Ronnie Screwvala buys stake in Mumbai-based football club and training …

NEW DELHI: Ronnie Screwvala, founder of media and entertainment group UTV, has bought Mumbai-based football club and training academy PIFA FC, marking his entry into the business of sports. Screwvala, who sold his stake in UTV Software to Disney for Rs 2,000 crore in 2011, will also bid for a football team in the Rupert Murdoch and Mukesh Ambani-promoted Indian Super League (ISL).

Screwvala’s company, Unilazer Ventures, recently set up a sports division and hired Supratik Sen, sports marketing head at Red Bull, as its CEO. The division will focus on building brands and growing sports outside of cricket.

“The ISL opportunity is interesting and we are examining it,” said Screwvala, who has picked up bid documents from IMG-Reliance. “This league has the potential, along with the broadcast deal, to put football in the mainstream.”

After exiting the media business, Screwvala is now betting big on sports, starting with football. “It’s not very dissimilar to what I was doing earlier. We need to build brands in sports as well and I think I can make a difference,” he said. While the former media baron has chosen 2014 for his foray into sports, and more specifically football, this is also the year when there is greater global attention on football because of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

Screwvala did not divulge how much he paid for PIFA FC – it is estimated to be between 2 and 3 crore considering it plays in iLeague second division – but he said he plans to invest between Rs 50 and Rs 75 crore on football over the next two-to-three years if he wins for one of the ISL teams. Without the ISL team, the investment will come down to around 10 crore in PIFA FC, setting up new training schools and talent management.

PIFA FC or Premier India Football Academy was set up in Colaba, Mumbai in the 1970s and competes in the Mumbai District Football Association League across three age groups, operating 12 football academies in Mumbai.

Buying PIFA FC also gives Unilazer Sports a platform to bid for the ISL, which required teams to show how they will contribute to build football ecosystem, including training, in the country over the next two to three years. PIFA FC’s academies are training around 500 students and Unilazer plans to take it up to 2,000 by the end of this year.

“Talent management is important for us. We will look for raw talent and send them for international training,” Screwvala said, pointing out that a football player starts his career at around 14, peaks at around 22 and starts to fade by 29. “So, we have to catch them young.”

The company has also signed on the Indian national team goalkeeper Subrata Paul and will manage his marketing rights in future.

The IMG-Reliance league has generated interest among a clutch of big names in Bollywood -Shahrukh Khan, John Abrahim and Ranbir Kapoor – who are deeply interested in football. Screwvala feels this growing sport could do with some profiling. “And television and stars will give it that profiling,” he said.

While football academies could start making money from their first year, these new football league teams, he said, should take three to five years to breakeven if the ecosystem is developed well.

“Football could become a national obsession in the next five years,” Screwvala said. Like the 20-20 cricket league IPL, the eight city teams – to be chosen from potential owners bidding for Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Goa, Guwahati, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Pune – will share central revenues equally. This revenue will come from the broadcasting deal and the title sponsor.

Much like the IPL teams, all ticketing revenues at home grounds, local and ground sponsorship and money from sponsors on players’ shirts will go to individual teams. The bidding for the teams will start at a base price of Rs 120 crore for a 10-year-contract (or Rs 12 crore a year). Each of the eight teams in the football league will have 22 players, with 10 of them from overseas, eight from India and four from the local area under 23. Each team will have one marquee international player.

IMG-Reliance has already signed up former Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United stars such as Dwight Yorke, Fredrik Ljungberg, Robert Pires, Louis Saha and Hernen Creapo.

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