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'Premier League Soccer will have $20 mn revenues in year 5' : Celebrity Management Group executive Director Bhaswar

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After hosting big names in football like Diego Maradona in 2008 and Lionel Messi last year when the star Argentinean footballer toured India for an international friendly game against Venezuela played in front of a record crowd in Kolkata, Kolkata-based sports management company Celebrity Management Group decided to kick-start a venture like the Premier League Soccer, modeled on the lines of America’s successful Major League Soccer.

An initiative of Indian Football Association (West Bengal), the governing body of football in the state, and CMG, the league has turned world’s attention towards Indian football which has been slowly realising its true potential as a marketable sport.

Testament of the league’s potential is the fact that leading sports media company, MP & Silva, has bought the international media rights excluding South Asia. The organisers are targeting total revenues of $5-6 million from the inaugural season of the league.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com’s Javed Farooqui, Celebrity Management Group executive Director Bhaswar Goswami, the brain behind the project, shares his vision behind launching the league and its commercial prospects.

Excerpts:



What was the thought process behind launching Premier League Soccer?



The day we brought Diego Maradona to Kolkata, we realised that we wanted to do something for Indian football which be different. We started looking at different options; we organised exhibition matches, got coaches down for clinics. But these were one-off activities. We decided to do something that is a combination of all these activities but is held on a regular basis and is part of the Indian football system. That’s when this idea came to us and we shared it with IFA (Indian Football Association); they immediately accepted (the proposal) and asked us to start working on how it should happen and what are the modalities.

We studied global football from different perspectives, looked at MLS (Major League Soccer), EPL (English Premier League), and were sure that the franchise model is what we are going to follow. During this time, IPL (Indian Premier League) also happened in India and the cricket league was a roaring success. The inspiration was the MLS.

The I League was going nowhere; it had no vision. It is India’s premier domestic football but only in words; it did not had any effect on the football scenario of India. So we thought we should do something which would create buzz across the nation and catch the imagination of the fans, the sponsors and everybody who loves football. We decided that we should bring the biggest names in football to come and play for our teams. That is how it started.

How difficult was it to get international players like Cannavaro and Crespo to come and play in the PLS?



It took us seven-eight months to put together these six big names because the first time when we sounded them out, they thought we were crazy; they didn’t understand what we were talking about. They had a long and illustrious career and have been sold and transferred from one club to another. But we came up with a proposal that they would have to sign an MoU and would be put up for auction for a base price which is acceptable to both of us. We also told them that their participation in the league would go a long way to develop football in India. They bought into our vision and accepted our offer. We are happy that we will have some of the big names being part of Indian football for the first time.

Why did you restrict yourself to West Bengal rather than launching a pan-India league?



I definitely want it spread across the country. But you need to have the endorsement of the AIFF (All India Football Federation) to organise a pan-India league. As AIFF has taken IMG Reliance as its marketing partner, they couldn’t have agreed to our proposal. And in case we want to do something, we have to go through them

The reality is that there are more fans of Manchester United in India than East Bengal and Mohun Bagan put together. So then why can’t our clubs from Siliguri or Barasat have fans across India and beyond? It’s not just the name of the club but also how you create content. We believe that in the era of television, if you have the right product, content and packaging, it’s only a matter of time that it will travel across the world. You will have a winning brand and a winning combination. It doesn’t matter where the matches are played. If the content is seen in North America, South America and Europe besides India, I think we are up for a great future ahead for PLS.

What will drive this league?



We have the best combination of legends in the world of football who will actually come together and play with our young boys in India. I think the quality of soccer played will be much better than what we see in India now. Each of the teams will be headed by a world-class coach. And in football, we all know coaches play a huge role.

Imagine a young local footballer from one of the catchment areas passing the ball to Crespo for a goal. I mean, just the thought of it excites me! What it will do is bring our young footballers to the global scene. This will become an inspirational story for a number of talented footballers.

Also for the first time in India, a league will be telecast across the globe in Europe, in Americas and Africa. You never know what will happen in five years time – perhaps, there will be an Indian footballer who may end up with a contract in Europe. So the marketing ability goes up.

The market has already expanded. In the last few days, we have mopped up around Rs 1.05 billion that is being invested in teams and overseas players in the PLS. That money was always waiting to come into Indian football. The Indian football market will continue to grow.

‘The Indian football market has already expanded. In the last few days, we have mopped up around Rs 1.05 billion that is being invested in teams and overseas players in the PLS. That money was always waiting to come into Indian football’
Don’t you think that the PLS will compete with I League?


I League will continue to be the premier domestic competition in India. But I do believe that the PLS will be popular.
 

 

Will it be more popular than I League?



I hope so, that’s what my target is. A large number of television audiences watch EPL and I want them to watch our Indian league; that’s where my target audience is. If you look at Tam figures, in 2010 there were 155 million television viewers that watched football. I want most of them to watch the PLS.



I also think that the PLS will complement the I League. It will be a talent supply source that the I League can tap.

 

While the PLS will have big foreign names, will Indian players be able to participate?



The I League players will not be eligible to participate in the PLS. We are talking about the other guys. The Kolkata Football League, which is one of the strongest leagues in India, has 16 teams in the premier division. Both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have been beaten by four teams in the league. This proves that there are a lot of good footballers outside these I League clubs. Similarly, in Goa there are a lot of good footballers in the local league. So it’s actually these footballers who will get to showcase their talent in the PLS.

 

A lot of I League clubs have been shut down in the recent past due to lack of returns. Many have blamed these clubs for not investing in talent development and marketing. Do you have commitment from the franchises that they will invest in talent development and help in marketing the league?



One of the terms in the tender mandates each of the franchises to run U-13, U-16, and U-19 coaching camps. It is in the interest of the franchises to nurse talent. Because if you have a footballer who is worth being exported to one of the clubs in Europe, you might earn millions. The commercial opportunities in developing a footballer are enormous.

 

What is your business model and how are revenues to be shared between PLS and the franchises?



PLS has a central revenue pool which includes commercial rights. The broadcast and other media rights form part of this. Fifty per cent of that will be distributed among franchises. They also hold the marketing rights for their own teams; they have ticketing, merchandising and licensing rights. We are sure that the franchises will make profit.



When do you expect the league to be profitable? What is the break-even period for the league as well the franchises?



The league will be profitable in year one because of the model. In a franchise system, you cannot make loss because you are paid a fee. Then you will sell the commercial rights packages, out of which you share 50 per cent with franchises. So your earnin is the franchisee fee (which is Rs 75 million and is expected to reach Rs 85 million with the addition of the sixth franchise). And if you have $6 million from commercial rights in year one, you will make another $3 million from there (after sharing 50 per cent with franchises). We are also sure that each of the franchises will make profit in year two.

 

What kind of investments you are making to organise the league?



We will be investing around $3 million. A large part of that will go into developing infrastructure at all the venues. There will be floodlights in all the stadiums; upgradation will also be done.

 

Do we have stadias in each of the franchise cities?



The franchise cities itself were chosen on the basis of whether they have stadias and hotels.

 

What do you think is the revenue potential of this league?



I am expecting the league to reach $20 million in revenues during the fifth year. So far as the franchises go, if they do a consolidated P&L account they will earn a profit of at least $15-20 million.

 

Why have fixed the expense cap for the franchises at $2.5 million?



We don’t want them to over-spend. This cap will, however, change each year after discussing with the franchises.

 

What about your broadcast partner for India?



We are in talks with three of them. We are still evaluating what kind of deal we want to have. We are looking at a broadcaster who would help us in promoting the league. We want the matches to be shown live.

 

Will you have a local broadcaster in West Bengal besides a South Asian rights holder?



We are not looking at a local broadcaster at this point, but you never know what happens. We are looking to sell a South Asian package. I want my league to be a pan-Indian product.

 

How many sponsors are you looking to sign in?



We will have a title sponsor, six on-ground sponsors and one referee sponsor. We haven’t started looking out for sponsors yet, but we will sign them very soon.

 

Will slowdown have an impact on PLS?



I am not looking at billions of dollars, so I am not bothered about slowdown.

 

What are your marketing plans for the league?



We are in talks with leading agencies who will work with us on marketing the property. We are seeing presentations from a lot of them. We will have a 360-degree marketing strategy.

 

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