Mukesh Ambani: The man who bowled out Bezos & Co.

To boost his popularity and develop his business, India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, turned to his country’s number one sport: cricket. The owner of Reliance Industries, he batted away attempts by Amazon and Disney to acquire the broadcasting rights to the Indian Premier League.

Posted vendredi, août 25 2023
Mukesh Ambani: The man who bowled out Bezos & Co.

These are exciting times for followers of the business of sport, from Saudi Arabia’s audacious attempt to shift the tectonic plates of football and golf, to the growing number of athletes current and former buying into professional sports teams.

During the streaming wars, as in the era of cable TV, media companies have been willing to pay top dollar for the rights to screen the world’s most popular sports leagues. The latest battleground? Indian professional cricket.

The Indian Premier League is one of the world’s most lucrative sporting competitions, being valued at $15.4 billion in 2023, according to a study by investment bank Houlihan Lokey. Mukesh Ambani owns its most successful franchise, the Mumbai Indians, whose men’s team have five IPL titles and whose women’s side were the winners of this year’s inaugural Women’s Premier League. In all, Ambani has men’s teams playing under the MI name in five professional cricket leagues around the world, from South Africa to the USA.

Man with a plan
With a personal fortune of $89.3 billion, Mukesh Ambani is the world’s 14th richest person according to Forbes. He took over Reliance Industries, which has interests in petrochemicals, oil and gas, telecoms and retail, upon his father’s death in 2002. Ambani built on his father’s success in these sectors, but he had no intention of declaring at that, breaking into the streaming arena in 2016 with the launch of JioCinema.

The Indian Premier League is one of the world’s most lucrative sporting competitions, being valued at $15.4 billion in 2023

JioCinema was initially content to offer soap operas and Bollywood movies, but as it grew in its home market, Ambani struck deals with a succession of US streamers ─ from Paramount+ and Disney+ to Amazon Prime Video and, most recently, HBO Max ─ for the right to broadcast their content. But Ambani’s real power-play came with his decision to screen Indian Premier League matches on the platform at no extra cost, attracting 32 million concurrent views to his JioCinema for the 2023 IPL final, a record for a single streamed event.  

Streaming wars
The cosy relationship between Ambani and the Americans turned sour in 2022 when Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video signaled their intent to bid to secure exclusive streaming rights to the IPL for 2023 to 2027. The goal for the US streamers was clear, leverage the local population’s love of cricket to boost their subscriber numbers in India, which in Amazon Prime’s case was 22.3 million last year.

Reliance won the bidding war, paying a record $6.2 billion in the process. The consequences for Disney were immediate, with its subscriber base in the world’s most populous nation dwindling from 61 million in October 2022 to 53 million in March 2023, according to figures published be The Financial Times. In July, The Wall Street Journal reported that the House of Mouse, having failed to curb the growth of JioCinema, was looking to sell off its interests in the country, or at least find a partner to shoulder some of the financial burden.

Thirst for conquest
A former Standford University student, the 66-year-old has his fingers in many pies. The conglomerate he presides over has interests in refineries, renewables, textiles, petrochemicals, retail, infrastructure, telecoms and digital media. It’s no wonder that his compatriots have a saying along the lines of “wherever you look in India, you’ll see something belonging to Ambani." Indeed, his success in recent years has extended into Life Sciences, with Reliance’s posting growth of 25% over the past five years, a fact that has helped Reliance jump 67 places in the last two years on the Fortune Global 500 list, from 155 to 88. Howzat!