ESS gets the biggest cricket name of them all in Sachin as brand ambassador

It's hotting up out there in the sports broadcasting arena. The latest card has been thrown by ESPN Star Sports (ESS) which today announced the signing of Indian cricketing icon Sachin Tendulkar onto his first ever exclusive TV channel contract.

ESPN Software India managing director Manu Sawhney with Sachin Tendulkar at the signing ceremony in London announcing the batting maestro's exclusive TV channel contract with ESPN Star Sports.

Under the three-year contract signed between WorldTel and ESPN Star Sports, Sachin will actively promote ESPN and Star Sports and join the channels on air in exclusive programming that will treat Indian cricket fans to Sachin in a new role on TV. 

Manu Sawhney, managing director of ESPN Software India Pvt. Ltd. said: "It is our constant endeavor to innovate, create and bring compelling sports content from around the world for the millions of our loyal viewers. Im sure our long-term association with Sachin will immensely enhance the value we bring to our viewers and business partners."

Queried as to the terms of the deal, Sawhney, speaking to over the phone from London, said it was a three-year contract that had a renewable clause built in and ESS expected that this was just the beginning of a long association. 

Sawhney would not comment on the payout to Sachin which industry sources have put at Rs 50 million a year, but stressed the deal was not just about endorsements. According to Sawhney, "Sachin will be partnering us in excellence as far as cricketing programming is concerned."

Programming would be created with Sachin and around him, Sawhney said, adding it was an integrated and interactive approach that would include on-air, online, on ground and in print activity. 

Asked how long the programme rollout would take, Sawhney said the shows were still under conceptualisation but would be on air before the end of the year.

The timing though, is what has has led to questions being asked as to whether the sports channel's choice of India's greatest cricketer ever as brand ambassador is a panic reaction to competition in the form of Ten Sports and SET Max which have got sports properties such as the World Cup Football, cricket tournaments in Morocco and ICC World Cup. Sawhney clarified that talks had been on with Sachin for the last six months and stressed it was not a knee jerk reaction to Sony's recent signing of Kapil Dev as its brand ambassador. 

When asked wasn't there a BCCI stipulation that disallows contracted players from participating in any sort of promotional activities while matches are on, Sawhney said: "We will make sure that we do not break any rules and will abide by all ICC guidelines." 

There's no denying that ESPN-Star Sports' has been losing its edge in programming with little high-profile sports properties to talk about. And it could possibly try to fill in the gaps by creative innovative funky programming featuring Sachin. A coaching show, exclusive down memory lane series on the genius who has been compared to Bradman, talk shows, ground events, and what have you are just some of the possibilities that arise.

For programming to succeed with Sachin as the host however, ESPN Star Sports will have to groom him no end, especially in voice modulation, something which he is sorely lacking. There's no doubt that Tendulkar is one of the better dressers and lookers in India, but some of the sheen is lost when he speaks.

There is some irony in that Tendulkar as ESS brand ambassador will be battling himself on the field as far as viewership is concerned when he is playing World Cup matches which will be viewed on SET MAX.

So there it is. Sony Entertainment has Kapil Dev, the man who brought home the World Cup way back in 1983 squaring up against today's hero. Two greats, but who will prove the greater in the viewership stakes? No contest? The audience will have to decide.

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