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Profile: Rukin Kizilbash: We took India cricket sales from $100 per spot to $3,000 per spot during the Sharjah Cup

afaqs! caught up with Rukin Kizilbash, chief operating officer, PDM India and discovered that he is indeed a true sport

Rukin Kizilbash's departure from a career in merchandising and exports to media came about by accident. The year was 1996 and a chance meeting with Peter Mukerjea, ex-chief operating officer, STAR India did it. "Peter was my friend's friend. When I met him, he offered me a job as he was looking for someone at STAR Sports," he says. STAR was just three years old then and had a 40 people team. Kizilbash joined as sales manager in Mumbai (Bombay) in 1996.

Later that year, after the merger with ESPN, it became a separate company. At ESPN-STAR Sports, he got an offer to head Delhi, which he took on for a year as director, sales, North. Being completely new to the media fraternity, Kizilbash took about six months to understand the business after joining STAR. "At that time," he says, "TV sales was just picking up and the modus operandi was different as broadcasters would go directly to individual clients. We took India cricket sales from $100 per spot to $3,000 per spot during the Sharjah Cup," he recalls.

Profile: Rukin Kizilbash: We took India cricket sales from $100 per spot to $3,000 per spot during the Sharjah Cup
In 2001, he left ESPN-STAR Sports to join IMG Delhi. IMG had two joint managing directors at that time - Ravi Krishnan and Peter Hutton. Kizilbash joined as director, sales. At IMG, he was part of many events such as the Tata Open tennis tournament and the Lakme Fashion Week. His mandate was to get sponsorships for sports such as white water rafting and bowling. "It was different from TV ad sales but it was still sales anyway," he says.

In 2002, he got a call from Chris McDonald, who had quit ESPN in 2001 to set up Ten Sports. "He asked me if I'd like to join the India operations. I said, why not?" Kizilbash says.

He was the first employee of Ten Sports in India and joined as head of ad sales in Mumbai. Coincidentally, Peter Hutton, who was head of the production division at IMG, joined McDonald, too, as head, programming and production.

Ten Sports also had WWE wrestling tournaments. To promote the sport, which enjoyed a massive following in the age group of 4-14 years, the channel would get these wrestlers down to India from time to time. However, despite the good viewership numbers, it was tough to sell wrestling as a sport to advertisers initially. "They thought it was too violent. So we had to convince them that it's not real and that everything is staged," he recollects.

Without any cricket matches involving India, Ten Sports was struggling to make a mark. "We bagged the India-Pakistan series rights in 2003, which was a big landmark. After that, we soon bagged the Pakistan, West Indies, South Africa and Zimbabwe rights," he says.

After heading sales for five years, Kizilbash's role changed from looking after ad sales to getting involved in the overall scheme of things - administration, P&L and legal issues. However, he realised that he wanted to explore other opportunities. That was also the time when Zee picked up 50 per cent stake in Ten Sports.

He took a break for about six months, during which he travelled extensively. After this, he joined Percept D'Mark, the events division of the Percept Group.

Kizilbash feels that boxing is the next big thing after cricket and football. "We want to own the boxing space in India," he adds. "We are partnering with Indian Boxing Federation to enhance the popularity of boxing as a sport," he says. "Today, PDM is a company worth Rs 400 crore. I want to take it to Rs 2,000 crore by 2015," he declares confidently. How? "By exercising caution when it comes to costs, keeping a close eye on targets and effective team management," he replies.