In hockey country, PHL does it for ESS

MUMBAI: While the media is full of reports over the cricket rights for the upcoming Indo-Pak series, a non cricket event with a local flavour is marking out its own space. The Premier Hockey League (PHL), a major localisation initiative from ESPN Star Sports (ESS), recently completed its first season.

The broadcaster pulled out all stops to promote the event. And the effort has not been a wasted one.

Tam data C&S 4+ for 9 January to 5 February 2005 tells a story. While the data for All India got a high of 0.46 it was able to pull in viewers in a big way in certain metros whose teams were participating. Hyderabad which hosted the event had a maximum rating of 3.29.

There was good news for one of the sponsors Western Union. The company was looking at targeting Punjab and other parts of the North. Punjab/Harayana/ Chandigarh/ HP belt drew a maximum rating of 1.18. Delhi had a maximum rating of 0.88 while Mumbai got a rating of 1. Even All Maharashtra did well with a high of 0.79. As had been earlier reported by, ESS used print and radio in a big way in order to familiarise people with the teams and the different players. Online it had also created a micro site where fans could get information of the teams as well as the playing schedule. There were road shows in the different cities whose teams participated.

Channel Speak: ESS India head RC Venkateish said, "We managed to have a gross viewership of 50 million. This is double what the last year's Champions Trophy in Pakistan got. Mind you, the Pakistan event was an international tourney. In fact PHL, which got off to a slow start, ended up getting us the highest ratings for a broadcast outside cricket. We have managed to through this novel initiative with the Indian Hockey Federation to create loyalty for a sport that had been on the sidelines for a while."

Venkateish added that the broadcaster is looking to expand the event next year. "Delhi and Chandigarh will have floodlit stadiums. We want to incorporate the concept of home and away matches. We are also looking to have more participation from European players. The atmosphere for the final match where you had drums beating loudly is something that isnormally only reserved for cricket."

When it was put to Venkateish that Information available with indicated that the investment that had been pumped into PHL stood at Rs 50 million while revenues garnered from the first season was only Rs 5 million, he challenged the numbers. Venkateish claims that the broadcaster has recovered around 60 per cent of its operational costs. "The Rs 5 million figure is off the mark. I am confident that with sufficient innovations on our part the sport will turn into a revenue making proposition in three years. Already Adidas, which partnered with the event for gear, has reported excellent merchandise sales."

The Media Planners take: Media planners have expressed a degree of optimism on the sport picking up. Speaking to, Lodestar Media's Nandini Dias says that hockey was the best sport the broadcaster could have chosen to give a local push to. "When they initially came to us with the concept I was sceptical about how it would work. However, PHL has created a buzz among our clients due to the fact that a connect has formed with the viewer. I would in fact advise clients to put money on hockey and also on soccer properties like the EPL rather than on tennis and F1," Dias remarks.

Dias says that the logic behind this is the fact that while Sania Mirza and Narain Kartikeyan have entered the sports, advertisers will not flock to those sports in big numbers. The number of viewers tuning in to these sports is relatively small, especially F1 which is a niche sport. In her opinion at the most that will happen is that the two sportspersons will have certain endorsements coming their way

Dias goes on to explain that one thing that will help PHL in a big way is stars being born from the local leagues coupled with international players participating. As she rightly points out, earlier you only had Dhanraj Pillai. Now a bias can be seen among the viewers who will support one team like Maratha Warriors over another. She adds that media planners would do well to look at ESS as a male genre rather than only being a cricket channel. "If you are able to position your brand properly you should be able to get a decent return," she avers.

Initiative Media assistant vice president Manas Mishra says that for a first time effort, the PHL had done well. He, however, adds that it was important for ESS to learn from this tournament. "Next year they should try to heighten the visibility for the event by having a comprehensive marketing and communication plan. This should be interactive in the form of contests and could run on mainline channels. That would get them more sponsors. They could also look at getting schools and colleges involved with the spirit of PHL. That will create a grassroots awareness. Right now the awareness level for PHL is less than what you get for an Indian Idol or Cinestar Ki Khoj.

"In terms of properties that are attractive, it is key that they build up at least three national tentpoles keeping in mind the fact that India cricket is absent. One was PHL. The second should be F1 with Kartikeyan in and the third could be tennis," says Mishra.

Mishra maintains that the response to F1 and tennis will depend a great deal on how these events are marketed to the viewer. "ESS has done a lot over the years to boost the quality of the telecast of cricket and they should be complimented for that. Now it is time to look at boosting the coverage of F1 and tennis. For a media planner EPL is a valuable property because of the effort that has been taken to build it up through interactivity. The same goes for Super Selector."

Venkateish says that that the channel will do on-air and on-ground initiatives to promote F1. "We will organise big screens in major pubs and restaurants. As far as tennis is concerned our hope is that Sania Mirza will attract women to watch the sport. This way we would also attract advertisers that target women. The Australian Open Tennis match where Sania played Serena Williams got an all India TRP of 0.7."

As far as advertisers coming on board, Mishra feels that some advertisers who have been involved with Formula One in the past will come back in a big way. However F1 may not be able to attract new clients immediately. Tennis will be more successful in that arena according to him.


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