ROVING RSG

India moves ahead of Brazil in the ‘BRIC’ Premier League...

 

Birmingham City belongs to China, Chelsea to the Russians and now India makes its debut in the English Premier League. In November 2010, Venky’s (India) Limited, the chicken processors, made a £23m acquisition of Blackburn Rovers. This means that Brazil, perhaps the most famous of football-ing nations, is the only BRIC country not to own a team in the Premiership.

 

A ‘BRIC’ version of the Premier League would look something like this:

 

 

When it comes to the league proper, Blackburn (or should it be ‘Blackbhuna’ vs. ‘Chelski’ from now on?) may have kicked off 2011 in 12th position - solidly mid-table - but the owners of Venky’s, the Rao brothers, clearly have loftier ambitions for their new team.

 

The incumbent manager, Sam Allardyce, was sacked just before Christmas and the new year has already seen the side make an audacious if ultimately unsuccessful £20million approach for Ronaldinho: the two time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner and ex-Barcelona and AC Milan forward who is now on his way home to Rio De Janeiro side, Flamengo.

 

Such ambition is not wholly misguided. Blackburn, after all, remains the only side outside of Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea to have lifted the Premiership trophy.

 

Besides local goings on in Lancashire, the acquisition of Blackburn also signalled an important tipping point for the Premier League. Since November 2010, half of the 20 teams competing in the 2010/11 season are now under foreign ownership (assuming American Stan Kroenke’s and Russian Alisher Usmanov’s aggregate minority stakes in Arsenal - reported to be 29.9% and 25%- are enough to turn the famous red shirt a peculiar mix of red, white & blue).

 

Whipping around the globe, Manchester United, Liverpool and Aston Villa are owned by Americans; the paymasters at Manchester City and Fulham hail from the Middle East (Abu Dhabi and Egypt respectively), and Sunderland belongs to the Irish.

 

If we were to total up all the points that each of these teams has amassed at the midway point in the season and then allocate them to the country in which their owners reside (and shared Arsenal’s points tally between America and Russia), the US would emerge as the dominant overseas force in the Premiership, topping all of the BRIC countries with an impressive 106.5 points. 

 

There is also some good news for English fans. The aggregate points tally for the remaining ten English-owned teams is 244!

 

But foreign investment in professional sports leagues is not solely an English affair. One of the deals we featured in this year’s FT Innovative Lawyers Report USA 2010 involved Russian investment by Mikhail Prokhorov’s Onexim Group in an NBA franchise.

 

The deal involving the New Jersey Nets - soon to be renamed and relocated to a new basketball arena in Brooklyn - was the first time that a foreign investor has taken majority control of an NBA franchise.

 

Moreover, sources on the inside of that deal said that the governing body of the NBA is open to approving more of this kind of outside investment. As further evidence of this, a group of Chinese investors were already in negotiations to buy a majority stake in another NBA franchise, the Cleveland Cavaliers, prior to the Russian deal closing.

 

Even thought the Cavaliers deal stalled in the middle of 2010, the march of overseas investment continued later in the year when the leader of that group of Chinese investors, Kenny Huang, resurfaced as the front man for another group of Chinese investors looking to acquire Liverpool FC.

 

The Premiership and the NBA have for years competed for domestic and international fans. Teams like Manchester United regularly go on summer tours of the US and the NBA looks likely to continue its programme of showcasing games at the 02 arena in London. Now, however, that battle may be being fought over the hearts and wallets of international investors.

 

Whilst Liverpool might have gone to New England Sports Ventures, proving the continuing dominance of American money in the Premiership, the sale of Blackburn to Venky’s heralds the entrance of India as an investment player in international sports.