ESPN hopes to hit the target with English Premier League soccer

Sports in India means cricket, cricket, and only cricket. To the world at large however there is far more to sport and that is what ESPN is attempting to bring to the notice of the Indian viewer. Come 18 August, ESPN kicks off an ambitious programming initiative built around the world's most popular sport - soccer.

The centrepiece of the thrust is the pan-Asia telecast rights ESPN Star Sports has acquired for the English Premier League (EPL). And in keeping with the current thinking among television strategists, appointment viewing is what ESPN hopes to garner in this no-expenses spared soccer-centric programme push.

Speaking at a press briefing in south Mumbai yesterday, Manu Sawhney, managing director, ESPN India, outlined four thrust areas which would be utilised to push the property in India. Multimedia - print, television and online activities; contests, live screenings in clubs, and school campaigns. Sawhney said the various promotional activities would be rolled out over the coming two months and expressed confidence that there was a market just waiting to be tapped on the soccer viewing front. He identified the big cities and the states of Kerala, Goa and West Bengal as primary focus areas.

Pepsi, Samsung, Madura Garments were the three principal advertisers for EPL and had signed one-year deals, Sawhney said. Questioned on whether the soccer initiative was a joint one with Star Sports, he said this was essentially ESPN's baby.

On the programming front ESPN is set to showcase three live games a week on prime time - one on Saturday and two on Sundays. The network also will telecast one additional game every Saturday (deferred relay), one additional Manchester United game and football-related magazine-style programmes, through the week .

And the backend efforts that go into getting a real "close-up and personal" fell of the goings-on on the pitch is quite amazing, going by the information put out by ESPN (no costing figures though). A total of 130 crew on-ground and at studio are involved. A fleet of ten trucks and support vehicles, with standby power generators. Twenty-five cameras are used for each game with that number going up to 35 for a finals fixture. For the audio 20 directional microphones are deployed.

Queried on what other properties ESPN was focussing on other than cricket and now soccer, an ESPN official said Formula One car racing, sports news and quiz-based shows had a lot of potential for development. Actions

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