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Star to consider launching more regional sports channels

MUMBAI: Star Sports launched its second Indian-language sports channel Star Sports Tamil 1 to coincide with the Champions Trophy tourney. This is the second Indian-language sports channel from Star Sports after Hindi. Now depending on the progress that it makes, the company could launch more regional sports channels.

Talking to TelevisionPost.com, Star India executive VP, head ad sales sports Anil Jayaraj said that there is a tremendous need gap in the sports broadcasting market for regional content that goes beyond just commentary.

“We are clear that the Tamil channel is not just about language commentary. It is about addressing that market with original content that focusses on players and teams from Tamil Nadu. We will have the Tamil Nadu Premier League. Even in the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) we will have content around the franchise from that area and the players,” Jayaraj said.

Shows are being uniquely curated. “The response to both the Hindi and Tamil channels has been very good. Over the coming months, we will evaluate the Tamil channels performance. Based on that, timelines will be set for the launch of more regional language channels,” he revealed.

The aim is to see what consumer difference launching sports channels in different regional languages will make. After all, if the consumer difference happens, then the commercial angle will follow. “It is about inviting and exploring local culture and not just about language commentary,” he added.

In terms of the overall sports business, Jayaraj pointed to cricket, kabaddi, football and badminton being very important.

Cricket

According to Jayaraj, Test cricket came back in a big way last year.

Viewer fatigue is also not an issue, he believes. Despite that the Champions Trophy kicked off a few days after the conclusion of the 10th season of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the viewership was still better compared to four years back.

Pro Kabaddi League

At the Vivo Pro Kabaddi Media Forum, which took place in Santa Cruz, Jayaraj said that the Pro Kabaddi League’s (PKL) revenues have grown four-fold from the second season when nine sponsors were present. For the upcoming fifth season, there will be 24 sponsors and Vivo as the title sponsor is a huge addition. In the fourth season, there were 18 sponsors.

The return that the event gives is unmatched. “The kabaddi model is different from cricket. In cricket while Vivo might be an on-ground sponsor, Oppo might be the on-air sponsor. However, for kabaddi the sponsor gets both on-air and on-ground. So you cannot get outshouted by competition,” he said.

One reason why advertisers are so keen on the PKL is that the intention to purchase on the part of consumers shoots up dramatically after the event for a company compared to what it was before the event. “The difference between before and after the event is phenomenal. This is the holy grail. Hence, the PKL is an attractive proposition,” Jayaraj explained.

The PKL has both local and international advertisers. Companies like Coca-Cola, Flipkart and Gionee have associated with the event. For an advertiser being associated with the PKL is often not just eyeballs, though the PKL is the second-largest sport in the country. “It gives eyeballs and an opportunity to associate with sport in the country,” he stated.

Besides, the PKL cuts across the country. “With Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs), you do not get the South. The same situation is there with Hindi movies. The PKL season offers sustained engagement over a three-month period,” he said.

Badminton

The performance of players on the international scene like PV Sindhu and Srikanth has given the sport a huge fill-up. Last year Vodafone came on board as the title sponsor of the Premier Badminton League (PBL).

ISL and hockey

In terms of the India Super League (ISL), Jayaraj noted that an announcement for a title sponsor will be made. The Hero deal was for three years. “We have had excellent corporate interest. What will also help is the fact that the season will now run for five months compared to three months previously.”

However, there is room for improvement when it comes to hockey. “Hockey has interest in small pockets. The challenge for us is to see how we can broad-base the Hockey India League (HIL) and interest in the sport,” he noted.

Jayaraj is excited about the fact that the hockey World Cup will be held in the country next year. He also noted that the International Hockey Federation (FIH) is revamping the international structure. He expects this move to reap rich dividends.

The role of marketing

Star India executive VP, marketing head sports Shubhranshu Singh noted that this year the marketing focus will rest on showing the athleticism and other aspects of the sport as opposed to focusing on storytelling as that aspect has already been done in the past. Therefore, the focus will rest on aspects like what kabaddi means to fans in a state like Gujarat. The aim is to create freshness and develop cultural connection.

Singh spoke about the marketing journey that Star Sports has been through since the inception of the PKL. At the outset, the aim was to do the best. “Kabaddi had heritage. It was patently Indian. The visual spectacle made it world class. Our job was to help Indians rediscover the sport. We had to understand its DNA and how it was perceived. It was understood at the time to be a sport not popular in urban pockets.”

Star Sports in the early days of the PKL realised that relevance was a barrier. While it needed to be made relevant to fans the fact is that fandom cannot be imposed. “It had to be a natural process of discovery. We had to make it cool. At that time kabaddi seemed to be uncool. People were indifferent. We had to make them interested and educate them about the sport. We had to bring them to stadiums,” Singh said.

The broadcaster realised that it had to pitch the sport to both urban and rural audiences by presenting it in an intriguing manner. “People saw it as an impossible task. We saw it as an opportunity,” he explained.

Throughout the marketing of the PKL, Star Sports never lost sight of the sports’ Indianness. “People understood the basics of the sport. They knew that it is a hybrid of an individual and a team sport. We had to do more to explain the sport,” he explained.

Singh also pointed out the importance of the Kabaddi World Cup, saying that it solidified the sports stature.

He noted that back in 2014 the initial campaign showed gripping action without explaining what it was. Most people guessed it. He also dwelt on the importance of support from Bollywood stars like Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan. Kabaddi players were given a makeover. Heroes were built and the game was explained.

Panga

An important point of the marketing of the PKL came in the second season when the aim was to make the league bigger. The product and ad positioning needed a platform that was youthful. That is how the word ‘Panga’ came about. “It is about picking up a challenge when the odds are against you. The thought was built up over three seasons.” He noted that Amitabh Bachchan was roped in for a song.

Satire

Another step in the evolution of the marketing of the PKL came from satire. The creative and marketing team at Star Sports looked at the other entertainment options before male viewers. Those options like soaps were spoofed at. The aim was to attract audiences who weren’t as interested in the game and tell them that kabaddi’s fight and competition was real as opposed to soaps, which are fake.

The broadcaster has also used regional stars to address different markets. He noted that 40 crore of the country’s population is below the age of 17. The aim of the PKL is to catch viewers early. Fifty-four per cent of the PKL’s viewership is below the age of 30. There is a high catchment of women and children as well.

To leverage this, a Women’s Kabaddi challenge was done. Eight matches gave a reach of nine crore. He added that just two matches had a bigger reach than Euro 2016. He also mentioned that Star Sports did the marketing, creative work of the PKL internally.