Ironically, India’s National Sports Developmental Bill 2013 recognises 66 sports in the country. Off late, we are witnessing a rousing appetite for emerging sports from the birth of leagues like the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), World Kabaddi League and the upcoming Hero Indian Super League (ISL).
Star India is one of the broadcasters aiding the growth of a multi-sport ecosystem in India. After the success of the PKL, it is gearing to make the ISL a roaring success too. Leading the sports division is Star India president sports Nitin Kukreja who joined the group in August 2007. With earlier stints at Pricewaterhouse Coopers and Morgan Stanley, the young executive talks about how the broadcaster plans to reach out to multiple sports fans in India and the strategy ahead of India’s footballing movement exclusively to indiantelevision.com’s Herman Gomes.
Excerpts:Which are the sports Star is looking at experimenting with in the next five years?
Over the past year, we have invested in sports like kabaddi, hockey, badminton and football, apart from cricket. Whichever sport we invest in, our objective is to make the game relevant and exciting even for the un-introduced population, thereby attracting viewers and eventually helping the entire sports ecosystem of the country.
For the first time we have a TV network which is the promoter of the upcoming Hero Indian Super League. Is the league based on the Japanese J league model where the teams were named after their home city and emphasis was laid on the grassroots development programme?
Football is a universal language that cuts across culture, race, religion and economic might. Being a prime provider of sports content to the sports fans in India, it was natural for us to become one of the promoters of the Hero ISL. We have gone a step ahead, as for the first time in the history of football, we’ll telecast the matches live with commentary in five different languages – English, Hindi, Malayalam, Kannada and Bengali.
The Hero ISL is conceptualised jointly by IMG-Reliance and Star India. We’re also fortunate to have the support of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) that reaffirms the commitment of the governing body to develop and promote the game in the country. With the league, India has joined the world of football and Star Sports is attempting to reach each and every sport lover in the country in his own language.
Grassroots development is one of the most important aspects in the agenda for the Hero ISL. The mandate for winning a city team in this league was not just based on the highest financial bid, but also on the bidders’ proposal of a sound plan for developing football in the catchment area they wished to bid for.
What are the factors that offer huge consumption potential for the businesses of sports in India?
Our country is one of the youngest in the world and statistics show that over 50 per cent of India’s population is aged less than 25 years. In fact, India is set to be the youngest country in the world by 2020. It is this segment that provides a huge potential for the business of sports in India. For far too long, we have been a single-sport country. At Star, our efforts are aimed at inspiring people to make sports an integral part of their daily lives. We believe sports is more than getting people to watch TV, it is about shaping a culture where sports can thrive and talent can be honed.
We realised that there is a growing appetite from Indian sports fans for cricket and other kinds of sports. We want to address this need and offer the best of cricket, international sports as well as domestic and global leagues that will give birth to a new sporting nation.
The success of Star Sports Pro Kabaddi League indicates that the appetite of sports fans in India has grown beyond the boundaries of just cricket. However, all of sports constitute just four per cent of the total TV viewership in our country, which is substantially below general entertainment and news. Of this, almost 3.5 per cent is contributed by cricket. While cricket remains central to our business, Star is making significant investments to increase the fan following for non-cricket sports in India. The passion with which the Indian youth connects with different sports is the key to this business.How many viewers are you planning to reach out to, during the League?
The Hero ISL will be the first sporting event in the country to be backed by a never seen before ubiquitous broadcast plan, with a potential to reach around 85 per cent of India’s television audience. This ambitious plan is expected to herald an unparalleled reach for any content, in the history of Indian television. Spanning over eight channels in the sports and general entertainment categories, the Hero ISL will be televised in five languages: Star Sports 2 (English), Star Sports 3 (Hindi), Star Sports HD 2 (English), Star Gold (Hindi), Star Utsav (Hindi), Asianet Movies (Malayalam), Jalsha Movies (Bengali) and Suvarna Plus (Kannada). Through this, we would engage more viewers in non-English speaking regions of our nation and present the game in the language that the fans speak.Which are the international agencies that you have got on board to provide better production values for the ISL?
While there are millions of football lovers in our country, the popularity for international tournaments and European leagues has been predominant. We plan to change this with the Hero ISL, which will be a world-class product equivalent to European leagues like the Barclays Premier League.
In our commitment to showcase a truly global league, we have partnered premier international agencies such as IMG for the live programming of the matches, Argentina-based 4HUMANS to put forth superlative graphics design and the UK-based AE Graphics for its execution.While Star invested in the infrastructure for the Pro Kabaddi League, how much will you be investing in infrastructure in different cities for the Hero ISL?
We are investing heavily in the sport, not just monetarily but by putting in sincere and significant efforts as well. Our investments go beyond infrastructure building, whereby we’re working towards grassroots development for the sport that will help putting India on the global map for football.
The league has invested in stadium refurbishment in the eight identified venues to create a platform to groom young footballing talent in the country. These include Salt Lake Stadium (Kolkata), Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (Chennai), Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (Delhi), Fatorda Stadium (Goa), Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (Kochi), DY Patil Stadium (Mumbai), Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium (Delhi) and Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex (Pune).In how many years do you see the franchise teams breaking even?
It is too early to talk about that. All our efforts at this point in time are pointed towards building it as a premium property. But given that the game has such an enormous potential we’re confident that the league will enthrall sports fans and be commercially successful as well.
Many football experts and club owners in India are of the opinion that the Hero ISL will affect the I-League and lead to it becoming an inconsequential format. What are your thoughts?
We’re glad that I-League exists today, as having multiple properties that support the game only help the overall sports ecosystem in a country. However, the Hero ISL is an entirely different property with a well-differentiated offering.
Some I-League clubs have joined our property; team owners from Salgaocar, Dempo and Shillong Lajong FC co-own teams in the Hero Indian Super League. This really benefits Indian football as a whole in the long run.How has starsports.com been performing and how will you utilise the platform during the Hero ISL?
All matches of the Hero ISL will be telecast live on starsports.com. Over a short span of time, the traction on starsports.com has grown significantly and we are expecting a steep growth in online traffic for all our upcoming football properties. The website is currently approaching a 100 per cent growth already over last year’s football subscription numbers, with almost 70 per cent of the traffic coming from the age group 18 – 24.
Besides live telecast of all Hero ISL matches, starsports.com will also present video on demand content, match highlights and full match replays. Our reach on football this season is touching 25 per cent of the entire core football watching audience on TV.
What is more exciting for a football fan is that Starsports.com offers all matches of the Barclays Premier League, Spanish La Liga , Italian Serie A and the Hero ISL offering a wide variety of content to the viewers.While advertisers missed the bus for the Pro Kabaddi League how many advertisers have you got on board for the ISL besides Hero Motocorp? Are you looking at providing a combined on ground and on air package for advertisers?
There are no preset benchmarks for the game of football in India and we intend to set them right at an unprecedented scale and vision to serve our product. Our focus has been on building the Hero ISL as a premium property and we’ll continue with that approach. For the first season of the league, we are offering package deals for brand visibility, both, on-ground as well as on air. With Hero Motocorp being signed as the title sponsor, there is a lot of buzz and anticipation around the associate sponsorships. We’ll announce the names of the associate sponsors as well soon.What was the ad revenue from the Pro Kabaddi league?
Firstly, we did not sell Pro Kabaddi to advertisers, simply because we treated it as a start-up in its investment phase, like any other new business. Star Sports was the title sponsor for the league. However, the advertiser interest kept mounting as the league progressed and got an unprecedented, rather historic response from people across the country.
Don’t you think two Kabaddi leagues will cause a viewer fatigue?
Cricket has demonstrated that the fans just cannot have enough of the sport that they love. We are used to seeing cricket, tournament after tournament, all year long. The recently concluded Pro Kabaddi League indicates the mass acceptance of Kabaddi as an engaging sport and there is no way that having two Kabaddi leagues will create a viewer fatigue of sorts. In fact, the two leagues are different from each other in terms of their formats and the game-play, which overall makes Kabaddi even more interesting. It only increases the exposure and penetration that the game deserves.
Are you looking at building new leagues in India for volleyball and basket ball?
Following the overwhelming success of Pro Kabaddi League, we are currently focused on repeating the act with the Hero ISL. As of now, we don’t want to divulge the details of properties in the pipeline. Being the leading sports network in India, we have continually worked for the betterment of sports, and we’ll take up any opportunity that is aligned with this objective. Rest assured, we will keep you abreast with any further developments.
Do you now see India becoming a multi sports nation soon?
The appetite of the Indian sports fans has been steadily increasing and there is an increasing acceptance of non-cricket sports. However, the nation is still far away from being known as a multi-sports nation today.
At Star, we believe that India with its 1.2 billion population should not be a single-sport nation. Hence, we’re putting forth and reintroducing other sports like kabaddi, football, hockey, badminton, etc. to revolutionise the sporting landscape in the country. We are sowing the seeds to spawn a multi-sport culture, and our vision will definitely translate into reality.