| KUALA LUMPUR
KUALA LUMPUR Malaysian billionaire Vincent Tan is exploring an IPO of U.K football team Cardiff City for as early as this year, people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters, in a deal that would follow the team's recent promotion to the Premier League.
A listing for the Welsh team would follow Manchester United's (MANU.N) debut on the New York Stock Exchange last year, which raised $233.2 million in the largest sports team IPO ever.
The process is in its early stages, the people said, with details on the timing, size and listing venue subject to change.
Tan, who owns 36.1 percent of the club and is the former chairman of conglomerate Berjaya Group, has engaged at least one investment bank to lead the process, according to the people.
The initial plan is to list the club on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange, one of the people said. The deal may be completed as early as this year, another person said.
Tan was unavailable for comment. He is Malaysia's tenth richest person with a net worth of $1.3 billion, according to Forbes.
Malaysia's IPO market, normally among Asia's quietest, sprung to life last year with several multi-billion dollar listings, lifting the Kuala Lumpur exchange to rank No. 4 globally for new listing proceeds.
Cardiff City were promoted to the English Premier League last month after a 51-year absence.
Its recent fortunes run counter to another team owned by a Malaysian. Tony Fernandes, chief executive of Malaysia's Air Asia (AIRA.KL), saw his Queens Park Rangers relegated from the Premier League in what he called a "tragic" season.
Promotion to the Premier League is estimated to be worth at least 120 million pounds to clubs over the next five years because of access to a share of lucrative television rights deals.
Cardiff were on the brink of administration and escaped a winding-up petition at the High Court in 2010 after settling a 1.9 million pound tax bill.
Tan has sought to increase the club's marketability, especially in Asia, although his decision to change their traditional blue kit to red sparked controversy. Nicknamed the Bluebirds, having played in blue for over 100 years, Cardiff now have a red badge featuring a dragon.
Although revenues will rise, clubs like Cardiff will need to invest heavily in new players to ensure that they are competitive in the Premier League.
(Additional reporting by Elzio Barreto in Hong Kong and Keith Weir in London; Editing by Michael Flaherty and Edwina Gibbs)