Television

ESPN attempts to expand viewer base with IBL

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MUMBAI: The shuttle is really going to fly around during the Indian Badminton League (IBL) for 18 days from 14 August as players belonging to six franchisees get ready to battle on the courts to wrest the winner's trophy. All the action will be shown live on ESPN or Star Sports 2.

Although badminton is still a niche sport, the channel says that it wants to build a multi-sport viewership much like what other channels are also aiming to do, such as Sony Six.

“The idea is to create a portfolio of various sporting disciplines with in-depth programming in each of the categories. This will help expand the sports viewing fan base and help in creating habitual viewing amongst sports consumers,” says ESPN Software India CEO Vijay Rajput.

We have all played various sports during school days apart from cricket, badminton being one of them and ESPN wants to build a base for sports that people have grown up with. Its previous stint was with the Hockey India League (HIL) but this venture didn’t seem to leave an impact on viewers. It feels that what is lacking is the manner in which alternative/niche sports are packaged, communicated and presented. The IPL (Indian Premiere League) has a robust marketing strategy every year apart from the fact that it has an existing huge fan following in the country.

The crux of its marketing strategy for IBL is mainly dependent upon highlighting the fact that viewers will get to watch world class badminton players on the two channels. But firstly they need to ensure that new audiences familarise themselves with the players, if they want to lure new viewers . ESPN's campaign therefore focuses on Indian players in the IBL such as Saina Nehwal, Jwala Gutta, Ashwini Ponappa and Jerry Chopra.

“Our aim is also to build recognisable heroes within IBL,” says Rajput. Promos featuring these players will be on air soon.

Badminton facts that are unknown to the layman will also be provided as part of the campaign, some of them being – a shuttle can leave the racket at a speed of almost 300 km/hour and that a badminton player can cover more than two kilometers in just one match. It is an attempt to get people to know more about the game and thereby tune in to the channel to watch it.

However, it doesn’t seem to match the level that it did to promote HIL by roping in known names such as Prasoon Joshi from McCann Erickson India and ad director Nick Livesey from England.

The matches will be aired during late afternoon and evening. Whether there will be a simulcast on both channels is still being discussed but if one of the host channels is occupied with another sport, the sister channel will telecast the live match. Sources said that Star Sports 2 will probably have commentary in Hindi.

Talks with advertisers have just started and are expected to conclude in a few days. Earlier this month an auction was concluded in which India’s star player Saina Nehwal was bought by Hyderabad for $1,20,000 and the world’s top badminton player Lee Chong Wei went to Mumbai for a whopping $1,35,000.

Matches will be played in the towns of the six franchisees namely Mumbai Masters, Delhi Smashers, Hyderabad Hotshots, Pune Pistons, Awadhe Warriors and Banga Beats. A total of 90 matches will be played in the form of two men’s singles and one women’s singles, men’s doubles and mixed doubles each.

This isn’t the first acquisition for ESPN. It had previously also got hold of the HIL, English Premier League (EPL), Sri Lanka Premiere League (SLPL), Bangladesh Premiere League (BPL) and others. As of now, IBL and ESPN Star Sports have struck a deal only for the first edition of the tournament. How well it manages to garner audience attention will decide the future of the speedy sport. Seems like, ESPN has a thing for leagues, considering that it is a dominant player in its own league.

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