The hunt for India's Venus Williams and Tiger Woods has officially begun. Last fortnight, India's largest private sector company, Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), announced a 50-50 joint venture to develop, market and manage sports and sportspersons in India. IMG Reliance will focus on four sports: tennis, football, golf and athletics. These are sports in which IMG Worldwide has decades of experience in managing sporting careers-right from legend Arnold Palmer and Woods in golf, to Williams in tennis.
In India, the IMG Reliance duo will have to start from the grassroots. It has to begin by identifying potential winners and creating world-class infrastructure in the form of sporting academies and use them to coach and train. Then, once these players shoot to international fame, the joint venture will manage them. Obviously, this is a long-gestation exercise, with the partners first having to invest in creating winners infrastructure-the returns could take up to 20 years to begin flowing in, once IMG Reliance begins managing the sports stars. For funds, Reliance will lean on the Reliance Foundation, RIL's CSR initiative, which has a corpus of Rs 500 crore, and which will be doubled soon.
"While India is one of the world's fastest-growing economies and houses some of the most prestigious universities, its athletic prowess is underwhelming. China has been more successful in winning Olympic medals than India. India perhaps has the worst record of performance in international sports. This joint venture aims at making sports a way for life for all children and looks towards developing talent over the long run," says Ted Forstmann, Chairman, IMG Worldwide.
At the time of writing, IMG Reliance was poised to sign up with two sporting federations to help them develop their respective sports leagues. IMG already has played a major role in the development and operation of the wildly successful IPL. The revenues-from sponsorships, merchandising, broadcasting rights et al-will begin pouring in once a league is in place, but IMG and RIL Chairman Mukesh Ambani and wife Nita, who is on the board of the joint venture, have the daunting task of making non-cricket formats viable, sustainable and, eventually, lucrative propositions.