Petronas, or Petroliam Nasional Berhad, an oil and gas giant owned by Malaysia and one of the biggest global sporting endorsers from Asia, may be circling over Indian Premier League (IPL), a trail-blazing T20 cricket championship in its third year currently.

Aided by the Malaysian government, Petronas is believed to be mulling an exposure in IPL either through investments or sponsorship deals, said a source familiar with the situation. The $77 billion Petronas is most visible in the sporting world through its involvement with Mercedes F1 team even though it is also part of several other motorsporting events globally. Pertronas, ranked as Asia's most proftable corporation by Fortune, is also involved with other sporting events such as basket ball and cycling at a relatively smaller level.

Source added that Petronas was also looking at investing behind one of the eight operating IPL teams, which is currently in the market for stake sale. The move to explore IPL may be backed by Malaysian government as it would provide a significant platform to promote several other sectors in that country, especially tourism, said this source. Petronas may have approached Kings XI Punjab for a potential investment, he added.

An emailed query to Petronas remained unanswered at the time of posting this report. A spokesperson for KXIP declined to comment on market speculation.

While there was no independent confirmation, the possibility of a global behemoth such as Petronas triggering interest was indicative of IPL's big strides in just three years.

"It must be a case of Malaysian government leveraging balance sheet of Petronas to make investments in IPL," said another source, adding that a direct government exposure in IPL could run into Shariah compliance issues. Despite its high voltage involvement with motorsports, Petronas has not yet made any substantial equity investments in the sporting arena till now.

Petronas, which figures among the world's top 100 corporations, has been a fringe player in the Indian market despite landing its lubricants business in the domestic market almost five years ago. However, it holds a crucial stake, just under 15%, in the public-listed Cairn India.

In the current context, Petronas has very little interest in the Indian market to make a big push, like an investment in IPL, unless it being a front for the larger interests of Malaysia, explained sources who were not directly familiar with the developments. They said a sporting endorsement (read sponsorship) deal was more likely. Moreover, IPL team valuations are ruling high and appears to be volatile currently, sources added.

Last month, IPL decided to add two new teams through an auction process, which saw Sahara Group and Rendezvous Sports successfully bidding for Pune and Kochi franchise at $370 and $333 million respectively. The two new teams will board IPL in its fourth season, also opening up fresh endorsemernt opportunities.

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