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2011: Building leagues and searching for life beyond cricket

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2011 was a year where sports took a leaf out of the success of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and announced leagues following a similar franchise format. Leagues ranging from football to hockey are being built to offer content to sports broadcasters.

Sports marketers believe that there is an audience for sport other than cricket as long as it is packaged, marketed and organised well in a professional manner.

As far as cricket is concerned, the big news was the termination of Nimbus‘ rights for India cricket by the BCCI. On a more positive note, the sport did well for advertisers in terms of ROI.

As far as the push towards non cricket is concerned, two leagues were announced this year in motorsports and American football. Nimbus and the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) concretised their plans for World Series Hockey (WSH).

The property for Nimbus will serve as a feeder for Neo Sports. Wizcraft International director Sabbas Joseph expects this franchise to break-even within five years. But given that politics has been responsible for the national sport going down the drain, it is not surprising that the initiative has run into some rough

weather.

In order to take the sport of horse racing to another level, R1 was launched marking Bennett Coleman‘s first big push into sport. The push also extended to sports entertainment with WWE opening an office in India.

Life In The Fast Lane: It is not just mass sports that are going the league way to gain a wider audience and boost their commercial value. In motorsports, Machdar Motorsports announced the launch of a racing league at a cost of $12-15 million a year. It will no doubt be encouraged by the response that the first F1 race got in Delhi. The league, called i1 Super Series, will see the likes of Bollywood Badshah Shah Rukh Khan owning a team.

The league, though, has been postponed to January next year, partly due to the fact that franchise owners want time for marketing activities. Also, it has been finding it tough to get corporates to own teams for I series, which is why it had reduced the ownership price from $5 million to $3.5 million.

1 Super Series managing Darshan M expects the franchises, who have ownership for 15 years, to recoup their investments in the fourth year. Each team will race with two cars forming an 18-car grid.

Aiming to grow the amount of sports it covers, Ten Sports has taken the broadcast rights for the event. Ten Sports CEO Atul Pande believes there is place for a domestic racing league. "Our programming mix is the best among the sports broadcasters and this property is a significant addition. With the kind of capital and marketing dollars chasing it, the event will gain traction," he says.

And for Khan, this offers an opportunity to get involved with other sports ventures apart from his Kolkata Knight Riders IPL franchise.

GroupM ESP managing partner Hiren Pandit notes that the involvement of celebrities like SRK will lend visibility. "But ultimately it is the quality of sport being dished out that will determine its fate. At this point I am not sure if it will turn out to be a good TV sport. This will be a toy for the big boys."

Taking a Punt: In order to boost the profile of horse racing, RWITC formed a joint venture with Bennett Coleman and Procam to launch R1.

R1 has 13 races lined up across the country in its debut year. Aired on Ten Sports, R1 kicked off with the Indian 1000 Guineas on 11 December 2011. The aim of the stakeholders is to position the sport as being cool and trendy so that younger viewers start tuning in.

Zee is pushing the property on its other channels like Zee Café and Zee Studio. Bennett Coleman will also heavily promote the event across its different properties like Times Now.

For the first time in the history of this sport, behind-the-scenes action will be captured, which include the jockeys‘ room and the stewards room. The live world feed will include new cameras including a Super Slo-Mo Camera.

According to Pandit, horse racing operates in a tight segment. "It is seen in India as a gamblers sport. Some brands will associate with it. Whether they broaden the audience base or not remains to be seen," he says.

EFLI makes an entry: The Elite Football League of India (EFLI) announced a league aiming to grow American football in India. Based on the franchise model, it starts with eight teams, building up to a total of 52 by 2022 representing all Indian cities with a population in excess of one million.

With Ten Sports as its partner, the league will kick off in November 2012 in Pune. Says EFLI CEO Richard Whelan, "American football is fast, furious and fun to watch. Indian viewers are now watching sports other than cricket. There is no doubt in our minds that the EFLI has picked the right time for its Indian touchdown. Even women are keen on watching sports."

Nimbus‘ Woes: Speaking of the bat and ball game, Nimbus is on a sticky wicket. It moved the Bombay high Court over its deal with the BCCI (the Board of Control for Cricket in India) that got terminated for non payment of dues.

The BCCI has time to find a new broadcaster as there are several months to go before India plays a series at home.

Ad revenue scene: Sports broadcasters earned an advertising revenue of around Rs 21 billion in 2011, a healthy growth over last year.

Agrees Lodestar UN CEO Shashi Sinha, "2011 was special for sports as there was the cricket World Cup and the IPL. You had the highs of big properties as well as events that helped build the image of sports. FMCG brands also got more involved with cricket. The economic slowdown has not impacted sports ad revenue."

There is a challenge, though, in 2012 as ad revenue from cricket could degrow in terms of monies due to a lesser number of high profile events.

Sinha finds the entry of new leagues an encouraging sign. "The surface of sports in India has not been scratched beyond cricket. There is scope for leagues to work as long as investments are made. It will be a question of how a property is leveraged and marketed."

The Cricket Rights Scene: On the cricket rights front, 2012 will see a lot of action as a host of properties come up for grabs.

In 2011, Zee took the crucial step of renewing its rights for Cricket South Africa. Zee also renewed rights for Zimbabwe cricket, while ESPN Star Sports (ESS) retained Australia.

The rights for India, England, West Indies, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and New Zealand are all due for grabs.

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