Man City owners expand empire

The Etihad stadium, home of Manchester City in the UK. The owners, City Football Group (CFG), are expanding their global stable of clubs to eight in countries from China to Japan to the US. (Shutterstock)
Updated 29 November 2019

Man City owners expand empire

  • Mumbai City FC deal comes a day after Abu Dhabi-owned CFG becomes most valuable soccer group in the world

MUMBAI: The owners of Premier League champions Manchester City have agreed to buy 65 percent of Indian soccer team Mumbai City FC, expanding their global stable of clubs to eight in countries from China to Japan to the US.

The City Football Group (CFG) announced the deal just a day after it agreed to sell a stake to the US private equity firm Silver Lake for $500 million, making it the most valuable soccer group in the world with a $4.8 billion price tag.

While rivals such as Manchester United have focused on building their brand and global following based on one team, CFG has acquired clubs around the world and modelled them on the Manchester City style of play and off-field organization.

The strategy has helped to boost the exposure and popularity of the Premier League champions, whose fortunes have been transformed after decades in the doldrums thanks to an infusion of cash from Abu Dhabi since 2008.

Announcing the Mumbai City deal, Manchester City CEO Ferran Soriano said that the group had been looking for years at soccer in India and the Indian Super League (ISL), which is currently in its sixth season.

“Our goal is long term, we are here to stay,” he told a news conference in Mumbai. 

“We are not here to lose money, we will look to help the league generally improve so that everybody makes money, including us. It will take time, we are patient.”

Mumbai City FC’s home ground is the Mumbai Football Arena, which has a capacity of just 8,000 while the team is sitting in seventh place in the 10-team ISL after five games.

“We believe that this investment will deliver transformative benefits to Mumbai City FC, to City Football Group and to Indian Football as a whole,” CFG Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak said in the statement.

Reuters had reported earlier on Thursday that CFG, which is majority owned by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was likely to acquire a majority stake in Mumbai City.

Existing shareholders in the Mumbai club, including Bollywood actor Ranbir Kapoor and chartered accountant Bimal Parekh, will control the remaining 35 percent stake.

Cricket-mad India is a massive underachiever as far as soccer is concerned and the country of 1.3 billion people has yet to make a single appearance at a World Cup final.

A number of European clubs have, however, set up academies on a franchise basis to get a foothold in a potentially huge market. Spain’s La Liga has invested in a network of training centers to keep an eye on emerging talent and to encourage sales of strips for teams such as Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Traditionally quite popular in Goa, Kerala and Kolkata, interest in soccer in India has grown over the past decade with the arrival of hundreds of artificial pitches in cities such as Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi, which have drawn in a young population previously focused chiefly on cricket.

“It is a great endorsement of the increasing appeal of Indian football and for all football fans in India,” Nita Ambani, founder chairperson of the ISL, said in the City Group statement.

English Premier League and European Champions League games now draw millions of viewers and are easily available on India’s big streaming networks for subscriptions of $7 to $13 a year.

The ISL is promoted by billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries and TV network Star India, which is owned by Walt Disney.

According to the Broadcast Audience Research Council, soccer had a total of 498 million viewers in India in 2018 last year compared with 741 million for cricket.

Mumbai City has had Premier League veterans such as Freddie Ljungberg, Nicolas Anelka and Diego Forlan as marquee players in the past. The first edition of the ISL was won by Atletico de Kolkata, which then counted Atletico Madrid as a co-owner. 


A Jordan startup delivers eco-friendly alternative to dry cleaning

Updated 05 December 2019

A Jordan startup delivers eco-friendly alternative to dry cleaning

  • Products used by WashyWash are non-carcinogenic and environmentally neutral
  • Amman-based laundry service aims to relocate to a larger facility in mid-2020

AMMAN: A persistent sinus problem prompted a Jordanian entrepreneur to launch an eco-friendly dry-cleaning service that could help end the widespread use of a dangerous chemical.

“Dry cleaning” is somewhat of a misnomer because it is not really dry. It is true that no water is involved in the process, but the main cleaning agent is perchloroethylene (PERC), a chemical that experts consider likely to cause cancer, as well as brain and nervous system damage.

Kamel Almani, 33, knew little of these dangers when he began suffering from sinus irritation while working as regional sales director at Eon Aligner, a medical equipment startup he co-founded.

The problem would disappear when he went on vacation, so he assumed it was stress related.

However, when Mazen Darwish, a chemical engineer, revealed he wanted to start an eco-laundry and warned about toxic chemicals used in conventional dry cleaning, Almani had an epiphany.

“He began to tell me how PERC affects the respiratory system, and I suddenly realized that it was the suits I wore for work — and which I would get dry cleaned — that were the cause of my sinus problems,” said Almani, co-founder of Amman-based WashyWash.

“That was the eureka moment. We immediately wanted to launch the business.”

WashyWash began operations in early 2018 with five staff, including the three co-founders: Almani, Darwish and Kayed Qunibi. The business now has 19 employees and became cash flow-positive in July this year.

“We’re very happy to achieve that in under two years,” Almani said.

The service uses EcoClean products that are certified as toxin-free, are biodegradable and cause no air, water or soil pollution.

Customers place orders through an app built in-house by the company’s technology team.

WashyWash collects customers’ dirty clothes, and cleans, irons and returns them. Services range from the standard wash-and-fold to specialized dry cleaning for garments and cleaning of carpets, curtains, duvets and leather goods.

“For wet cleaning, we use environmentally friendly detergents that are biodegradable, so the wastewater doesn’t contain any toxic chemicals,” Almani said.

For dry cleaning, WashyWash uses a modified hydrocarbon manufactured by Germany’s Seitz, whose product is non-carcinogenic and environmentally neutral.

A specialized company collects the waste and disposes of it safely.

The company has big ambitions, planning to expand its domestic operations and go international. Its Amman site can process about 1,000 items daily, but WashyWash will relocate to larger premises in mid-2020, which should treble its capacity.

“We’ve built a front-end app, a back-end system and a driver app along with a full facility management system. We plan to franchise that and have received interest from many countries,” Almani said.

“People visiting Amman used our service, loved it, and wanted an opportunity to launch in their countries.”

WashyWash has received financial backing from angel investors and is targeting major European cities initially.

“An eco-friendly, on-demand dry-cleaning app isn’t available worldwide, so good markets might be London, Paris or Frankfurt,” Almani said.

 

• The Middle East Exchange is one of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Global Initiatives that was launched to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai in the field of humanitarian
and global development, to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. The initiative offers the press a series of articles on issues affecting Arab societies.