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Rajasthan Royals, the reigning IPL champions, have sold a 11.7% stake in their franchise for approximately US$15.4 million to Shilpa Shetty, the Bollywood actress, and her partner Raj Kundra, a UK-based businessman. That puts the valuation of the franchise at around $140 million, more than double the $67 million the owners, Emerging Media, paid for it a little over a year ago.
Shetty, winner of the UK TV show Celebrity Big Brother in 2006, is the fourth Bollywood personality to be associated with the IPL, after Preity Zinta (Kings XI Punjab), Shah Rukh Khan and Juhi Chawla (Kolkata Knight Riders).
Manoj Badale, representing Emerging Media, described the new deal - the first known instance of a franchise selling part of its stake - as "a strategic alliance".The focus last year, he said, was to make Rajasthan Royals a well-known brand in India; this year the strategy is to globalise it.
"We want to make Rajasthan Royals into more than a cricket franchise, want to make it into a global brand. It was the second-most popular team in all of India last year," he said.
Coming as it does in the middle of a global economic recession, the news will further hearten the game's administrators. On Monday, the IPL released the base prices for Friday's auction, with two players - Kevin Pietersen and Michael Clarke - valued at a million dollars or more and Andrew Flintoff at $950,000.
Rajasthan - the franchise with the lowest value when the rights were sold before the inaugural season - had bucked the trend in the first player auction too, opting for a unit of low-profile players in sharp contrast to other franchises who spent millions on cricketers with heavyweight reputations. The strategy paid off under the astute leadership of Shane Warne, who later said that winning the inaugural IPL title was one of the proudest moments of his life.