New Multan team owner wants second PSL for youth development

Ali Tareen with Ehsan Mani 

The story surrounding the sixth team of the PSL was held by some as a cautionary tale against investing in a league many believed had no long-term prospects. But today, the successful takeover led by Ali Tareen has ensured stability in more ways than one. For starters, Tareen hails from South Punjab, of which Multan is the biggest city, so the team will be called Multan after all; whether it remains Multan Sultans remains unclear for the moment, partly owing to the complicated legal situation that surrounds the exit from the PSL of the previous owners, the Schon Group.

Tareen, the son of one of Pakistan's richest and most influential business leaders, the sugar mill tycoon Jehangir Tareen, saw an opportunity to mix business with cricket when the sixth team became available. Tareen said he was not as concerned by how much money this venture made him, insisting he believed people "see this business incorrectly".

"When you buy a house and put it up for rent, no one expects the rent to pay for the house," Tareen said. "The asset you invest in - the house - will appreciate and the rent will be the operating profit, which you spend. Similarly, you have to see the money you pay for the team as a one-time cost of buying the house. You have to think of it as buying as asset that will appreciate, just like all the other franchises have appreciated. That's how I think of it, not as 'I'm paying a franchise fee as part of my operating expenses.'"

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Tareen has long been vocal about investing in the domestic structure - he runs a website called Grassroots Cricket - and sees the sixth team as an opportunity for young players in South Punjab. He wants the PCB to use the PSL as a vehicle to drive through youth development more efficiently.

"I've suggested another possible competition to the PCB, a winter PSL of sorts," he said. "In this tournament, they'd have players from only the emerging and supplementary categories, as well as possibly the Silver category. A local tournament of the local talent, because many of these guys will never get a chance to play in the actual PSL. One, it develops local players. Two, you can hold matches in the actual cities the franchises are from.

"When I speak to sponsors who have not sponsored a team for two years in a row, they say it's too big a marketing budget for just a few weeks a year. It's too short, and they never get bang for their buck. If there's a second tournament which is also televised, with people coming and watching it at the grounds, that is when sponsors get twice as much mileage for sponsorships they've already paid out on. That's when this can become more profitable."

Tareen's political affiliations won't have escaped anyone's notice. His father Jehangir remains one of Prime Minister Imran Khan's key political allies, and is widely believed to be the biggest financial backer of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. Ali Tareen himself unsuccessfully contested by-elections in his native Lodhran last year. He claimed, however, that he had no intention of using the franchise to bolster any political ambitions, saying he wasn't as interested in the six weeks of the tournament as the background work for it.

"I have no intention or desire to be the face of the team," he said. "Our goal is to have professional management, so none of the owners interfere in management or team selection. My own interest is only the 11 months after the PSL ends, which is when the development takes place."

Tareen believes the groundwork for a successful team is in place. While he had no control over the draft, which took place under a PCB-appointed group, he called it a strong team, though wouldn't yet be drawn into any backroom changes he might make.

Tareen's bid was in serious doubt as recently as Sunday, when he tweeted he was reconsidering bidding after the price exceeded USD 5 million. However, a local businessman stepped up, "who wanted to bid a far bigger figure to ensure we got the rights. The costs were distributed among all stakeholders after that."

With several parties combining to make the Tareen-led bid the triumphant one, it is still unclear who the majority shareholder is. "I'm the director of operations and I'm going to be the one managing the franchise," Tareen said.