IPL 2020: Dream11, Tencent and Chinese connection

WION Web Team New Delhi, India Aug 18, 2020, 06.52 PM(IST) Written By: Subhayan Chakraborty

BCCI announces Dream11 as title sponsor for IPL 2020 Photograph:( Agencies )

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IPL 2020’s title sponsor – Dream11 – has Chinese investment in the company by Tencent - the world's largest video game company, one of the world's most financially valuable companies.

IPL Governing Council Chairman Brijesh Patel on Tuesday announced that fantasy gaming platform Dream11 has been awarded the title sponsorship for the much-talked-about Indian Premier League (IPL) 2020 scheduled to be held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from September 19 to November 10.

While the announcement came as a sigh of relief for cricket lovers who are eagerly waiting for all backroom developments to be concluded as soon as possible so that the lucrative and arguably the best T20 tournament in the world can go ahead, the Chinese-backed Dream11 being handed the title sponsorship for IPL 2020 wasn’t digested well over social media platforms. 

Dream11 bagged the title sponsorship deal with a whopping INR 222 crore (around $30 million) bid racing ahead of others in contention. While the Tata group didn’t place a final bid, two edu-tech companies, BYJU's and Unacademy, in the race came second and third. The deal with Dream11 also sees the BCCI take almost 50 per cent financial hit given that the deal with Chinese mobile manufacturing giants Vivo fetched them INR 440 crore ($66m) a year. 

With anti-China sentiments running high in India following the border skirmish between the two countries at Galwan valley 20 Army personnel were killed in a faceoff in what was the biggest confrontation between the two militaries after their 1967 clashes in Nathu La, the BCCI said it will review IPL's sponsorship deals, including the one with Chinese mobile manufacturing company Vivo. The meeting never happened but months later Vivo and the BCCI mutually agreed to pause the deal for a year. The development was well received by everyone in India. 

However, IPL 2020’s title sponsor – Dream11 – has Chinese investment in the company by Tencent - the world's largest video game company, one of the world's most financially valuable companies. On Dream11 investors' section on their website, the company lists four organizations. Steadview - a leading India-focused investment firm, Tencent - which claims to use technology to enrich lives of internet users and is founded in Shenzen, China in 1998, Multiples - an India-focused investment advisory firm that managers Private Equity Funds and Think Investments - an investment fund headquartered in San Francisco. The only questionable investor in India’s point of view is Tencent, which is also behind massively popular video game – PUBG. 

Dream11

However, a BCCI source told PTI that Tencent holds less than 10 per cent in Dream11, which is an Indian company founded by Harsh Jain and Bhavit Sheth. 

"Dream11 stakeholders, including its founders plus all 400 plus employees, are Indian," a BCCI source was quoted as saying by PTI. 

"Their Indian investors are Kalaari Capital and Multiples Equity. Even Dream11's product is available exclusively for use only by Indians. Only a single-digit percentage minority stake is held by Tencent," the official added.

But it was earlier reported by many media portals that Tencent holds a majority stake in Dream11. Tencent had invested over $100 million in the Indian gaming unicorn in 2018 and naturally would be looking for profits, which they may have well received given Dream11’s stunning rise in recent years.

Dream11

Not only that, Dream11 fell into trouble in July, 2020 when the BCCI’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) had sought an inquiry against the company when the platform had links to a fake T20 league which was held in Punjab but was live-streamed as a match in Sri Lanka. 

The ACU investigations cleared that kits used by the teams in the tournament had Dream11 logo and the matches were live-streamed on FanCode – another part of Dream Sports Group.

But the question remains, does bringing Dream11 solves the issue of providing exposure to Chinese companies? Was the Vivo deal pullout all about anti-China sentiments in India? 

Many claim that Vivo deal was put on hold as the mobile manufacturing company was unwilling to shell out INR 440 crore for a year amid COVID-19 pandemic and obviously, the social media backlash didn’t help the cause either. While Dream11 is not an out and out Chinese company unlike Vivo, the profits company will be bagging with the deal, a part of it, in all probability, will reach Tencent. 

"As a well-wisher of Indian sports, I wish and pray that IPL 13 is held successfully in the UAE. However, with Dream11 becoming the title sponsor of IPL, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's dream of 'Atma Nirbhar Bharat' will be a bit shattered as Dream11 is a Chinese company. It has also come to fore that the company has a huge investment in one of the IPL franchises," Secretary of Cricket Association of Bihar (CAB) Aditya Verma was quoted as saying by IANS.

Dream11 now doesn’t only hold the title sponsorship rights but is also partners with seven IPL teams -Mumbai Indians, Chennai Super Kings, Kolkata Knight Riders, Sunrisers Hyderabad, Delhi Capitals, Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab. 

Keeping aside other sports, Dream11 has exclusively managed the Official Fantasy Game of VIVO IPL since 2019. It has also acquired Official Partner rights of BCCI’s international and domestic matches since 2019.

With IPL 2020 expected to break all the TV records, the exposure and profit Dream11’s investors would be getting is unprecedented. Still, the question remains, does Dream11 bagging IPL 2020 title sponsorship put the main issue to bed? Perhaps, no.

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