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Volume 21 No. 13


The fledgling Elite Football League of India is set to file registration papers within several weeks with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering on the Nasdaq Stock Exchange, sources said last week.

EFLI played its first season last year and will begin its second season in December, introducing American football in a country where the sport is virtually unknown and where professional sports overall is only just beginning to secure a foothold.

Indian cable provider Ten Sports is broadcasting the league’s initial seasons.

“While I cannot confirm [an offering], this has been planned since early at the onset of the League,” EFLI consultant Tom O’Grady wrote in an email. “Having a deal with Ten Sports was critical to considering the IPO.”

O’Grady is founder and chief executive of Chicago-based branding firm Gameplan Creative.

The league’s early investors include pro football hall of famer Mike Ditka and former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner. It also boasts a field of advisers that include former Fox Sports executive Ed Goren.

Goren will not, however, be able to count on his former employer for immediate support. David Hill, the former chairman of Fox Sports, who has been working for News Corp.’s Star unit in India and now is working on the launch of Fox Sports 1, said last week that he thought EFLI was a poor idea. The only sport that counts in India, he said, is cricket.

“I was nonplussed when I heard about [EFLI],” Hill said. “It is not something we will buy the rights to.”

Richard Whelan, the league’s co-CEO, declined to comment on the planned IPO, citing SEC rules. He did say EFLI had already raised $9 million from individual investors privately since the plan for the league was announced in 2011.

Sports public offerings historically have performed poorly on American markets. The quarterly revenue and profit growth that investors demand is usually not consistent with the lower-margin, seasonal financial paradigm of sports. Among the teams that have had offerings are the Florida Panthers, Cleveland Indians and Boston Celtics.

Manchester United last year listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and despite predictions in many quarters that the soccer team also would fare poorly, shares have risen more than 20 percent. Man U is a global, iconic powerhouse, though, rather than an upstart league such as EFLI.

Why EFLI is listing in the United States instead of India is unclear, though access to capital is better in the United States than in India. The relative familiarity of football in the United States compared to India could also play a role.

EFLI played its entire first season in Sri Lanka and broadcast the games months later. In season two, home games will be played in India, with broadcasts more closely following the games. The league has plans to expand to other Asian countries, already counting a Pakistani club.

Venkatesh Movva, an Indian doctor who practices in Oklahoma, last week became the first outside owner of one of the league’s clubs, purchasing the expansion Hyderabad SkyKings. The league owns the existing eight teams that played last year. Whelan declined to say how much the franchise cost, again citing SEC restrictions.

Whelan did say the league would soon be announcing the hiring of someone with Bollywood connections. The success of the Indian Premier League (cricket) has in part been attributed to its Bollywood support.

Wyc Grousbeck
Governor and co-owner, Boston Celtics;
former partner, Highland Capital Partners

“Long term, I am positive on the place of sports and specifically sports media rights in the overall economy — their growth is based on the demonstrable value the media rights deliver to advertisers and to media providers.”

Rob Kauffman
Co-owner, Michael Waltrip Racing;
co-founder, Fortress Investment Group

“As a single-point-in-time event, it’s not particularly significant, but it’s a good indicator of a couple of things. Firstly, that the damage from the financial crisis has been substantially reversed at least in some quarters, probably more Wall Street than Main Street. Second, it’s a barometer of more positive outlook on the general economic environment, which should support sports in getting attendance at venues and ticket sales. … To the extent it’s an indication of a more robust environment for lending, we may see more transactions for sports teams.”

David Hill
Senior executive vice president, News Corp.

“Four indicators I use to gauge how well the market is going to do:

1) Checking with friends at headhunting firms. If their business is doing well, firms are hiring executive talent, and the economy is strong.

2) Asking taxi drivers how’s business. When times get tough, public transport gets used and the cab business gets hurt.

3) Watching the housing price indicators. If it’s gently edging up, and homes are worth more than their purchase price, the economic mood become buoyant.

4) A rising Dow means 401(k)s are doing well, people’s retirement situation is secure, which means an economic sense of optimism.”