A mere five months after its last season ended, the Indian Premier League (IPL), the wildly popular Twenty20 cricket tournament, is back. And Mumbai Indians are the favourites to win the title again.

It would be a surprise if they weren’t, considering they’ve won five of the last eight editions, including the previous two. This incredible run makes them the most successful team in the league, which began in 2008. 

Mumbai Indians’ rise has mirrored the meteoric ascent of its owner, not just in cricket but in the overall Indian sporting firmament. 

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Industries, India’s most valuable company, is the majority owner of the country’s premier football tournament, the Indian Super League (ISL). It runs one of India’s largest sports management firms, Rise Worldwide—formerly IMG Reliance. Its non-profit arm, Reliance Foundation, also runs pan-India football and athletics training programmes, as well as competitions for school and college athletes. 

Through these entities, Reliance’s influence extends across a range of sports, including tennis, basketball, and table tennis. And Reliance’s reach is hardly limited to India. Ambani’s wife Nita has been a member of the International Olympic Committee since 2016. 

In a clear sign of its growing sporting ambitions, in December, Reliance bought bought The Indian Express RIL completes acquisition of IMG Worldwide LLC’s stake in sports management JV Read more  global sports and event management firm IMG Worldwide’s 50% stake in their 10-year-old joint venture for Rs 52 crore ($7 million). IMG Reliance became Rise Worldwide. 

“From commerce to development to governance, Reliance is in everything,” says a senior sports management professional who has consulted for Rise. They and several others The Ken spoke to for this story requested anonymity as they didn’t want to be seen publicly commenting on Reliance. 

“They are, by far, the most influential entity in Indian sport,” says Ranjit Bajaj, a former team owner in the I-League, an older rival of the ISL. “It’s like a monopoly.”

Between its three key sports subsidiaries, Reliance reported operating revenue of Rs 885 crore ($118 million) in the year ended March 2020. That’s a drop in the ocean compared with the behemoth’s overall operating revenue of nearly Rs 6,00,000 crore ($80 billion) in the same period. But the significance of sport for Reliance is much more than the money it brings in. 

The 14-season-old IPL, for instance, is unrivalled in what it can do for sponsors and partners. Take credit card payments startup CRED CRED The Ken CRED in the IPL—sixer or hit wicket?

AUTHOR

Seetharaman G

Starting out as a business journalist in 2008, Seetharaman has written about energy, climate change, retail, banking, and technology. He has worked with Business Today, a fortnightly, and the Sunday edition of The Economic Times.

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