By Callum Murray in Lausanne
Star India, the pay-television broadcaster owned by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, and which runs the Star Sports network, has been appointed by the FIH, field hockey’s world governing body, to distribute international media rights for FIH events in all territories worldwide except Argentina in an eight-year deal beginning in 2015.
Star India will also act as host broadcaster for “key FIH events” taking place in India, one of the sport’s key markets, and throughout the world.
The move represents a “game-changer,” for the FIH, which previously sold its rights on a territory-by-territory basis, Kelly Fairweather, the FIH’s chief executive, told Sportcal today.
He said: “As part of the 21st Century Fox group, Star Sports goes to 120 countries. For the exposure of our sport, this is really exciting. We’ve got eight years to build this partnership. Star also has the rights for the Olympic Games in India, so there’s a synergy. They share our vision to promote and build the sport.”
The deal represents a buy-out of the FIH’s rights, with Star India paying an upfront fee for the rights over the eight-year period.
Fairweather said: “It’s a significant increase on previous deals. It allows us to market and promote the game and push it to new countries.”
Fairweather added that Argentina was "carved out" of the deal because the FIH already has a good relationship with the national federation there which sells the rights to FIH competitions itself.
The announcement came as it was also revealed that Star Sports is to spend Rs1 billion ($16 million) on producing and marketing the Hockey India League, the new franchise-based league based on cricket’s successful Indian Premier League, as the HIL enters its second season.
Nitin Kukreja, head of sports business at Star India, said: “We want to create a multi-sport culture in India. Cricket is already big and we want to grow other sports like hockey as well. To do that, production and how it looks on the screen is very important.”
For the FIH’s events, led by the quadrennial flagship World Cup, the annual World League and the biennial Champions Trophy competitions, as for the HIL, Star Sports is planning to “take it to the next level in terms of production,” according to Fairweather. He said: They’ll use the latest technology, and massive resources. They'll go from nine to 20 cameras, and they’ll use super slo-mo and state-of-the-art graphics. They’ll be bringing fans closer to athletes with cameras in the changing rooms.”
Other innovations will include matches played under floodlights, and players wearing brightly-coloured kit, similar to the revolution wrought by the shortened Twenty20 form of cricket. Fairweather added: “The Hockey India League is still in its early days and they want to see how far they can go.”
The second season of the HIL is due to begin on January 25, comprising six teams: Kalinga Lancers; Ranchi Rhinos; Uttar Pradesh Wizards; Jaypee Punjab Warriors; Delhi Waveriders; and Mumbai Magicians.
The aim is to mimic the success of English soccer’s Premier League, according to Kukreja, who said: “It will be an EPL kind of experience right from the pre-show, analysis to the match itself. The stats, graphics, database will all be world class.”
The FIH was also impressed with Star Sports’ “impeccable track record” as global broadcast and production partner of the International Cricket Council, in which, the FIH said, the broadcaster has “continuously raised the bar in their television coverage of all ICC events.”
Fairweather said: “This was one of the big steps in terms of achieving our objectives: to entertain and inspire fans and players globally. There was a need to improve the production of the game – eighty per cent of people reach it through TV or a second screen. It’s part of the global growth of the sport, spreading it round the world. This is a big step in trying to join the dots together. Once you’ve got a good broadcast partner it’s also easier to get sponsorship deals. Our commercial manager is now armed with this in his suitcase.”
This year, the Netherlands will host both the men’s and women’s World Cups jointly. The competitions will then move from a 12-team to a 16-team format and will split again, with London hosting the women’s World Cup at the 2012 Olympic hockey venue in 2018, while the men’s event will take place in India.
Fairweather himself signed a new three-year contract at the end of last year, having joined the FIH three years ago.
Leandro Negre, the FIH’s president, said: “This partnership is an incredibly important and exciting development for international hockey. Our vision is to entertain and inspire a global movement of hockey fans and players and Star Sports is an industry leader when it comes to significantly increasing the reach and popularity of sport.
"Not only will Star Sports promote hockey worldwide between Olympic Games’ cycles, which is incredibly important to sustaining interest in hockey, but it will make our sport much more interactive and entertaining. Star’s ability to deliver immersive, engaging and captivating coverage will draw new young audiences towards hockey. We look forward to working together to truly grow the popularity of hockey.”
The allocation of the FIH’s events, including the Asian Cup and Asian Champions Trophy, together with the World Cup, World League and Champions Trophy, means that India will host at least one of its major events every year over the eight-year period.
Kukreja said: “We are delighted to be FIH’s global production, host broadcast and distribution partner. The partnership ties-in well with our overall vision of promoting sports culture in India. Hockey is a priority sport for us and we are thrilled that India will host one key event every year during the eight year term. We believe that hosting an international event each year, which is produced innovatively, will significantly boost the popularity of hockey in India.
“The sport has a glorious heritage in India and we believe that it has a tremendous future. We will work closely with FIH and invest in production to ensure that hockey reaches its full potential. As we have done with HIL, we will aim to innovate and create an exciting visual spectacle for international viewers.”