Soccer fever: Zee Sports sets itself 'Goal 2010' with AIFF

MUMBAI: Just imagine! With football fever spreading across the country thanks to the football World Cup, Zee Sports has set itself an ambitious target.

Zee Sports and the All India football federation (AIFF) are looking to spread the popularity of football over the next four years. The two parties have announced a visionary project Goal 2010.

The ultimate aim is to see India play in the soccer World Cup in 2010 in South Africa. Hence the tagline Just Imagine! The two parties will have public relations, youth outreach, training and marketing activities. The first step in the long journey will be a three week long Soccer Carnival in 11 cities including Goa, Mumbai and Delhi. The carnival kicked off in Chandigarh on Monday.

Elaborating further on the initiative Zee Sports business head Himanshu Mody said, "Football is an international sport for which there is a vast following among the masses in India. We have put in lot of hard work to present Indian Football in a high quality format at viewer friendly times with in depth analysis.

"That football has entered a new level has become obvious with the strong response we have received from fans and the corporates in the last one-year. Goal 2010 is an assertion of our commitment to make football as the most watched and played sport in the country. We believe that this project will help Indian football make a place for itself in world football."

The channel notes that the level of interest in the ongoing soccer World Cup shows on one level that the interest in the game is alive and well. At the same time the poor standard exhibited by the Indian football team in the past few decades is responsible for the domestic clubs and national team’s performances not being followed. The channel rightly notes that should India take part in the soccer World Cup in 2010 interest will skyrocket.

The parties are looking to take advantage of the rise of interest in football in the public's consciousness and build the players, leagues and clubs on the plank of "Support your team and it's player's in their crusade for the next World Cup”. The Goal 2010 project will encompass all activities undertaken by Zee and AIFF in their preparation to get India to South Africa in 2010.

Activity Plan: The earlier mentioned carnival will be in the form of roadshows. For three weeks they will travel to Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pune, Lucknow, Chandigarh, Jaipur and Kolkata. The roadshows will have branding, MC, music, Zeebras and a roll of Canvas on which the channel will make Indians pledge their support to Indian Football’s World Cup 2010 campaign. The promoters will drive traffic to this Graffiti wall.

In the morning, the channel shall park outside a school or academy to rally student support. In the evening, the channel will cover public parks and the main market areas. There will also be a giant replica of the Fifa World Cup. The channel is hoping that this will instill dreams in Indians that just like cricket their football team too can do their country proud on the global stage.

During the three-week period in each city the road show will last for three days and will visit various hip and happening locations in each place. The aim is to create fan awareness about different facets of Indian Football, which includes various tournaments and leagues, football players, clubs, legends of Indian football, etc. Besides providing an opportunity to fans to know about Indian football, the carnival will also host a variety of interactive games and contests where they will have the opportunity to win Zee Sports merchandise.

The carnival will first visit Chandigarh with the football cheerleading squad, the Zeebras. A huge inflatable football will be placed at a prominent indoor location in each city and will remain there for six months. People can come and pledge their support to the Indian Football’s World Cup campaign. All signatures collected during the campaign will be presented to Fifa president Sepp Blatter in October, during his visit here and his support for India’s dream will be sought.

Zee Sports VP marketing Gaurav Seth says that later in the year the channel and AIFF will conduct inter school competitions where probables for the under 17 and under 19 teams will be considered. The Japanese team comes down in October to play in qualifying matches for next year's Asia Cup in Malaysia. If the Indian team is able to qualify for the Asia Cup then that will give them excellent practice ahead of the World Cup qualifiers which start in 2008.

Zee Sports and the AIFF will also conduct clinics for coaches and teachers. This is important in growing football at the grasroots level. A couple of weeks ago, AIFF, with advice from Zee Sports, had chosen Bob Houghton as the Indian football team's coach. Houghton has in the past helped take China to the soccer World Cup. Seth is hopeful that with the carnival Indian soccer fans will not forget about the sport once the World Cup (which is airing on rival ESPN) ends.

Zee Sports had introduced the Zeebras as their mascots of promoting Indian football. Dressed in funky outfits, the Zeebras will perform on hit tunes during the carnival.

Zee Sports had signed a 10 year deal with the AIFF last year. The channel says that since then it has taken prudent steps to popularise Indian Football. For the first time, 100 matches of Indian football comprising of matches from National Football League, Federation Cup and Santosh Trophy were shown live.

Zee Sports flew down international experts in football production for the telecast of Indian Football. This included directors, sound engineers, visual graphic specialists from the UK, South Africa and South East Asia. Using a 12-camera setup to cover the action from the field, Zee Sports ensured every shot and dribble was viewed from multiple angles ensuring exciting viewing to its consumers.

The coverage involved more replays, international commentators, new graphic look and various in studios programming leading to the build up. For the 10th edition of ONGC Cup, two world-class units simultaneously broadcast the matches from Kolkata, Mumbai and Goa. British Match director David Horridge, produced the telecast.

Horridge is involved in directing Champions League matches and is now Germany to work for Fifa on the World Cup coverage. The telecast package will include preview and review shows, half time match analysis and various studio programming. 

In line with Zee Sports promise to deliver international quality coverage of Indian football, John Helm and former England International player Russell Osman were flown from England for commentary for all the three major domestic football tournament. Assisting them were Zee Sports commentator Debayan and football expert Noel da Lima Leitao.

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