New Delhi: Television broadcaster Zee Sports might borrow from cricket to sell football.
A sports manager says it is considering a franchise for the I-League, a professional soccer league proposed by the sport’s apex body in the country, the All India Football Federation (AIFF). Zee holds exclusive telecast and marketing rights for events organized by the AIFF.
Sports management firm World Sport Group (India) Pvt. Ltd, or WSG, which has developed the model, said the plan has been discussed with the broadcaster. “We gave the proposal a couple of months ago,” said World Sport Group’s South Asia chief executive Venu Nair.
World Sport Group’s South Asia chief executive Venu Nair
The franchise model is on the lines of cricket’s Indian Premier League (IPL), the Twenty20 league conceived by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), to counter Zee’s own rebel tournament, the Indian Cricket League.
In an interview, Zee Sports chief operating officer Gary Lovejoy denied WSG has approached it with a plan, while business head Himangshu Mody didn’t respond to phone calls, text messages and emails.
If the plan works out, it marks one of the first concrete steps towards commercialization of Indian soccer. The world’s top football administrator, Joseph Sepp Blatter, told AIFF a few months ago to clean up its act and move towards a more professional structure.
WSG recently won the ground and sponsorship rights for 55 BCCI-managed international cricket matches, including the ongoing series against Australia, for Rs173 crore. But Nair said the group is not entirely new to football: it holds the sponsorship and media rights of the Asian Football Confederation till 2011 and managed the recent Asia Cup, won by Iraq, played across eight venues in four countries.
The IPL will comprise eight teams of 16 players each, from both India and other cricket-playing nations. The teams will be run by franchises, either individuals or corporations, to be chosen through a bidding process. The franchises will run their teams on a commercial basis, as prevalent in US leagues such as the National Basketball Association or the National Football League, and earn revenues through sponsorships, selling broadcast rights, merchandising and turnstile sale.
Zee’s proposed cricket league doesn’t follow the franchise model, funded centrally by the broadcaster’s holding company, the Essel Group, and the Infrastructure Leasing and Finance Services—the two are believed to be spending up to Rs100 crore. The six teams will be named after cities to fan regional passion and create a following. Zee can’t do this with football, as the teams are either established clubs or have been promoted by corporate houses such as automobile major Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd. Hence, its interest in WSG’s franchise model.
Under the model, the AIFF earns revenues from television and sponsorship, with a percentage of earnings ploughed back to the clubs. The franchisee will in turn earn from ticket sales, stadium branding and hospitality. “They must be able to monetize their investments,” WSG’s Nair said.
Outright sale of clubs is not possible in India, as in Europe or the US, and franchisees will invest for a period of about five years. Nair said the idea wasn’t entirely absurd; overseas companies such as those from Japan, which back football, could do the same here. “But everything is subject to AIFF approval,” he added.
The problem is, he says, there’s no clarity on how the I-League is different from the National Football League currently in place. There’s another: teams that have money-earning potential such as Kolkata’s Mohun Bagan and East Bengal football clubs have two popular liquor brands from the UB Group stable attached to their names. Their role in franchises and sponsorships remains a question.