Fifa World Cup: ESS' Goal That All Ride It

It was around January that the team at ESPN Software India, led by managing director RC Venkateish, decided to evolve a game plan encompassing marketing, promotion and programming for the biggest spectacle in the world aka the soccer World Cup.

Somewhere in the subconscious was also the fact that the Fifa event needed to be put up on a scale in India that would neutralise the lack of Indian cricket (considered the biggest sporting draw in the India sub-continent) on ESPN and Star Sports, which are managed in Asia by a joint venture company ESPN Star Sports.

ESPN Software India MD RC Venkateish

A successfully implemented soccer strategy would not only get in distribution gains, but would also partially offset (notional) revenue losses for lack of Indian cricket for which ESS has made a lunge twice without success till now.

Considering ESPN's parent Disney, according to international media reports, had forked out a whopping $100 million for the English-language rights to broadcast the World Cup across ABC and ESPN, it was worth giving their all, Team Venky probably must have thought.

From here germinated the idea to have an integrated marketing, programming and promotional strategy for the Fifa show that culminated almost four months later into Duniya Goal Hai (loosely meaning the world would be watching soccer) --- the punch line for ESS' football campaign that is now being ramped up big time as D-Day for the opening event of the globe's biggest sporting spectacle draws ever nearer. Of course, there were dollops of creative inputs from JWT, the agency for ESS in India.

"Soccer is getting much bigger in India than it was in 2002, the last World Cup (that was shown on Ten Sports in India). Over 55 million people have watched the European League this season," a bullish Venkateish says.

After all, the matches of the Fifa World Cup, holding centre stage from 9 June to 9 July, have convenient timings with some starting at 6:30 pm IST just ahead of prime time viewing and when people would be trooping back from office.

About 75 million Indians sampled the telecast of World Cup 2002 on Ten Sports and DD with a cumulative audience reach of 30.2 million in India. For the last World Cup, which marked the debut of Ten Sports in India, despite its limited spread in terms of distribution, the channel had ratings of over 50 per cent in places like Kolkata for the final.

On the other hand, ESPN, which aired an India-Sri Lanka cricket ODI on the day the final match of 2002 WC was played, could muster ratings of just 14-15 per cent.

The Euro 2004 continued the growth and had a cumulative audience reach of 32.3 million viewers in. This interest in soccer in India now touches even EPL that had a reach of 42.8 million for the season till date, according to ESPN.

"This means that nearly one in every two individuals in cable homes across India has sampled the EPL," Venkateish points out, adding that ESS hopes to further heighten this popularity through Fifa World Cup matches and other related programming.

No wonder, concurring with Venkateish is ESPN India's vice-president (sales and marketing) and distribution head Sricharan Iyengar, "For us the Fifa is the biggest event that any channel could have this year. It's bigger than Indian cricket also."

What has made it challenging for ESS is that Indians don't have any direct stake in the World Cup as India is still far far away from playing in the soccer fiesta. Any strategy for India would have to keep this in mind so as to make available the matches in such a manner that it involves Indians and entertains them too.

Says ESPN India associate director marketing Paras Sharma, "As sports broadcast leaders, the challenge was to present the World Cup to Indians in a different way. The marketing strategy has been built up keeping that in mind."


Broad Tenets of the Indian Strategy

At the base of the strategy is the aim "empowering the Indian audience to have a unique and customized interaction" with the property.


This is being delivered thru the following:

  • Engagement: making the viewers play before the actual play begins.
  • Recognition: rewarding the viewers for their passion for the game.
  • Experiential: physically transporting them into the thick of the action
  • Entertainment: providing a peep into the fun side of Fifa.
ESPN Software India associate director marketing Paras Sharma

The marketing strategy, therefore, has been to focus at the larger sporting fan base and look at their motivations with respect to this sporting spectacle as this audience is looking for a lot more than just viewing pleasure. The two key drivers for building interaction: entertainment and engagement.

Similarly, at a strategic level, the objective is to create 'visible' interest and traction for the event much before it kicks off, thereby extending the Football Fever to deliver on revenue and sponsor interests.

"The challenge therefore was to position the World Cup in India not only as the 'biggest international football event with no Indian stake' but as the `biggest sporting spectacle' that transcends boundaries so as to catch larger audiences and build sustainable traction for the property and the sport," points out Sharma.

Strategic Initiatives

In the month of June and July the campaign will highlight how the entire world becomes eight inches in diameter (referring to television programmes and live telecasts). And that is summed up in the campaign punch line, which says Duniya Goal Hai.

The idea is in Hinglish. Translated in English it means that 'World is round' wherein 'goal' in punned in Hindi to round and the soccer goal. This central thought would be taken forward in all marketing and communication activities.

Phase 1: This is the Magnum Opus stage and kicked off in April. Here the aim is to create saliency for the forthcoming event two months prior by building upon the most scalable and media interesting hooks of the property. The campaign highlights the unique facets of the event and, in addition, seeding in similar key points in national and regional vernacular media. 

Both ESPN and Star Sports have started airing programming related to the Fifa show, pushing the event besides putting out special World Cup stories.

Phase II: The phase of the campaign revolves around creating interest around the history of the event. 

This will be done by highlighting the unique constituents of the property itself in form of past and current players, milestones etc. 

Phase III: This offers an Indian take through on-ground activities. The aim is to engage Indian audiences to play the WC.

In this regard, ESS has started an initiative in association with a channel sponsor Coca-Cola called Gyraah Hindustani, which aims to take selected Indians to watch the WC in all its glory, spectacle and grandeur.

The Adidas+ Challenge sees Indian school students competing against each other in football matches for the right to go to Germany. It is being rolled out across major cities.

ESPN Software India marketing director Nirmal Dayani

Explains ESPN marketing director Nirmal Dayani, "A one of its kind unique consumer involvement and activation exercise has been undertaken along with two of the leading the global sponsors of Fifa, Coca Cola and Adidas."

Phase IV: This, Sharma describes, as the In the Middle of Action stage. The aim is to increase new sampling and longer duration relationship with the current audience. 

ESS will do consumer promotions related to matches, stars, and teams. According to Iyengar, once the World Cup starts, there will be contests in association with one of the channels' sponsors, Airtel.

ESS is also working on a tie-up for those who would be part of the flag bearing team for Fifa through a programme initiative called Learning Ground, which is being attempted to be integrated with Fifa-related initiatives to search for Indian kids who would be flag bearers during the event.



The Programming Line-Up

Any sports broadcast, be it cricket or hockey or football, depends heavily on analysis to hook in viewers. For this purpose, ESS has established an enriched studio panel of presenters for the football World Cup.

These commentators will offer different perspectives on the goings on at the World Cup and leading up to the spectacle when it begins in June. Gerry Armstrong, former Irish international and now a soccer expert with ESS, Steve McMahon, former England and Liverpool player and an ESS presenter and Harsha Bhogle will handle the presentation.


For those looking for a desi or local touch, the broadcaster will also have Indian soccer experts like Novy Kapadia, Noel Da Kima Leitao as guests every week during the event. 

On the ground in Germany, the broadcaster will have two dedicated teams comprising Anand Narsimhan, Dave Roberts and Jason Dasey, who will capture the World Cup craze. Additionally, a special Indian ESS production team will travel across India to catch the enthusiasm.


Of course, the specials have already been flagged off in a bid to build up viewer interest leading up to June. One such initiative last month was Fifa World Cup Stories. Six episodes of half an hour duration provided different angles to chapters of the event.

The show featured stories on the most surprising and shocking results in the World Cups, 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. 

Born To Play, airing Mondays to Fridays till early May, was a series on some of the best soccer stars the world has witnessed. The 13-episode series brought alive the magical moments from World Cup performances of Pele, Maradona, Baggio, Platini, Beckenbauer and others.

Fifa Preview, a 16-spisode series running from 3-24 May is another programming initiative.

Running Mondays to Fridays, this previews the 2006 Fifa World Cup Germany through exciting blend of originally shot footage from qualifiers and other innovative feature based content.

The series will bring to life the football-ing passion and current form of all qualified nations. The series will profile stars, coaches and will also analyse each nation's prospects against teams within their groups.

Some other programming line-up include the six-episode Fifa Stories, Fifa Official Films (13 episodes till 19 May) that will ferret out films from the Fifa archive to research fascinating histories of the some of the most successful nations in World Cup football.

Local feed: Another strategy that sports channels are following is having feed in Hindi for special events. ESS is no exception.

To cater to the Hindi speaking markets, ESS will have a special Hindi feed. This will help ESS broad base the appeal of soccer for those who do not understand English and for those who might have difficulty following the accents of ESS' foreign experts. 

The sponsors on ESPN and Star Sports, including Fifa global associates, include Coca Cola India (presenting sponsor) Bharti 'Airtel' Cellular (joint presenting sponsor), Adidas India (associate sponsor), Mirc Electronics (associate sponsor) and IOC (associate sponsor).


How Different Media Being Used

ESS' strategy hasn't overlooked using other media to further its aim of Duniya Goal Hai in India.

ESPN Software India VP sales & marketing Sricharan Iyengar

As part of this game plan, cable operators and MSOs or trade affiliates are being made aware of the importance of the World Cup.

Pointing out that exclusive events are opportunities to monetize them, Iyengar says, "The fundamental reason for doing initiatives with cable operators in various parts of the country is to create awareness in general about football and Fifa in particular. Football in terms of business and viewership is massive in states like West Bengal, Kerala and Goa."


Television: This will be the primary medium to reach the wide geographical spread of Indian audience. Spots will air on two leading national channels along with a large mix of regional channels. Innovative promotional activities with these channels are being looked at thus increasing the noise and exposure levels manifold.

ESS is also negotiating with news channels to offer them footage from the event. Dayani admits that ESS has tied up for the Kolkata region with the newly-launched 24 Ghanta news channel for promotion of WC whereby the news channel will have access to news footage at no extra cost, but will help in ESS' in branding activities.


Radio: FM radio will be the target vehicle. It is learnt that Radio Mirchi will be the preferred partner for the Fifa event. 

Print: To increase awareness and build on the tactical requirements, regional press has been roped in. Unique means like customised editorials have been started as a build up to the Cup so as to increase audience's knowledge and interest in the event. 

Cinema Halls: Sharma notes that cinema as a medium occupies a pride of place in urban India and is being used as a hype creation mechanism in addition to its value as a communication vehicle.

Cinema halls across the metros in the country are being painted in Fifa WC colours a month prior to the event by highlighting the most entertaining aspects of the event

Bollywood: Not leaving any stone unturned, ESS would be roping in Bollywood actors to promote the World Cup.


The Likely Gains

At the end of it all, it all boils down to economics and not charity. ESS, too, is looking at all round gains. But most of all in the distribution arena.


A spectacle like World Cup might not have helped Ten Sports in 2002 the way it had been envisaged, but ESS seems to be better placed. The fact that out of the 64 matches, ESS will share with pubcaster Doordarshan only four events --- the semis, final and the inaugural --- gives the sports broadcaster an added advantage.


With an eye on distribution gains, ESS feels that de-activated networks or those that had replaced ESPN and Star Sports with more in-demand channels in the area of their operations due to lack of adequate bandwidth would return within the ESS fold.

"Fifa has given us a chance to get all the de-activated cable networks back on the roster. We expect 7-8 per cent of the networks which had de-activated ESS, will start showing the channels again now that the football fever is spreading," Iyengar said, pointing out that trade activities with distribution affiliates are aimed towards this also.

However, a bigger challenge post the World Cup would be to see how the Fifa show can be leveraged for other football properties that ESS has and whether the Fifa eyeballs could be converted into regular viewership for other programmes.

"That'll be a key challenge. The Fifa fever needs to rub off on events like PPL, Spanish League and other football properties and those we think would drive viewership and our subscription revenue," Iyengar says.

An optimistic Venkateish feels that the World Cup will "generate ratings, which are equivalent or higher than India international Test ratings."

And, if that actually happens, it would encourage ESS to weave strategies around non-cricketing properties in India in a big way.

(Inputs from Anjan Mitra in New Delhi)

Photo Credits: RC Venkateish, Nirmal Dayani, Paras Sharma by Sanjay Sharma/Indiapix Network; Duniya Gol Hai and Fifa logo courtesy ESPN


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