STAR India and the International Hockey Federation (FIH) believe they can take hockey “to the next level” when their broadcast deal kicks in from 2015.
From 2015, STAR India, which operates the STAR Sports channels and is a subsidiary of media company 21st Century Fox, will have the FIH’s global media rights for all territories, excluding Argentina, and will serve as host broadcaster for its events.
Signed in January, it is the biggest and most important commercial deal to be signed in the history of the governing body. With the agreement due to run through to the end of 2022, the length and scale of the contract is unprecedented for the FIH, but is necessary to establish a coherent and deliverable long-term strategy, says Kelly Fairweather, CEO of hockey’s world governing body.
The nature and length of the deal, however, is not unfamiliar for STAR. In its previous incarnation as ESPN STAR Sports, the broadcaster secured an eight-year deal, from 2007/08 to 2014/15, for worldwide rights to all International Cricket Council (ICC) events.
STAR India’s president of sports, Nitin Kukreja, told SportBusiness International that the broadcaster is planning to use the experience of working with the ICC and other partners to enhance hockey’s appeal.
“As its global broadcast and production partner, we have worked very closely with the ICC to redefine the on-ground experience as well as the TV coverage,” Kukreja says.
“Our most recent example was the use of Zing ‘flashing bails’ and ‘Spidercam’ in recent ICC tournaments. We think that hockey can also be made more entertaining. It is a compelling, fast-paced sport with the right on-ground atmosphere and fan engagement, combined with great on-screen production. There is a compelling consumer proposition to be created.”
It is an exciting time for hockey
However, it is STAR’s work in hockey to date that has been particularly attractive to the FIH, and as an India-based sports broadcaster, there is no escaping the fact STAR is immersed in hockey’s biggest national market of all.
Last year, STAR linked up with the national governing body, Hockey India, to launch the Hockey India League. In its first season, the league was shown in more than 80 territories across the globe, and Fairweather acknowledges the sport was “showcased in a completely new way, offering a TV experience relevant to the youth market”.
“We were hugely impressed by this success and the potential of what the STAR Sports experience could do for hockey globally,” he told SportBusiness International. “We have also witnessed STAR’s coverage of the hugely popular sport kabaddi in its first season [the Pro-Kabaddi League between July and September 2014].
“With its extensive network, STAR will achieve global distribution, as proven through its distribution of ICC and BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) rights, and therefore it will take hockey to audiences that have not traditionally seen hockey on TV.”
Consistency of quality production is a crucial aspect of the strategy to grow the sport worldwide, adds Fairweather: “Content will be distributed to over 200 countries and there must be a consistent experience for all stakeholders – from our fans to our current and future sponsors, and our players.
“We have held a workshop with STAR to define consistent standards for production – graphics, commentary and other aspects – which will be orchestrated by dedicated teams of expert people who know hockey.”
For Fairweather, strengthening the FIH’s focus on digital engagement whilst improving spectator experience will be pillars of the partnership with STAR as the sport enters a new era.
“This innovation has been in progress for the last three years and we now have the staff and partnerships mobilised to support it, creating the energy to go to the next level,” he adds. “It is an exciting time for hockey.”