Thawani on Indian football, Zee, FIFA, marketing

While hockey is considered to be a more national sport in India than football, the latter popular in “two and a half states” (West Bengal, Kerala and Goa), the early results that new football broadcaster Zee Sports got for the 2005 Federation Cup were sensational, Nimbus Communications Ltd chairman Harish Thawani told Indian Television.

“I suspect that the National Football League will see a huge momentum going for football. Despite the All India Football Federation changing its mind 20 times over and getting less than what they could have got for the rights if they had been sensible about it they still got some serious money into the sport. Football had its first year of genuinely making some inroads into the Indian television market. It became a distant but very visible number two sport,” he said.

“Over the first three years it will be a fairly robust second sport - still distant from cricket but by 2007 we feel that football will start making its mark in more than just three states. I want to see the NFL numbers in 2006 because then we will know what the trend is. If four of five more states start pulling in numbers we will have a powerful number two sport at a very low cost.

“Regionalisation of commentary is something that we as the producers are actively telling Zee Sports to go in for. Languages like Punjabi, Bengali will work and we can do an audio multiplex. The AIFF is working hard to improve the structure and pull in bigger teams to play. This will be important in pushing the sport past the three strongholds,” he said.

Thawani disclosed that Nimbus Sport is one of five companies in the final round of negotiations to represent FIFA for Asian rights marketing. The others are Infront, the incumbent, Dentsu, Wharf Cable and Sportfive. “Rumour has it that the five parties made a minimum guarantee of in excess of $300 million,” he said.

He also declined to recognize sports marketing as an industry, claiming that “other than IMG and Nimbus”, marketing agencies “are one-man and two-man outfits” which “operate as opportunistic brokerages” without “investments in infrastructure, personnel” and “not willing to take the capital intensive risks that are required to succeed in the sports marketing business”.