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India’s Reliance eyes sports streaming rights to further Jio appeal

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Via Financial Times

Reliance Industries is eyeing up the Indian streaming rights for some of the planet’s biggest sporting events, the conglomerate’s latest move in a push to dominate the world’s second-largest internet market.

The company, which is conducting a market study ahead of any move, hopes online broadcasts of contests such as the English Premier League can further the appeal of its Jio mobile and broadband services, according to Nita Ambani, a Reliance board member whose husband Mukesh is the group’s chairman and controlling shareholder. 

“I would be very interested to get the digital rights of some of these games to be shown on digital in India,” Mrs Ambani said.

Reliance’s core business is oil refining and petrochemicals but in recent years it has made a push to dominate the country’s booming digital market. Jio, launched in 2016, has attracted 340m mobile customers and last month entered India’s broadband market. Reliance also plans an ecommerce venture. 

The Ambanis, who maintain close ties to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are India’s richest family. Mrs Ambani leads Reliance’s sports businesses including the Mumbai Indians franchise in the Indian Premier League cricket tournament, and co-founded the Indian Super League football competition. 

A big move into sports streaming would shake up India’s telecoms market, echoing the strategies of western TV networks and broadband providers from Fox in the US to Sky in Europe, which have signed multibillion-dollar deals for exclusive sports rights to attract and maintain subscribers. 

Reliance has signed deals with TV network Star India, bought by Disney in its $71.3bn acquisition of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, to show IPL and international cricket matches through its JioTV app. 

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Mrs Ambani said it would consider other events such as English top-tier football. “We will definitely look at it because I think it’s a huge business.”

That would require investment. Star India paid about $100m in its latest three-year deal to screen English Premier League matches, according to a person familiar with the contract. 

“Apart from cricket, for a country of 1.3bn people India doesn’t have a sports market as big as it could be,” said Jayanth Kolla, a partner at telecom and tech consultancy Convergence Catalyst, who suggested digital sports deals could be a springboard to build a broader sports empire. 

“Someone like Reliance — coming in with their brands, finances and might — could help improve the infrastructure and the ecosystem . . . It’s not just about streaming.” 

Mrs Ambani said the company was spending $85m a year on Reliance’s sports initiatives.

Through the family’s philanthropic foundation that Ms Ambani also leads, she is part of a drive to turn India into a global sporting superpower by funding grassroots coaching projects aimed at millions of Indian children. 

“I think what is most important for us to do is to create Indian sporting heroes because you will only follow the game if you have your own heroes,” she said. 

As one of the IPL’s most powerful team owners, Mrs Ambani wants an expansion of the Twenty20 cricket tournament, which boasts $510m in revenues for domestic broadcasting alone. 

She suggested this could be done by adding more franchises to the eight-team competition. Mrs Ambani added she was holding talks with the BCCI, Indian cricket’s governing body, to create a women’s Twenty20 competition to be played alongside the men’s IPL tournament. 

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Mrs Ambani, a member of the International Olympic Committee, is also advocating for India to host the Games for the first time.

Asked when a bid could take place, the 55-year-old said: “I retire from [the IOC] at the age of 70, so hopefully before that . . . As long as India hosts it, I’m happy. I think it will be a dream for all the children in India to see Olympics in India and Indians winning medals.”

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