Star Sports is targeting an operational break-even period of three years from its investment in the upcoming Indian Super League (ISL), which kicks off next month. With an investment of around Rs 2000 crore (Rs 20 billion), Star India has a 35 per cent stake in the ISL joint venture with IMG Reliance.
Speaking to TelevisionPost.com, Star India president Sports Nitin Kukreja said that if franchises get their branding right, they will also be able to break-even in three years.
“There will be an investment phase. I think that it would take three years of investment from everyone. Different stakeholders will achieve break-even at different points of time. If a team builds its brand really well and builds its fan base, then it will break-even faster than the others. At Star, we are equity partners and are looking to break-even in three years or so. ”
He added that Star is in advanced talks with sponsors. “We are looking at six to eight sponsors. We are following an integrated approach of having a sponsor present on-air, on-ground and on digital. But we will not compromise on pricing. We will do sponsorship deals only if the price is acceptable.
“We are also open to working out short-term deals with clients depending on the price point. That is why we had not done sponsorship deals with the kabaddi league. Advertisers wanted to see the proof in the pudding and we displayed it in kabaddi. We are very confident that we will display it in soccer too”
The big challenge for him is that the quality of play has to be excellent. “Indians are used to seeing a high quality of play in sport and soccer like the soccer World Cup and the English Premier League. We have to deliver a product that will stack up. The goal in the first season is to establish the strength of the product. A marketing campaign is on-air.
“The teams are in place. We have got great names in terms of players and coaches as well as owners. It is about putting together an entire package. The marketing campaign is about the birth of a footballing nation. Football has such appeal in India in pockets like Kerala, Goa and Bengal. Beyond that, there is a fundamental appetite for soccer which comes through when events like the soccer World Cup take place.” Saying that Indians haven’t seen the sport done well in their country with good stadiums and proper packaging, marketing and excellent television coverage, he added, “It is about getting that aspect together.”
He added that the ISL has got good quality international players despite leagues going on in many countries. “Each team has six international players one of whom is a marquee player. While some of them might not be playing for their country anymore, they are active. Del Piero, for instance, played in Australia till recently. They are looking for different opportunities and are excited about India an opportunity. They are very much in the prime of their careers.”
He added that the i-League has made some progress in the past few years. “It is not that effort has not gone into it. It is showing over the last few years’ positive signs. Bangalore and Pune are emerging as good centres. But I think that there are other aspects like television production and marketing that need to be taken care of. It also needs the quality of play. Indians after all see the like of EPL. The stadium experience also matters.”
In terms of central revenue, he said that there is a good alignment of incentives across stakeholders to make a great product. When it comes to learning from international leagues like the EPL, Kukreja said that the one learning is that they have built a sustainable ecosystem. “They have been around for years. For us the aim is to build out a sustainable ecosystem that allows everyone to have a good product and then make it commercially viable.”
Expressing disappointment over the postponement of the third and fourth phases of digitisation, Kukreja said that it would have an impact on sports broadcasting. “But the most important thing that digitisation does is that it brings transparency into the system. You need to know how many people are viewing your channel.”