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Volume 20 No. 42
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Elite Football League of India ready to file documents with SEC, pointing toward IPO

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.