Mumbai: Chairman and chief executive of IMG Worldwide Inc., Ted Forstmann, was in India recently to announce a joint venture (JV) with Reliance Industries Ltd. Forstmann said in an interview that IMG Reliance Pvt. Ltd aims to manage, market and develop sports and entertainment in India. Edited excerpts:
What is this venture about?
It’s early days. There are a few things, but first of all, to kind of upgrade sports in India and make it much bigger and better in a whole lot of ways. There are various aspects to this, but you start with the kids and try to get them interested in other sports you have. We already have a world-famous academy; one of the first things we will do is build one of those here and train elite athletes. To start off, Mukesh (Ambani, RIL chairman) and I are going to send 20-30 kids to our academy and get them started in tennis, golf, basketball and football. But there will be many other things by the time we’re finished. So, it’s a long-term project, but you start at the grass roots and end up hopefully with a whole different sport. Cricket will always be what it is, but you’ll have a whole lot of other things that matter where India could really produce some elite athletes.
You place emphasis on developing talent at the grass-roots level. The US’ National Basketball Association (NBA) has already tied up with the Basketball Federation of India to do just that. How will your plan be any different?
I can’t get into that right now. We expect to have arrangements with the appropriate federations. Developing talent at the grass roots is going to have to do with the federations; they will have to pitch in as they are grass-roots organizations. I would say that we are going to be very helpful with disciplines and coaching and all kinds of things. But also, Mukesh and I want to start an elite athletes academy here in India. His daughter (Isha) was saying that India had won 20 medals at the Olympics in the last 100 years, while China won 100 in one year, so something is wrong here. You have your cricket guys who are terrific, but you should have that as well. That is doable. It doesn’t happen overnight, you target the right things, the right disciplines, the right coaching, the right diet. I wouldn’t know for example, why acrobatics wouldn’t be good in India. You guys have yoga…why wouldn’t you all be good at it? Americans are so good at it, and that’s because someone targeted it a long time ago and now we have all the schools which offer that.
Game plan: Ted Forstmann of IMG Worldwide says how the joint venture works in India is 99.9% up to Reliance Industries.
We recognize that to accomplish these things, there is going to have to be some investment and infrastructure and so on. I think the business model is, we have the JV, we have a number of ideas of what we want to do and Mr Ambani is going to bring in the appropriate people to participate and the federations will obviously be one of them. You’re going to have to build some things to make this work.
In 2004, IMG had announced the launch of IMG Academies Bharata, which had very similar goals. That didn’t take off. What will be different this time round?
In 2004, I didn’t even own the company, so that’s a big difference. And to be in business with Reliance is the difference between day and night, from an infrastructure point of view and from what should be done. Not only do they know, they can implement it. I believe that the private sector, in partnership with the federations, can drive things and make things happen.
How it works in India is 99.9% up to Reliance. We’re here to offer the expertise we’ve developed over 50 years. They will tell us what they want to do, and we will try to help them implement this.
The Super Agency will manage celebrities from sport, Bollywood and fashion and develop properties in these sectors. Won’t this compete with what IMG does?
No, because we don’t represent any Indian athletes right now. It’s not core to this, but on the commercial side of things, an agency fits. Because if you are involved in events, in production, you’re also involved with people, it helps create heroes. And hopefully, you pick the right people. I’ve signed very few people, I’m an investor, but I thought that Roger Federer was the kind of athlete that more kids should know about. Because, well he’s turned out to be the best tennis player that ever lived. But he’s a real gentleman and a real example for kids. You and I can name a lot of American athletes who are not. So, I thought it was important and it fits. But the time this is over, we’ll be in a lot of different things. For example, we know how a stadium needs to be put together, or how an academy needs to be put together and Reliance will make it work.
What areas are you’ll likely to focus on?
The maximum commercial potential, is that India is a country of over a billion people. Other than cricket it doesn’t have well defined sports. You really can’t thing of a better blank canvas. I don’t know how it will look 10 years from now. For example, India is one of the primary purchasers of automobiles and two-wheelers. And you have no real motor sports. When automotive companies want to promote their products they do so through motor sports. So there is a lot of potential out there.