players. “Salaries for some players have grown by 300–800%. One player could grow by 2000%.” He gave the example of a player whose earnings have risen from Rs 8,000 to Rs 1.02 crore.
“People can say what they want but we are very happy that the players are making this kind of money. But are they making the kind of money that a player makes in the IPL? No. In the IPL, players make Rs 5–10 crore. But for kabaddi players, the money growth is very valuable for them. Some franchises might say that players are asking for more, but we feel that it is due as the sport is going in that direction.”
Sen added that franchises might get government support to set up stadiums. These will then become centres for excellence. “This is how we are seeing it as a franchise. This is how the NBA was built in the US. The athletes in the first two seasons showed what they could do. Now we feel that if the state government of Maharashtra can support us, then we can build a centre of excellence for kabaddi where people from all parts of the state and country can come. We want to be the ManU of the sport.
“People from all parts of the world who want to learn and play the sport can come. Star airs the event globally. It is loved in other countries as well. The next level of growth will come from here and we are looking at the state bodies to help us. This I think will happen.”
The franchise is looking to take the team abroad for exhibition matches. It wanted to do that this season, but the plan now is take the team to Germany before the start of the next season. This is similar to what is being done in soccer. A couple of exhibition kabaddi games will be played in Germany.
U Sports operates U Dream Football, an international football-training programme offering young, talented footballers an opportunity to pursue a career as a professional footballer. It is done in association with TSG 1899 Hoffenheim. U Dream Football aims to identify talent at an early stage and offer international training, academic and infrastructure support to help them advance as a professional footballer. It is done under the collaborative guidance of Bundesliga.
“Our football project is U Dream Football. Because the players are 16 and below, it does not get reported here. They haven’t lost a single game,” said Sen.
With regard to Indian Super League (ISL), Sen noted that talent was a big reason why the company is not involved. Talent is the only concern. The ISL would also represent a huge investment.
In the e-sports arena, Unilazer Ventures is in talks with game publishers and webcasters.
“Even when we look at e-sports, we look at a deep-rooted approach of having e-sports players. If we are to go to another level, then we need our players to go global. The talent search for local e-sports players will start this year, and by the end of the year, we will see them playing larger games like ‘Thunder Strike’ and ‘League of Legend’. We are talking to publishers of the games and eventually the webcasters,” said Sen.