Mumbai: Having committed around $40 million (around Rs190 crore) to acquire the broadcast rights to all Fifa (Federation Internationale de Football Association) events, including the World Cup, Manu Sawhney, the Singapore-based managing director for ESPN Star Sports, is confident that its investment in football will pay off in cricket-crazy India. He spoke in an interview about his plans for the month-long World Cup that starts in South Africa on 11 June. Edited excerpts:
Are Indians interested in football? What kind of viewership are you expecting during the World Cup?
Football is one of the fastest growing sports in India and, after cricket, it is also one of the most followed sports in the country.
The star power of the players, the competitive and intense action on the field and the celebrity lifestyles are among factors that have contributed in profiling this game.
As a result, its fan following is quite visible among the youth and is also growing among the female audience. Key premium events like Barclays Premier League are now a part of conversations in schools and players like (Wayne) Rooney, (Frank) Lampard, (Lionel) Messi, (Cristiano) Ronaldo and Kaka have become household names.
Rising popularity: ESPN Star Sports managing director Manu Sawhney says broadcast timings for the 2010 Fifa World Cup being held in South Africa will help attract more viewers in India. Ramesh Pathania/Mint
The Barclays Premier League’s just-concluded season was sampled by more than 60 million individuals in the country. In 2002, the World Cup was seen by 34 million individuals and the 2006 edition saw a growth of close to 50% (in viewership). The ratings were impressive too and, on an overall basis, the 2006 tourney generated an average TRP (television rating point) of 1.95 (among men above 15 years in cable and satellite homes across socio-economic categories).
We expect the World Cup to continue this trend. The fact that it’s happening in South Africa means that the broadcast timing will suit the Indian audiences and this should further prop up the viewership and reach of the tournament.
What has led to the growth of football in India?
Over the last 10 years, we have continued to invest in football in a focused manner to build the game in the subcontinent. We continue to do so by bringing innovations in the way we produce, present, market and distribute top-class football in India. Fans have sampled quality football properties like Barclays Premier League, the Confederations Cup and the Euro Cup on television. With increased exposure, their understanding of the game has grown.
What will be your programming strategy for the World Cup?
We are looking at it in two parts—pre-event and live programming.
The aim of the pre-event programming is to make the sports fans more aware of the key teams and stars so that they can look forward to catching them in action during the tournament.
This is being shown through a series called The Contenders, which profiles the participating countries.
We are also showcasing many interesting encounters of the past, taking fans through memory lane.
For live programming, we will bring all the 64 matches live. The broadcast will be supported with shows before and after the game.
How will ESPN Star Sports market and promote the World Cup?
Through a series of individual television commercials, we are focused on highlighting key teams and stars including Rooney (England), Kaka (Brazil), Messi (Argentina), Fernando Torres (Spain) and Ronaldo (Portugal). This is supported with other innovative campaigns built around Fifa songs by K’naan and Shakira. We will organize special screenings of the games at various public locations, including hotels, pubs and restaurants.
This year, for the first time, in addition to the broadcast of all 64 games live in Standard Definition, we will be making 56 games available for broadcast in High Definition. We are currently working with our partners in the market to make it possible.
How many brands are coming on board for the event?
Vodafone and Airtel DTH have signed on as joint presenting sponsors while Nokia, Samsung and Hero Honda have signed as associate sponsors. There are host of spot buyers as well including Parle Agro, Pernod Ricard, Micromax, BPCL (Bharat Petroleum Corp. Ltd), Coca-Cola and Jhaveri Industries.
As our corporate policy does not allow it, I am unable to share any financial details at this moment but I can tell you that the World Cup continues to be a strong product in our comprehensive and extensive portfolio.