Bringing Indian hockey back to ‘consumer radar’

November 14th, 2011 - 4:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Sachin Tendulkar New Delhi, Nov 14 (IANS) Ingenious sports administrators and corporate honchos have realised that an IPL-like razzmatazz can work in other disciplines, too. A World Boxing Series is already underway and the World Series Hockey (WSH) will hit the TV screens next month.

Packaging is the name of the game. Call it a marketing gimmick, showbiz or what you will, sport is being sold and the athlete is paid handsomely for showing off his skills, mostly to a televised audience.

Selling hockey in India is both difficult and easy. Difficult because of the country’s not so high standing in world hockey and easy because that is one team sport that can give cricket’s popularity a run for its money.

A joint initiative of Nimbus Sports, which has telecast rights for quite a few cricket boards, including India, and the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF), the WSH has prize purse of approximately $2 million. Some 200 players from India and around the hockey world will turn out for eight franchisees at nine venues. The 61-matches will be held under floodlights on a home-and-away basis from Dec 17-Jan 22.

Sorbojeet Chatterjee, vice president, marketing, Neo Sports, says the idea is to get hockey back in the “consumer radar.”

“We are not competing against the IPL or cricket. India is not a ‘one sport’ country. There is a vast untapped market. And hockey is the second most popular sport. It’s just that nobody ever thought of bringing something like this which can draw the people to hockey,” Sorbojeet told IANS.

Nimbus Sports has earmarked Rs 40 crore for marketing the series and they also will pay the IHF Rs.30 crore every year even if the league is a flop show. The contract between the WSH management and the franchisees will run for 15 years.

The confidence of the organisers stems from the fact that hockey enjoyed huge success in the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games last year. “The television ratings for these two events were very impressive.”

“But for us, spectators at the ground and television viewers are equally important and we have to see that we attract both,” says Sorbojeet.

“For that we have also designed an outreach programme to take hockey to schools and to strike a chord with the fans. We will plan exhibition matches against schools, or have star players visit schools and interact with kids. Free tickets will be distributed in schools. There will be contests for fans. All this will generate interest in the game. The tickets will be priced at a affordable rate,” he says.

The huge money has attracted players from all major hockey-playing countries to sign up with the WSH, and that has rattled Hockey India, which has been entrusted to run a league of its own by the International Hockey Federation (FIH). FIH has called the event “non-recognised” and warned players from participating in the WSH of far-reaching consequences.

From earning Rs. 25,000 per month, a senior player on an average can make at least Rs 25-30 lakh every season as match fees. The endorsement deals can further boost player’s finances. The lucrative money on offer was too much for the players to resist.
Presence of veteran players like Dhanraj Pillay and Viren Rasquinha has prompted the WSH to be dubbed ‘veterans league.’

“If you look at the IPL, there are players like Sachin Tendulkar and Adam Gilchrist. Do you call it a veterans league,” argues Yannick Colaco, chief operating officer of Nimbus Sports.

“The WSH will increase the profile of hockey in the country. It will create an environment where people will watch and talk about the sport, it will help revive it,” Yannick told IANS.

Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bhopal, Jalandhar, Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai will host the matches.

Some of the venues are being upgraded with floodlights, replay screens, and scoreboards.

“The facilites will be of world class and Indian hockey will be richer for it,” said Tournament Director Dennis Meredith, a former Australian international, umpire, FIH technical delegate and its Umpires Manager.

The 70-minute matches will be divided in four quarters of 17-and-a-half-minutes each.
There will be video umpires for referrals and shoot-outs in the semifinals and final if there is no result after regulation and extra time.

In fact, India’s first commercial sporting league was conceptualised for hockey, the Premier Hockey League (PHL), which ran for three years from 2005-08 before IPL became a huge success.

PHL was a success in Chandigarh and some other cities with the stands packed to capacity.

“PHL could not catch the imagination of the entire country, confined only to the northern parts. The WSH will be played in various cities for a wider reach,” says Yannick.

(Avishek Roy can be contacted at avishek.r@ians.in)

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