New Delhi: All India Football Federation`s ambitious plan to rope in at least two corporate-owned sides into the I-League today received good initial response with 30 companies, including IPL teams owners Sahara Group and GMR, turning up in a meeting with the AIFF officials here.
The open house meeting at the AIFF Headquarters was chaired by federation president Praful Patel, who later expressed happiness at the initial response of the corporate houses at the initiative.
"It was a very satisfying meeting and the response from the corporate sector was very good. We are hopeful that we could find at least two corporate teams to play in the next I-League season (2013-14)," he said after the meeting which lasted more than two hours.
Besides Sahara Group and GMR, who own IPL teams Pune Warriors and Delhi Daredevils respectively, the other corporates include Pune-based Venky`s, the owners of former English Premier League side Blackburn Rovers, and Dubai-based Dodsal Group and DSK Shivajians from Pune.
This is, however, early times now as many of the corporate houses that turned up today were yet to commit anything on whether they are interested in the AIFF initiative.
The Corporate Communications head of Sahara Group, Abhijit Sarkar told PTI that his company would want to see what is there in the Request for Proposal (RPF) from the AIFF which will be floated on March 30.
"It was more of testing waters and we wanted to see what was in the plate of AIFF. We are not committing anything now and we are not saying now that we are interested in owning a club to take part in the I-League. We will see the RPF first and decide whether we will go ahead or not," Sarkar said.
I-League Chief Executive Officer Sunando Dhar said that GMR did not register itself with the AIFF for today`s open house meeting but informed the federation at the last minute that it was interested to take part in the meet.
"Around 30 private sector companies took part in the open house meeting. GMR did not register earlier for the meeting but they came today. It was more of knowing each other. We put forward what we want from the new club and they also expressed their views and asked for clarifications," Dhar said.
"We will have another such meeting in Dubai between March 20-25 for potential foreign companies and RPF would be issued in the newspapers on March 30. And the bids will be opened on May 10 and the final decision will be taken which club to be roped in," he said.
Dhar said that the AIFF may not ask for financial guarantees from the potential new club owners as done in cricket and hockey but would lay down some requirements like investment in infrastructure and youth development.
"We may not ask for financial guarantees from the potential clubs as is done in cricket and hockey. We are laying more emphasis on infrastructure building and youth development. If we decide to ask for financial guarantee, it will be a very small amount," he said.
The bid evaluation of the interested companies will be done by top-notched accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
In a bid to raise the profile of the I-League by bringing in corporate sector in the game, the AIFF had initiated the plan to give direct entry to at least two corporate-owned teams in the tournament. The two teams would not be relegated for the first three years.
Patel had said that the two corporate houses would have to build infrastructure, including the stadium for the team, besides also investing on youth development.
Dhar said that it was not necessary that only two teams owned by corporate houses will be roped in, adding any company can take over an existing club.
If more than two sides are roped in, the I-League will have more than 14 teams.
"From the current ongoing I-League (2012-13), two will be relegated and two from the second division I-League will be promoted as usual. If the two teams relegated are not Air India and ONGC, then there will be two slots available and two corporate team can make direct entry," he said.
"If more than two corporate teams are roped in, then the I-League can have more than 14 teams," he added.
Air India and ONGC are set to be dumped from the next I-League (2013-14) as they have not been able to fulfil AFC club licensing criteria even after giving them repeated deadline extensions.