Dubai: UAE investors are this week being invited to bid for two available club slots in India’s top-flight domestic football league, in an All India Football Federation (AIFF) move intended to revive the sport.
Vacancies have emerged in the I-league after ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Corporation) and Air India were barred from next season’s campaign after failing to fulfil Asian Football Confederation (AFC) licensing criteria on the grounds of their infrastructure and commercial viability.
Their positions in the 14-team league will now be offered to the highest bidder at a cost expected to start at around $36.8 million (Dh135 million). Even if the two barred clubs are relegated when this season ends next month, the AIFF will still add two new teams to expand the league to 16 clubs.
An initial meeting to discuss the bidding process in Delhi last month attracted representatives from 30 major companies, while a similar meeting in Dubai’s Ritz Carlton in DIFC this coming Saturday has already received 15 registrations. The auction will take place before the end of the current I-League season.
Qualified applicants will be guaranteed a five-year stay in India’s top-flight league without the prospect of relegation, but within this time they will be expected to build a stadium and develop a youth academy.
Kushal Das, secretary of the AIFF, told Gulf News that an attempt to “attract corporates with football vision” was being made to revive the game in India and provide the sport with a much-needed shake-up.
Das estimated that the required investment would total around $25-$30 million, with the breakdown including $10-15 million on land, $12-14 million on an academy, $500,000 on annual running costs for the academy, and a further $3 million annually on first team operating costs.
But the potential returns could be substantial in both business and emotional senses. “Very few clubs in world football actually make money,” said Das. “But in India there’s an opportunity to actually see a return on your investment in due course.
“India is football’s last frontier and, with a population of 1.2 billion shifting their interest towards football from cricket, the potential is immense. When you consider the AIFF is also putting together their own national team programme with the aim of becoming a World Cup-playing nation within ten years, it becomes a very reasonable investment.”
Dubai-based conglomerate Dodsal Group, chaired by business magnate Rajen Kilachand, is considered one of the local favourites to enter the bidding war having already formed the Mumbai Tigers, who currently play in the I-League’s second tier.
They made headlines last September after pledging to sign former Manchester United and Arsenal defender Mikael Silvestre, but the big-name transfer was put on hold in anticipation of their promotion to the top flight.
The AIFF has also invited a host of European clubs to bid in order to start co-branded clubs, while offering technical expertise in exchange for vast merchandising potential.
Representatives of Venky’s Group, which owns English second-tier side Blackburn Rovers, are understood to have been present at last month’s meeting in Delhi.