Is a sports channel without cricket a viable option?

By Raushni Bhagia , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing | March 07, 2013
afaqs! explores the feasibility of a sports channel sans cricket.

Earlier, in 2012, the Indian sports genre witnessed the launch of two channels - Sony Six (MSM) and Ten Golf (Zee). Interestingly, both the channels chose to make way for non-cricketing events instead of keeping themselves exclusive to cricket. While Sony Six will be telecasting the IPL soon, for now, its content line-up does not include cricket.

And now, STAR India, which already operates five sports channels in India, is gearing up to launch its sixth sports channel, STAR Sports 2, on March 11.

While cricket will be a part of the channel's content, the line-up will also boast of a lot of non-cricketing genres like football, tennis, golf and motor racing, amongst others. STAR Sports 2 is expected to resolve the conflict between the telecast of cricket and non-cricket sporting events enabling the network to best utilise its properties that exist within its acquisition basket. It will also help streamline the scheduling of the different sporting events, the telecast rights of which stay within the network. For the record, Star India has the exclusive media rights for events organised by three cricket boards (India, Australia and England), in addition to the ICC rights. Besides these, there are football events such as the English Premier League, Spanish league La Liga, Italian league Serie A for India and FA Cup rights. Star also has the rights to many other properties such as Formula One, MotoGP, Wimbledon, Australian Open in Tennis, and the PGA Tour.

afaqs! explores how feasible it is for any sports channel to stay away from cricket and remain viable.

Industry experts seem largely pessimistic about the viability of a sports channel sans cricket, albeit agreeing on the increasing traction of other sports. They express doubts about such channels' ability to attract 'enough' revenues to remain viable. While conceding that the acquisition costs for non-cricket sports are lower, they add that revenue realisation, too, is low for such properties.

A media planner, on condition of anonymity, agrees and adds that sports channels garner a higher share of subscription revenues, so the expectation is based on growing digitisation. "Non-cricket channels will break even on the back of a few marquee sports events and even make money," he states.

Kunal Jamuar executive director, West, MPG explains that it is very unlikely that the revenue flow of such channels will be comparable to cricketing events. "No other content can ever generate that kind of viewership, and hence advertising," he reiterates.

Pratik Rathore

Ad rates for non-cricketing events are 8-10 per cent lower than the corresponding rates for cricketing events (barring football). Consider this: During the Cricket World Cup, a 10-second slot was sold for about Rs 4-5 lakh, while during the Football World Cup, a 10-second slot garnered about Rs 1 lakh. However, the FCT offered by the two sports is very different. A cricket ODI could have more than 6,000 seconds, while in football, one barely gets 600 seconds.

Against this, if one considers any other football event, the rates are in the range of Rs 10-15 thousand, while for the India-Australia Test series, it could be about Rs 70,000.

Despite this, Pratik Rathore, buying head, Maxus Mumbai finds the existence of a non-cricket based channel completely feasible. Citing the example of Ten Golf, he says, "If a comparatively new and bland sport like golf has been getting numbers, why not other sports."

He goes on to suggest that though the outlays are lower for other sports, youth viewership is gearing up exponentially in favour of non-cricket sports.

Niche genre

Other sports, however, appeal only to niche audiences. A media planner explains that even with increasing popularity of such sports, broadcasters still face challenges in selling the properties. He cites the example of the Hockey League and says that even if the numbers for hockey viewership have grown, ESPN had a tough time recovering its money on the Hockey League.

This could be a combination of multiple factors. The scale of the sport, the India telecast time and the general perception of the event affect the viewership figures, suggest experts. Football and tennis are decidedly bigger draws than badminton or even basketball. In another example, acquisition cost and hence the viewership of Wimbledon and French Open is likely to be higher than the US Open because the matches are more suited to Indian prime time.

Likewise, the English Premier League has become a more expensive buy in the past 10-15 years as the matches have been timed to be more suitable for Asia. La Liga, too, followed suit recently.

Jamuar explains that only a handful of non-cricket sports gather viewership, including Grand Slams, Formula One, WWE, EPL, UEFA and MMA Fighting, to some extent.

Market experts note that non-cricket based sports channels must focus to keep costs low, have a sports property exclusive that can drive subscription and advertising revenue, and build strong buzz around the marquee sport, while having a realistic business plan. Citing the example of Ten Golf's strategy, they say that the channel gathers additional revenue (apart from ads and subscription) through sponsorships, tie ups with golf events and promoting golf, in turn expanding the audience and perception.

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