Television

ESS looks to spread the Fifa fever with production, marketing initiatives

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MUMBAI: One of ESPN Star Sports' (ESS) biggest properties for the year is the football World cup. While the event is still a few months away and takes place from 9 June to 9 July 2006, the channel has announced a slew of initiatives that it is hoping will build excitement.

ESS India MD RC Venkateish said, "The Fifa World Cup is one of the most watched sporting spectacles across the globe with last edition having a cumulative audience base of 28.8 billion worldwide. ESPN Star Sports will be unveiling a comprehensive programming around it to give the Indian viewers an experience of a lifetime to build their interest in the FIFA World Cup by creating an appeal."

Production values to be given a boost: Venkateish explains that to start with, ESS has established a distinguished and enriched studio panel of presenters for the World Cup. Gerry Armstrong, ex-Irish International and now a soccer expert with ESS; Steve McMahon, ex- England and Liverpool player and ESS presenter Harsha Bhogle for the World Cup. ESS is counting on the three generations of sports expert to provide a new dimension to the telecast of the event to viewers in India.

The broadcaster will also have Indian soccer experts, Novy Kapadia, Noel Da Kima Leitao, P.K. Bannerjee and Bhaichung Bhutia from India joining the above mentioned studio panel as guests every week during the event. For coverage from the venues, the broadcaster will have two dedicated teams in Germany comprising Anand Narsimhan, Dave Roberts and Jason Dasey, who will capture the World Cup craze live from the host nation. Additionally, a special Indian ESS production team will travel across India to catch the enthusiasm among the Indian soccer fanatics.

The sports network will also have a special Hindi feed for traditional markets in India during the event. Elaborating on this initiative, Venkateish said, "We are looking to reach the mass Indian market during this World Cup to build soccer as a sport in the country and localisation of content has helped us increase our penetration in traditional markets of India. The special Hindi feed will add a lot of value to our telecast especially for viewers who find it difficult to understand the heavily accented English or for viewers who are not familiar with English at all."

Venkateish is confident about the viewership for the event as the matches have convenient timings with some matches starting as early as 6:30 in the evening,. 75 million Indians sampled the telecast of World Cup 2002, with a cumulative audience reach of 804 million in India. He further says that the ratings of the Fifa World Cup have been higher than the ratings of an India cricket test match.

"Soccer is getting much bigger in India than it was in 2002; with over 55 million people watching the European League this season." he adds

A strong marketing push: From this month, the broadcaster will carry out various marketing initiatives to promote and build up the popularity even more.

ESS will be undertaking a nation wide search for eight school children to be chosen as the Fifa fairplay flag bearers at the World Cup. The contest will be an opportunity for the school children to travel to Germany and stand with their favourite stars during the pre match ceremony.

McMahon said, "It feels wonderful to be on the panel as an expert covering the World Cup. The Fifa World Cup is the most anticipated event for any sports fan and I am looking forward to covering the mega event from ESPN Star Sports studios. I have thoroughly enjoyed being a footballer and being part of the England squad for Italia '90. Now I look forward to my new role as an expert analyst for Germany 2006. I will give my best to the fans and play my part to help grow the popularity of this fantastic sport."

Bhogle said, "I have always been committed to ESPN Star Sports for programming and am honoured to be part of this special India presentation for the biggest sporting event in the world. We have got an excellent team and look forward to maintaining the presenting standards ESPN Star Sports has set in India."

A New Show: To build up hype for the event, the channel will also have Fifa programming to generate viewer interest. From Wednesday 4 April, the channel will telecast FIFA World Cup Stories. This will showcase stories in the World Cup history. Six episodes of half an hour duration will provide angles to chapters of the event. The programmes will feature stories on the most surprising and shocking results in the World Cup, Golden Boot winners of the previous editions, dramatic penalty shoot outs, young stars of the sport and rise to top of some of the underdogs. An extensive programming will follow the Fifa World Cup Stories on Fifa till the World Cup starts.

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