Mumbai: Star India Pvt. Ltd, media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s television entertainment business, said on Thursday that it intends to spend 1,500 crore over the next eight years in developing hockey, a sport in which India’s fortunes have been in decline for more than 30 years.

Earlier this week, Star India forged a partnership with the International Hockey Federation (FIH) to produce, broadcast and distribute the sports body’s international and Indian events. The deal is for eight years starting January 2015.

Star India is betting big on sports in India, where broadcasters have traditionally invested only in cricket, which dwarfs all other sports in popularity in the country, and have shied away from other games. The broadcaster, which owns the Star Sports network, has already committed 20,000 crore to sports and is expected to invest another $2 billion over the next five years.

India’s fortunes in hockey have gone steadily downhill over the years. It was in 1980 that the country won the last of its eight Olympic gold medals in the sport.

“We are putting money where our mouth is," said Nitin Kukreja, head of sports business at Star India. “Hockey has the potential for growth. We believe that a vibrant local league, international events in India, including the 2018 hockey World Cup, world-class production and coverage are essential to popularize the sport and help nurture future champions."

Last year, Star Sports partnered with Hockey India to launch the Hockey India League (HIL). In its first season, HIL was broadcast in more than 80 territories globally. For season 2, which kicks off on Saturday, Star India promised to spend close to 100 crore on improving promotion and production values of the Hero Hockey India League (HHIL) tournament.

The broadcaster says such investments will help take the game closer to the consumer.

Star Sports has hired International Management Group (IMG) to produce the second edition of HHIL. Israel-based specialized sports agency Prometheus has been entrusted with the responsibility of developing graphics suitable for hockey broadcasts.

The broadcaster will use as many as 20 cameras for the very first time in the history of the sport for each and every match. Additionally, the league will be showcased in English on Star Sports 1 and Star Sports HD1, and in Hindi on Star Sports 3.

Starsports.com will stream all matches live online for hockey fans across the world. The league will see teams compete in 34 matches across 30 days. Of these, 24 matches will be screened during prime time at 8pm. “For the first season of the Hockey League, we had 41 million viewers tuning in. We see that the numbers are growing," Kukreja had said in an earlier interview.

According to data from Star India, close to 53.3 million viewers tuned in for the hockey World Cup in 2010.

Advertisers including mobile-phone maker Micromax Informatics Ltd and watch and jewellery maker Titan Industries Ltd have seen merit in investing in hockey as well, having come on board as sponsors.

To be sure, Kukreja is mindful of the challenges funding the game pose. “...the eco-system has to come together...at the grassroots level, the game needs to grow...we need to give it the rightful investment in terms of production standards and marketing efforts behind it," he said.

Indranil Das Blah, chief operating officer at Kwan Entertainment and Marketing Solutions Pvt. Ltd, said investment in hockey is a bit risky.

“To develop a sport in a country like India, you’ve got to have deep pockets and take a long-term view, and Star India seems to have made that commitment," he said.

Blah said Star was looking to dominate both cricket and hockey in India. In the case of hockey, the “challenge would be the form of the Indian team which hasn’t been performing well, and the politicking around the sport. These have been concerns for advertisers".

Ravi Krishnan, co-founder and chief executive officer of Stepathlon Lifestyle Pvt. Ltd and the former head of IMG India, said the proliferation of media had exposed Indian audiences to a myriad of sports. In developed markets, the next five sports after the No.1 game typically generate 40–60% of total revenue of the top sport.

“Given the billions of dollars that cricket makes/generates in/from the market, this trend suggests that, as the market develops, other sports will benefit significantly. Hockey has a rich history in India. Intuitively, one would be inclined to feel that hockey has both commercial and popular potential," said Krishnan.

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