ESS to telecast 'Premier Hockey League' for next 10 years

MUMBAI: The Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) has announced that the inaugural edition of the Premier Hockey League (PHL) will be played from Thursday, 13 January, 2005 at the Gachibawli stadium in Hyderabad. IHF also announced that ESPN Star Sports will play the pivotal role of marketing, producing and broadcasting PHL for the next 10 years.

At a media briefing in the capital yesterday, the federation also announced the names of all Tier I and II teams and the names of the captains for the Tier I teams. Earlier this year, the IHF had announced that it would be starting a domestic league with Rs 7.1 million as prize money with an aim to popularise the game in India.

IHF president KPS Gill announced the names of five Tier I teams and their respective captains, which are as follows:

1. Jallandhar Sher-e-Jallandhar - Gagan Ajit Singh

2. Mumbai Maratha Warriors - Viren Rasquinha

3. Chennai Chennai Veerans - Ignace Tirkey

4. Hyderabad Hyderabad Sultans - Dilip Tirkey

5. Bangalore Bangalore High-Flyers - Arjun Halappa

Tier II in PHL will have the following teams: Delhi Dazzlers, Lucknow Nawabs, Imphal Rangers, Bengal Tigers and Chandigarh Dynamos.

Expressing a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, Gill said, "This is the beginning of a land mark journey, of re-capturing the glory of hockey and rebuilding India's supremacy in the game internationally. The rebuilding has to start at ground level by giving a platform to our players to hone their talent by playing in an active league. PHL will provide that platform. Supported by world's number one sports network we are well poised to accomplish the challenge ahead of us."

Elaborating on the choice of captains, IHF Honorary General Secretary K Jothikumaran said, "Captains for PHL have been decided after lot of debate. Youth, exuberance, association of masses with their respective captains and an eye for future have been the key parameters for their selection. I am confident that the selected five will grab this opportunity with both hands and motivate their teams to fight fiercely for the inaugural title."

ESPN Software India Pvt. Ltd managing director R C Venkateish said, "ESPN Star Sports is committed to growing PHL as a sports property and we are bullish about the growth of the league. We believe that PHL, in years to come, will become one of the most important events in India's sports calendar. We have made all efforts to ensure that PHL is showcased in a manner, which is exciting and involving for the viewers."

"We envisage the popularity of PHL to grow as consumers association with various teams grows. Through an innovative promotions campaign we will accelerate the process of consumers adapting teams as their favorites. Keeping the growth of PHL in mind, every single aspect has been well researched starting from team names to team colors to programming values. ESPN Star Sports will be revealing team logos and team colours in an exciting programme in the near future, which will also work as the first step towards building consumer affiliations with teams. High decibel communication campaign for each team will further amplify respective imagery to make the league more involving for the audiences. With all these efforts and support from IHF, PHL is set to become a sporting spectacle," he added.

PHL is a result of over three years of hard labour put in by the IHF, ESPN Star Sports and Leisure Sports Management (LSM). LSM chairman and managing director S S Dasgupta said, "LSM has been closely involved with hockey and IHF for over five years and was instrumental in bringing Corporate giants to sponsor the National Teams for over four years. We at Leisure Sports feel it as a matter of great pride to have played a major and key role in the birth of PHL. We have used our experience to provide value in structuring the tournament and working at on-ground logistics for the smooth functioning of the league. It has been a mammoth task and at the same time, it is hugely satisfying that the league is taking off. LSM will continue to work closely with IHF to ensure that the functioning of the league is smooth with the best of facilities being provided to participants and viewers."

The month long league kicks off on 13 January, 2005 and innovations have been made in the PHL to increase viewer interest in the game. Each game will have four quarters of 17 minutes and 30 second each, instead of the two halves. New concepts of time-outs have also been introduced in order to liven up the game. The winner within the stipulated time will get three points for each victory while the team winning in the extra time will share the points 2:1.

The league will have two tiers having five teams each in the first year. Tier I will be called the 'Premier Division' and Tier II will be called the 'First Division'. The League will follow a round robin format with all teams playing each other twice. The winner will be decided on the basis of total points, said an official release.

PHL will offer a total prize money of Rs 7.1 million of which, the winner of the Tier I will take home Rs 3 million while the runners up will take home Rs 1 million. The winner of Tier II will get Rs 400,000, while the runner up will receive Rs 250,000.

PHL will also feature players from countries like Pakistan, South Korea, Spain and others. Also interesting is the fact that PHL will be the first sporting platform ever where Pakistani and Indian players will play in the same team.

ESPN Star Sports has drawn out a comprehensive two level marketing plan to popularise the league. The first part will entail promoting the league nationally so that the anticipation is build before the start of the tournament, whereas the second level will aim at building team loyalty with local level initiatives in the respective team locations.

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